Is It Time to Give Up on M.I.A.?


Over the past few weeks, we’ve been slowly coming to a conclusion that depresses us: We are no longer excited about M.I.A. As fans who have loved her since the Piracy Funds Terrorism days and celebrated when the breakout success of “Paper Planes” thrust her into the mainstream, we’re not happy about this. But yesterday’s release of the track “XXXO” cemented our dislike of (and, okay, utter confusion about) her new direction. Two singles in, is it at all reasonable to hold out hope that ///Y/, the just- (annoyingly-)titled follow-up to Kala will actually be worth listening to? At this point, we think it’s fair to present the case against M.I.A. and let you decide: Are you still excited for her new album?

Exhibit A: The Lady Gaga Smackdown

Our antipathy for M.I.A. originated about a month ago, after an interview in which she lashed out at any number of contemporary pop purveyors. While we love a good diva feud as much as the next gossipmonger, there was something strange and self-righteous and, well, downright bizarre about M.I.A.’s attack on Lady Gaga:

Again, there’d Lady Gaga — people say we’re similar, that we both mix all these things in the pot and spit them out differently, but she spits it out exactly the same! None of her music’s reflective of how weird she wants to be or thinks she is. She models herself on Grace Jones and Madonna, but the music sounds like 20-year-old Ibiza music, you know? She’s not progressive, but she’s a good mimic. She sounds more like me than I fucking do! That’s a talent and she’s got a great team behind her, but she’s the industry last’s stab at making itself important — saying, “You need our money behind you, the endorsements, the stadiums.” Respect to her, she’s keeping a hundred thousand people in work, but my belief is: Do It Yourself.

Even as Gaga fans, we admit that the critique is valid through Grace Jones, Madonna, and Ibiza. But “She sounds more like me than I fucking do!” gives us pause. Since when does a campy, American, glam-club-pop act resemble a Sri Lankan-British rapper with a love of South Asian sounds and punk-rock samples? Lady Gaga may be a mimic, but it isn’t M.I.A. she’s ripping off. More on that later.

Exhibit B: “Born Free,” the song

You know what’s good about M.I.A.’s repetitive, cacophonous, and eventually grating lead single? Its racing backbeat… which you might recognize as a sample from Suicide’s “Ghost Rider.” We’re also not terribly impressed with the depth of the political messaging here.

Exhibit C: “Born Free,” the video

The (ultraviolent, NSFW) music video (if you can call it that) for “Born Free” brought M.I.A.’s political posturing to a new low. In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the flap over the seemingly endless clip, it features military types rounding up and shooting redheads, including some particularly adorable children. While some were impressed with M.I.A. and director Romain-Gavras’ messaging, all we got out of the extreme visuals was this: “Genocide happens! And it’s bad! What if it happened to you?” Next time, try telling us something we didn’t know… or at least leaving shocked viewers with some opportunity to get involved in efforts to stop mass murder around the world.

Exhibit D: M.I.A. takes over Pitchfork’s Twitter

On the same day she premiered the “Born Free” video, Pitchfork put M.I.A. in charge of their Twitter account. It resulted in the ubiquitous #miap4k hashtag and an outpouring of maddeningly unreadable tweets: “go egosurfing DRINK A SHOT OF TEQUILLA spamouflaged in brandalism”; “come be my U.S.B baby we could be digital natives A BELIEVER with citezenships”; “i got digital cash Hactivism at its best Google Bombing with my Infotainment.” Funny how, M.I.A. keeps insisting, on “Born Free,” “I got something to say,” but once she gets a platform to, you know, say something, what comes out is a stream of incoherent babble.

Exhibit E: “XXXO”

Canned dance beats? Check. A repetitive chorus? Check. Digitally manipulated background vocals? Check. Lyrics about iPhones and sex? Check. Stereogum calls “XXXO” a “Lady Maya” track, and we couldn’t agree more. So, when M.I.A. accuses Gaga of ripping her off… we assume that means Gaga must be psychic.

All right, jury: It’s time to cast your vote. Is M.I.A. over?