Will the Real M.I.A. Please Stand Up?

Some Thoughts on M.I.A.’s new album, MAYA:

  • It’s really good.  MAYA is exciting like a mix tape (on cassette) back before you had the internet, if you’re old enough to even remember what that was like.  I used to get a lot of mix tapes when I did riot grrrl zines–new sounds from lo-fi, underground political bands.  This sounds similarly secretive, urgent, and difficult.  The pervasive punk influence appeals to a special place in my psyche, left largely undisturbed by pristine, protoolsed pop and rock.  Whether it holds up favorably to Kala remains to be seen.  It’s at least as good as Arular.  It’s an exciting, logical continuation of M.I.A.’s artistic growth.  The number of backlashy reviews disturbs me.
  • The sexist and racist meme of reducing M.I.A.’s role in her own songwriting and production dates way farther back than the Hirschberg hack job. I’m really tired of it. I’m shocked I haven’t come across a review of Xtina’s Bionic that credits Diplo for “Elastic Love” (one of the more critically approved tracks on the largely maligned album, written by M.I.A..) Why are so many invested in the notion that M.I.A. is the pretty, vacant, exotic face of a sophisticated musical operation masterminded by Smart White Men?
  • As to the negativity towards MAYA in particular: Maybe she’s being punished for not repeating Kala‘s winning formula of kaledoscopic hipster worldbeat.  People seemed to really dig that.  Maybe they were hoping Paul Simon would show up eventually and put things in order. Perhaps, despite some edgy lyrical content, Kala provided a kind of globalization lullaby anthology, we can all rock to the same stew of global sounds from places we don’t know anything about except, like, Bollywood! Or, Famine!  This album is less like that.  The musical inspiration leans more heavily towards machines and urgent, driving punk rock that gives a fuck.  As M.I.A. says on “Meds and Feds”:  “I just give a damn”.  Some people seem to hold that against her as, like most young punx, she doesn’t give a damn in the right way.
  • Journalists are justified in seeking out informed voices that may disagree with M.I.A.’s assessment that the Sri Lankan government is guilty of genocide.  Laypersons who scoff at M.I.A.’s assessment as ignorant of crazy or scandal mongering with no information other than their own emotional feedback (it’s nicer to think that things aren’t so bad, unless we somehow take pleasure in the tragedy): less so. Genocide is a  specific term, one we need to not throw around irresponsibly, and one might reasonably argue that some cases of murderous oppression of specific races or ethnicities don’t meet the criteria. Perhaps the broader “ethnic cleansing” could be more properly invoked, but when music critics and fans say “lol M.I.A. wingnut doesn’t know what she’s talking about in Sri Lanka” or whatevs, I rarely read or hear any such arguments. They seem to relish to notion that MIA is talking out of her ass much more than they are disturbed by whatever the fuck is happening in some exotic third world nation across the globe, I mean, global politics are complicated. Ignorant snark is fun.
  • Relatedly, I don’t take M.I.A.’s comments about google and Facebook being started by the CIA at literal face value, given her cheeky media side.  I could be wrong, maybe she means EXACTLY JUST THAT. Either way, the rest of her comments in interviews (and on MAYA) re: the Facebook/google issue, about our eagerness to participate in the destruction of our own rights and privacy, are quite apt and hardly the stuff of conspiracy theories that distract from the real, documented atrocities surrounding us.  She points directly at real evils, in interviews and on this album.  Why is she mocked for this?   Lady Gaga (and I like Lady Gaga) is at least as politically pretentious as M.I.A. (I would argue she is more pretentious,) makes far less sense, yet is rarely scolded for her ventures.  Perhaps because her politics are rarely more challenging than “live for your art, gay is okay, let’s go charity, fur = dead muppets” or whatevs.  Lady Gaga is wacky, but Socially Responsible so far as Liberals are concerned (the right wing obvs feels differently.)  M.I.A. is uppity!  She criticizes the kinds of Liberal fave  companies Gaga might prominently endorse in her videos!
  • Since when is it the job of pop artists to articulate clear political platforms, anyway? It may be their job (if they see themselves as political artists, at least) to make us think and feel things, and to question, and that’s exactly what M.I.A. is doing. This album appeals to me in its timely rage and confusion and noise much the way The Battle of Los Angeles or Fear of a Black Planet or London Calling did (does.) The album fits my fucking mood.
  • The Village Voice review claimed that MAYA contains “a few flares of outright hostility, like the record itself is actually mad at you. ” Huh. Interesting. I certainly hadn’t experienced it that way at all. MAYA makes me feel validated and less alone. Interesting that Rob Harvilla feels attacked.
  • I could listen to the drums on Born Free all day. That song really moves me. I loved the Letterman performance:

  • Will the real M.I.A. please stand up? Fuck it, Let’s all stand up.

    (This is a good take on M.I.A.’s infamous “Born Free” video, a video I kind of absolutely loved.  The same writer wrote a smart review of MAYA here.  Check it out.)

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