"22" is a song by British recording artist Lily Allen from her second studio album, It's Not Me, It's You. Written by Allen and Greg Kurstin, the song was released as the fourth international single of the album, but the third in the United Kingdom, after it was decided not to promote "Fuck You" there. It was released to the music market on 24 August 2009 by Regal Recordings, though a different version called "22 (Vingt Deux)" was released in France.
Contemporary critics were mixed in their reviews of the song, some complimenting the rousing sound and the lyrics, which hide her maturity. However, others considered them to be rather sexist. The single peaked inside the top twenty of the charts of the UK Singles Chart, in Ireland, the Netherlands and Australia, giving the singer her third consecutive top twenty hit in both countries. The accompanying music video portrayed a self-reflection theme, Allen taking a view over her past-self in the mirror and realising her life was wasted on superficial matters. The song was performed live as part of Allen's 2009 concert tour. "22" also appears on the international soundtrack to the Brazilian soap operaViver a Vida.
While describing the album, Allen said that "we decided to try and make bigger sounding, more ethereal songs, real songs". She chose "22" as a single from the album, and later declared that, lyrically, the song describes a near thirty-year-old woman realizing she's at the end of her prime. The singer commented on the song's meaning:
It's more about girls that haven't figured out what they want to do with themselves. Especially really pretty girls. They can rely on their looks to an extent: people will pay for their dinners and drinks and they don't really have to think. And then suddenly it hits them that they're not doing anything with their lives and it's too late. And, yes, it's about a specific person. Most of my songs start like that and then become more general.
Musically, the song is set in the time signature of common time and in the key of C minor, with a metronome of 132 beats per minute. It has a basic sequence of A♭—E♭/G—Fm—G7—F7 as its chord progression, while piano, synths and percussion are used for the background music, with occasional flourishes from harpsichord and organ. The single distributed in France includes a duet with French singer Ours, called "22 (Vingt Deux)", which is also present on the Paris Live Session.
"22" was met with mixed reviews; Jody Rosen from Rolling Stone called the song "rousing" and single-worthy, while AllMusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine states that Allen may feel more mature than her age and rather than directly suggest it, "puts it into the character sketch" of the song. Mayer Nissim of Digital Spy awarded "22" three stars and wrote that the song projects the life of a "Bridget Jones-type everywoman" and complimented the lyrics, but went on to say that Allen's "nursery rhyme melodies" are losing originality. Lucy Davies from the BBC considered that if, in the singer's opinion, women who are single and approaching thirty are worthless to society, then she could be "an unreconstructed male in a young woman's body". Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine compared the song to Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine album. A reviewer from The Canadian Press viewed the song as "nouveau-feminist ditty", which "swings on finger snaps and circus-sounding organ reminiscent of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
The single debuted at number 79 on the UK Singles Chart and peaked at number 14, giving Allen her eighth top 20 hit there. Similar success came in Ireland, where it peaked at number 12 and charted for 10 weeks, becoming her third top 20 hit from It's Not Me, It's You in that country, as well as in Australia, where it climbed to its highest position at number 12, and was certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association for selling over 35,000 copies. In mainland Europe, the duet with Ours managed to peak at number 23 in France, while the original version had moderate success made it chart outside the top 40 in Belgium (Flanders) and Germany, and at number 34 in Belgium (Wallonia). For this, the single reached number 43 on Billboard's Eurochart Hot 100 Singles. Later peaks include New Zealand at number 28, number 18 on the Dutch Top 40 and lower positions in Austria and Switzerland.
The 'older' Allen, as seen in the music video for "22".
The music video was shot in east London on 1 June 2009 and was directed by Jake Scott. The Daily Mirror reported that Allen was wearing a chocolate coloured dress, sporting her new short hairstyle and performing with twenty trained dancers. During filming, a source stated that, "Lily is in fantastic shape and was keen to show off her curves. As with most of her videos, there are quite a few surprises in store. Lily was keen to try different things and is never afraid to poke fun at herself."
The video starts off with Allen walking in the bathroom of a nightclub and joins other women in putting on make-up. While she sings the first verse, she stands out from the rest of the people, by seeming confused and having sloppy hair. As the refrain begins, she puts lipstick on and stares into the mirror, where her former, younger self is doing the same, in form of a reflection. Then, the "younger" Allen carries forward with the song, as the "older" one continues to put make-up on. During the second verse, the camera moves to the other persons in the bathroom, who are either vomiting or adjusting their clothes. As the chorus approaches again, all the women from the room gather around the mirror, with Allen in the centre, and join her in singing: "It's sad, but it's true / How society says her life is already over". The scene suddenly changes, seeing "young" Allen alone in the same bathroom, this time with a man with whom she dances around the central sink unit, while the bridge to the song is coming to an end. She walks alone to the mirror, singing the final refrain, and sees the "older" Allen in her reflection. Considering that she could be like that in the future, she leaves the real bathroom scene in disgust.