The Sri-Lankan-born, British-reared rapper/singer/activist/style juggernaut that is M.I.A., once explained that her fiery, provocative synth-heavy rhymes placed her on the “no fly list” in the U.S.; a deemed “threat”, she was amused by the bold tactic played by the Bush administration at the time, but never afraid. To her, life had imitated art in such a strong and conspicuous way (see her rap anthem, “Paper Planes”), it became apart of her stage routine and overall legacy as a fascinating performer, while proving her work necessary.
With her latest effort, “Bad Girls”, off her upcoming and long-awaited follow-up to 2010′s debatable, / \ / \ / \ Y / \ (an album that did not fare well with critics and was considered a postpartum misstep), she embraces the same iconoclastic bravado that once made her a threat–instead now it is projected towards the pop world. Set within the parched deserts of Middle Eastern terrain, she raps long of the rash, exciting, and sometimes errant ways that mark a life of a rebel. Flanked by a harem of synchronized Saudi princesses swathed in patterned hijabs, M.I.A. writhes in sand dunes bedecked in gold, neon, sequins, and drifts along emptied concourses in BMW’s with a pack of camouflaged speed racers. Perhaps a commentary on the gauche lifestyle of most in the Western hemisphere (one possesses all the trappings of wealth, but occupies a vacuous space), it is most certainly the stuff of legends.
In fact, when I saw this video, I thought back on her 2010 comments on Lady Gaga, another controversial move of hers. As she saw (sees?) it: “[Gaga] 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 do!” In a word, present music lacks originality, it lacks the true spirit of musical dissidents, or as Madonna recently put it, it’s all so “reductive.” In fact, it’s no surprise then that she’s teamed with Madge and Nicki Minaj for Madonna’s comeback, lending her panache to the just released single,“LUV Madonna.”**
It all just seems so omniscient, M.I.A.’s own return, in this grand and gangsta way: her way of proving to pop music’s reigning queens that they do it well, but ne’er as good as she.
**No, it’s not subtle in the least–and yet, brilliant for that very reason.