“So for whatever reason, lately I have had an M.I.A. obsession,” says the girl who has a cocker spaniels calendar hanging in her office. I could go on and on why I think the above linked video is pretty much my favorite pop music moment of 2012. There is some portion of me that wishes I was as tough as M.I.A. (but then I probably couldn’t have a cocker spaniel calendar hanging on my wall).
It took me a while to be converted to M.I.A., as I wasn’t an early fan of the song “Paper Planes”, and I never heard her 2005 album until long after it came out. Nope, I didn’t like it at all until I saw how perfectly it fit into the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and then I liked it. Alot. And then I realized that pretty much all of her songs involved some authentic interaction with the world and its forgotten about places (at least forgotten about in popular Western media).
I didn’t watch the Superbowl halftime show, so I have no first hand experience with what happened involving M.I.A. and Madonna, but I just want to scream at Madonna to shut up already, because she is no survivor of a terrible civil war in Sri Lanka. Unlike Madonna’s fake piety involving African orphans, M.I.A. actually has some contextual understanding of the plight of many children in formerly war-torn African countries. So yeah, Madonna, M.I.A. may have flipped off the American cameras for about a millisecond, but her activism is way better than yours.
Furthermore, not only does M.I.A. provide an artistic voice to the world’s refugee community, but she literally gives voice to displaced, forgotten people. Watch this documentary Spike Jones filmed with her walking around her immigrant neighborhood in South London. Seriously, listen to her collaboration with Nigerian rapper Afrikan Boy “Hussel” from her 2007 album Kala. I don’t know of any other pop song meant for Western listeners that so briefly and so perfectly describes what it is like to be poor in the new urbanized African cities.
Now let’s finally get to why the above video is so awesome. I don’t know of any other female pop star in the world that could do what she does with this video. First off, it is a song about tough girls, and the video is filmed in the Middle East somewhere and features Middle Eastern women. What American pop star could do that in an authentic way? Second, I really hope that this was filmed as a statement about women not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia. I think it must have been, right? It features fully clothed (a rarity in any rap video) Middle Eastern women doing some pretty sweet stunt driving while men feature prominently standing on the sidelines cheering them on. Honestly, viewed in the light of this being a statement on Middle Eastern feminism, I just love this video even more. P.S. Madonna – What have you actually done to help women around the world? Objectifying them doesn’t count.
M.I.A. is perfect listening for the part of me that wishes that I had become a war correspondent, traveling the world and telling the stories of displaced, forgotten people. It is for the part of me that likes to think of myself as tough and unapologetic about telling truths about the world we live in.
Also, she is unapologetic about how much she loves her mom, and still lives with her when in London. Pretty awesome.