Four years ago, Lily Allen had an identity crisis. After two critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums, 2006's Alright, Still and 2009's It's Not Me, It's You, the UK pop star had returned with 2014's Sheezus – a confused mess of spotty songwriting and empty synth-pop. For the first time, Allen, well-known for her incisive wit, sounded like she didn't quite know what she was trying to say.
"I didn't know what I was any more, or where I sat in the market," says 33-year-old Allen, on the phone from London. "The music industry was going through such a difficult time at that point; there were pressures that were associated with putting out new music and making a new record. I feel like, because of where I was hormonally after just having three back-to-back pregnancies, I let other people give me guidance, which I hadn't done on previous records. And I just felt like everything got really confused and was a bit of a mess.
"[I lost] my authenticity and my honesty, and it just didn't feel like a true representation of who I was at the time, so it was really difficult for me to get out and promote that record because I wasn't 100 per cent into it. I dealt with that in a manner of ways, one of which was turning to alcohol and substances, and that had a knock-on effect on my marriage and everything, and it all kind of deteriorated." Allen says, laughing. "But I'm better now."
Allen began writing her new record, No Shame, in late 2014, and finished it in the latter half of last year. "It was a really long and laborious process," she says, exacerbated by the fact that those three years were perhaps some of the toughest of her life.
"In that time I got separated from my husband, and was confronting life being a single mother, and then went into another relationship. I also had a stalker and a big court case that went with that." (Allen's stalker broke into her home and threatened her with a knife in 2015).
"So it's been a struggle, but I guess things are looking slightly more rosy now than they were a couple of years ago, and that's reflected on the album."
The "shame" of the album's title encompasses a number of meanings; from the liberation of living shamelessly to the way women are shamed by misogyny in the modern day. "Women tend not to feel just shameful about the things that society might look down on, but also ashamed of the things that they should be proud of," says Allen.
"You're encouraged to be as hard working as you possibly can be, but then that comes into question when you have children; those two things conflict each other in the way that society perceives it."
Allen is no stranger to having her success turned against her. Even when her music had faded from the zeitgeist, the tabloid press continued to pursue her; her tweets became headlines, political discussions became feuds, and she was scrutinised by the paparazzi.
"We like to congratulate women on their achievements, but ultimately if I left the house without wearing makeup, there would be pictures in the newspaper of me looking not my best," she says. "And even though the words underneath the picture wouldn't be saying it, the subtext is, 'How dare you leave the house without having your hair straightened, and without putting a full face of makeup on. You look disgusting.'
"It's subtle, the sort of misogyny these days, but I see that."
No Shame returns Allen to her familiar honesty and authenticity, but this time, there's a vulnerability to her process. From love songs My One and Pushing Up Daisies, to the stripped-back tracks Higher and Three, Allen works her way to optimism over the album's 14 songs.
On Three, Allen writes from the perspective of her daughter, imagining how it feels when she leaves on tour. It's a touchingly beautiful song that reaches a level of emotional honesty Allen has never found before – and her daughters are huge fans.
"They're obsessed with it, they want to hear it all the time," she says. "They both think that it's about the other one."
Who: Lily Allen
What: New album No Shame
When: Out tomorrow