This morning, M.I.A. released her new video for “Bring the Noize” to the world and… um, well, it’s not very good, which is unusual, because however much the quality of M.I.A.’s music has varied over the years, her visual aesthetic has always been pretty much spot on. As such, it seems like a pretty good time to look back over her career and the way that aesthetic has evolved since she first emerged with “Galang” a decade ago. So here are all her videos, ranked from worst to best.
“Bring the Noize”
A whole bunch of “meh,” honestly. At least she has purple hair, eh?
Like its accompanying album, “XXXO” is a mass of confused imagery and references. The retro computer graphics, in particular, are a curious morass of styles, a sort of hybrid of late-’90s web graphics and early-’90s Amiga chic. As a whole, the experience is less web-based sensory overload and more a disconnected mess, even if the idea — a warning to girls using the Internet against portraying themselves as something they’re not — is an interesting one.
This was of course a global mega-hit, but given that the video was recorded before said mega-hit status was achieved, it’s fairly low-budget and not especially prepossessing. M.I.A.’s as charismatic a performer as ever, but there’s not a whole lot going on here beyond the kinda cool idea of M.I.A. working in a food truck (and what looks like a cameo from the Beastie Boys at about 2:52). Happily, at least, she avoids the temptation to use real guns for the blam blam blam blam bit.
“Bucky Done Gun”
Similarly, this isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps the least interesting video M.I.A.’s ever made. It’s really just her singing to a bunch of kids in a warehouse and doing the same out in the middle of the desert, both with a slightly wacky color grading job and intercut with a bunch of stock footage. (M.I.A. being M.I.A., of course, it also involved travel — the outdoor footage was shot in the Mojave desert.
Burning oil wells, Arab dudes in keffiyehs, gun-toting women, and lots of crazy shit with cars… this is M.I.A. in big-budget provocatrice mode, although it isn’t quite as determinedly controversial as “Born Free,” which we’ll discuss shortly. Reaction was… well, it was mixed, really, with some critics lauding the way it addressed issues of women’s rights in the Middle East and others condemning it for perpetuating negative stereotypes of Arabs. Either way, it got a reaction, which I suspect is always entirely OK with M.I.A.
Pretty much as far from “XXXO” as one can get, and all the better for it. This was shot in the jungle of southern India, and M.I.A. has apparently cited it as her favorite video, which isn’t surprising — I mean, shit, she gets to ride an elephant!
This song is so delightfully deranged that a video of M.I.A. singing it down at the local pub would have sufficed, but instead she again decamped to south India to make a film that’s both simple and effective. Apparently the location chosen — somewhere just outside Chennai — had a personal significance for M.I.A., being close to a Tamil refugee camp where her family sheltered in her youth.
The world’s introduction to both M.I.A.’s music and her singular aesthetic. Given its relatively small budget, it’s simple but also pretty effective, setting M.I.A. against a bunch of animated stencil art, deploying now-familiar tropes like images of bombs, terrorism, and Tamil script. At the time, it looked and sounded like pretty much nothing else, and a decade on on, it still looks great.
In which our heroine goes for the full subcontinental, and pulls it off pretty well. The faux-Shiva multiple arms might be considered uncomfortable cultural appropriation, but really, if anything, the reference is poking lighthearted fun at Western perceptions of what an Indian music video might look like. Also, it’s nice to see M.I.A. looking genuinely happy throughout, and the dancing walk/don’t walk men are kinda cool.
The determinedly lo-fi nature of this video is something of an assault on your eyes — all that pixelation! — but once you get used to it, you can start to appreciate its exuberant joys. Shooting this involved more travel; this time, M.I.A. went to Jamaica, surrounding herself with 100 local dancers and cavorting in front of a series of lurid technicolor backdrops. It’s a full-on sensory assault, and a whole lot of fun.
Ah, yes, this is everything we love and hate about M.I.A. in six convenient minutes: a sledgehammer metaphor wielded with little in the way of subtlety and lots in the way of controversy-courting. But still, love it or hate it, people are still talking about this video — and in the end, one suspects, that’s all M.I.A. has ever wanted.