You wouldn't expect club-banging-weed-smoking-general-debauchtery hits like "Bad Girls" or "Paper Planes" to be coming from a powerful female activist- but you're wrong. Take a look at the lyrics and the message behind them and you'll be shocked. M.I.A is in your face with her political ideals and you're jamming to them without even realizing.
Songs like “Galang,” “Boys,” (2) and “XXXO” M.I.A. shows that she exists in a musical space that smashes together a combo of hip-hop, alternative, and electro beats. A Sri Lankan refugee and visual artist, M.I.A. is self-motivated and lives solely by her own rules.
M.I.A. gained her popularity in the U.S. with the debut of her song “Paper Planes” in “Slumdog Millionare,” the 2008 Oscar award winnning film about life in the Slums of India. #flylikepapergethighlikeplanes (6)
The activist’s most obviously feminist song is “Bad Girls,” (7) featured in Matangi, M.I.A.’s fourth studio album. Released in 2012, the pump-up, badass song questions the Saudi Arabian law that bans women from driving. The right to drive campaign began in Saudi Arabia in 2011 (8), and, in “Bad Girls,” M.I.A. shows solidarity with rebellious women drivers. The video for “Bad Girls” features a number of women driving, a testament to M.I.A.’s activism. (9)
In a 2013 interview with NPR, M.I.A. discusses her background, culturally-based misunderstandings between her message and interpreters, and her independence.
“I did the journey myself — nobody had to come to my village and save me and articulate my story. I'd learned the language myself, I built the platform myself, got to a microphone myself, got nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar the same month, to make the biggest platform possible in America. Then I told the story — and it didn't translate. A lot of people were like, "Just make music; don't talk about politics." But I was in a very difficult position: I was the only Tamil rapper [on the international stage], so when a whole bunch of Tamil people were dying, I had to tell you about it.”
And M.I.A. isn’t finished bringing reality to her listeners. In “Boom (Skit),” M.I.A. makes commentary on her feeling unwelcome in the United States.
A unique artist who embodies in that her work embodies the political and the cultural; however, at the same time, M.I.A. proves again and again that she can make a pop hit if she feels like it.
Edited by Valerie Reich
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