Many recognize M.I.A for her hit ” Paper Planes” which released in 2007. It;s nearly eight years later, and she’s more well known for her “Bad Girls” video which came out in 2013. But M.I.A. is much more than a musician; she’s a visual artist and she features heavy political imagery that speaks out against the strife she experienced growing up in Sri-Lanka.
She was face to face with the Sri-Lankan civil war, which separated her family from her father for her entire childhood, influencing much of her early work. Her artistic style features heavy synth, and influences from jungle rock and world music. The beat is quick, hard, and great for dancing, and it’s won countless awards. She began merging politics with art in her songs ‘Galang’ and ‘Sunshowers’, which seem to have a very cool girl vibe about them ,but feature graffiti and clips of warfare in Europe and Sri-Lanka. Her music was banned in several countries for the images and issues that were mentioned, but this was just the beginning.
She gained more popularity in the U.S. with the release of ‘Paper Planes’, an incredibly catchy tune which she describes as mimicking stereotypes about immigrants. While her work was applauded and awarded as the best electronic pop and funk, it was banned from those in the East, which made her work harder to make her messages clear and heard.
One of her biggest controversies was her video for “Born Free”, now unavailable on YouTube. This is where I find great irony. It was never an issue particularly in the beginning of the Iraq war to show footage of civilian carnage because all Iraqi and Afghani people were seen as the enemy. We aired the beheading of Saddam Hussein on television for the world to see. The media clearly has no problem talking about people dying and showing that imagery that goes along with it, when it’s for the sake of news and for showing a supposedly objective point of view about the war and about how certain people should be perceived. M.I.A. and her director Romain- Gavras showed a series on hostile home invasions, but they’re terrorizing white, red haired individuals the way that we terrorized the Iraqi people, and now the Palestinian refugees. The men in the video are terrorized by SWAT teams, humiliated, and a child is shot at before one of the characters tries to escape their eventual doom. The video ends with the gory image of a boy being blown up, while the escapee is beaten to death by a club. Throughout this, M.I.A.’s words ring out, particularly the lines:
” I was born free..whoever you are,
yeah come out wherever you are and tell’em!
I was born free.”
This narrative was her reality and the reality of so many others, particularly the genocide of Tamil males by the Sri-Lankan military, but she received a barrage of backlash against the video for it’s graphic content.
I am incredibly proud of what M.I.A. did here because she had, and always has, a clear message for her work and has remained strong in her firm stances of feminism and equality. She has a heavy punk. electronica, and rap influence in her work, which makes her incredibly diverse and a standout performer and activist. She was banned from the U.S. during the Bush Administration for her music and her message, which is saying something about the work she does and ho relevant it is and how far reaching the effect is as well. To this day, she is still limited to visitation in the U.S. because she speaks on issues that people are aware of, but don’t want to admit. How can we condone beheadings and shootings of people out of out home land, while she’s attacked for portraying it in a more relatable way to the average American? She’s been called a terrorist by many for her activism, and she doesn’t take that lightly. She creates work for herself and for the Tamil people still under attack in Sri-Lanka, and basically gives a big middle finger to those who try and say she’s anything other than a humanitarian. She doesn’t do this for the views and for the popularity, clearly. She does this because she has the ability and the outlet as a popular artist, and she forces the listener to think about war, genocide, those in power, and the people who are not allowing truth to be heard or seen by the masses. She gives a voice to the dead and victimized, and I will always support the work she does. She’s in this now and she could turn away from this platform, especially with having a young son who has received death threats as well as herself. Whether she’s courageous or foolish is a personal opinion one has to make after seeing her work, but I know where I stand.