5 Times M.I.A. Takes Us Out of Our Comfort Zone
M.I.A., born Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasm, has never been one to shy away from controversial topics. Everything from her music videos to her lyrics to her cover art always has a purpose for its existence. That’s why when she released her latest single, “Borders,” the content was everything we thought it would include during the country’s current political state. The song is about privilege, power, freedom and guns, and while these topics are not new to the singer/rapper/activist’s fans, we took a look back at the times M.I.A. took us out of comfort zone and taught us a thing or two.
Her “Born Free” music video was banned on YouTube.
The nine-minute short film for her single “Born Free,” directed by Romain Gavras, depicted the genocide of redheads and was temporarily banned from YouTube in the U.S. and U.K. While the visual was bloody by music-video standards, the video ban was a statement on how the masses consume real-life mobile-recorded killings on YouTube, and yet YouTube and viewers took issue with the explicit and fake bloody scenes. Not everyone’s opinion of the video was controversial. Pop culture critics hailed M.I.A.’s treatment of military force, violence and brutality as a representation of oppression and political turmoil.
She made herself unclassifiable.
M.I.A.’s music has always landed in an unclassifiable genre. As an international artist, she’s made her mark on American hip hop by blending her Sri Lankan upbringing and with a multi-ethnic sound. In The Anthology of Rap, Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois referred to the artist’s sound as one example of how hip hop was changing as it came into contact with other cultures. She proved that hip hop has an ever-evolving sound.
She flew a bird at the Super Bowl.
The minute M.I.A. becomes just another Top 40 artist is the minute she has nothing to say. Much like her music, the London-born singer and rapper creates an environment on stage that is meant to be in your face. Critics have described it as “jovial chaos,” while others have noticed that she “actively creates discomfort though sensory overload.” A famous example was the 2012 Super Bowl performance with Madonna and Nicki Minaj, where Maya unabashedly gave the middle finger to the camera during the live broadcast.
She brought the politics early.
From her lyrical content to her cover art, M.I.A. is known for integrating political violence into her music. Her debut album, Arular, dedicated to her absent father’s revolutionary ideas, touched on themes like poverty, revolution, war, and working class London. The majority of her music is easy to dance to, yet always delivers an important message. Did you know “Paper Planes” is a statement on immigration? Yes, M.I.A. probably made you dance a to a politically charged song plenty of times.
The U.S. put her on the Homeland Security Risk list.
Being on a magazine’s sexiest people list is overrated. You know you’re pushing the right buttons if the U.S. government is keeping tabs on you. Following the release of her debut album, M.I.A. was refused a visa into the U.S. and briefly placed on the Homeland Security Risk in 2006. Mission accomplished? No. Due to her speaking her truths, she had to record her second album around the world instead. In the end, it wasn't a bad trade-off for the cultured artist.
(Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)