In a world where Lana Del Rey softly coos love songs for America and the American flag cameos in several modern pop videos, M.I.A’s aggressively political music shreds the carefully contoured image of a benign and ubiquitous America.
Controversial from the moment she stepped on the scene, M.I.A’s ode to the third world and its’ American/British diaspora was quickly labelled ‘terrorist music’. Rapping in her British twang, M.I.A brought the immigrant hustle to the fore of contemporary pop/rap.
Unlike the Iggy Azaleas of the world, hip-hop’s not a borrowed medium for M.I.A. She’s uninterested in what hip-hop can do for her, but how she can contribute to it. She’s uninterested in moderating her tone. She’s uninterested in being palatable to a white audience. She’s uninterested in changing who she is.
M.I.A’s third album ‘Matangi’ is an extension of her previous work. It’s fiercely political and personal, the cross-over consistent in all her songs. A Sri-Lankan political refugee in England, M.I.A’s music is shaped by her personal experiences which was in turn, shaped directly by politics. Genocide and incarceration is also a theme in her music, never forgetting the complicity of powerful governments like America.
At the same time, M.I.A’s music is a rebel’s hymn. Devotional and mystical, the inclusion of Hindu prayer music and symbolism in her music alludes to her religious devotion to justice. While celebrities are anxious to align themselves with any political movement, M.I.A gives zero fucks about public perception. She’s not burdened by what cultural elites like the New York Times write about her, in fact “Fuck the New York Times” has become something of a catch-phrase for M.I.A. Perhaps because she exists as a diametric opposite of all things ‘classical’ hailed by elite institutions like the New York Times, M.I.A’s success poses a threat to a-political America; the America that bats an eyelid at drone strikes and police brutality, while simultaneously stripping cultural artifacts of oppressed groups and appropriating them into a white framework. Because otherness is OK to America, as long as it can strip otherness of its original meaning, commercialize it, and sell it to a wide audience.
“We can embrace the other, but the other has to become American or not stand for anything, not be raising anything that we’re not comfortable to deal with yet.”- M.I.A