m.i.a. is not having a good year
  • WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2010

  • Posted by:

From generally mixed to negative reviews of her noisy third album Maya (like many, I'm too lazy to type out or copy/paste the slash-filled typography), to antagonistic altercations with photographers and journalists, to a series of poorly-received, heavily truncated shows, Maya Arapragulsam has had her worst year since rising to fame with 2005's much-hyped Arular. Let's analyze the fallout.

The Lynn Hirschberg piece in the New York Times seems to have catalyzed a lot of the uproar around M.I.A. mainly because, in her targeted, calculated way, Hirschberg seems to expose M.I.A.'s whole shtick as a sham. With all the hype surrounding M.I.A.'s every move the last few years, especially since "Paper Planes" blew up in a huge way, there have been people who didn't see what was so great about her and felt vindicated when she was "exposed". Some who liked M.I.A. beforehand felt a little shocked and surprised that she wasn't actually that politically cogent, that she wasn't living a "revolutionary" lifestyle, that she might not be particularly intelligent or, for that matter, particularly nice. Combined with lackluster reviews for Maya, which most critics would summarize as "loud", "noisy", and "confusing" (there have been outliers though; CMG's counterpoint is one of the best), the bomb strapped around her self-image is getting dangerously close to exploding.

The debate over M.I.A. (beyond her often obnoxious behavior and, apparently, cataclysmically horrible shows) seems to boil down to a debate over what we expect out of our pop stars which, if it still isn't clear, M.I.A. very much is. I could probably be described as an M.I.A. apologist, but at the end of the day, I still like what she's doing. The conversation about her authenticity, whatever that means, kind of surprises me, to be frank. Of course, intent is important in parsing out our own feelings about art and I think what bothers some people is that, while a lot of what she talks about is important (genocide, third world neglect and poverty), she may be exploiting her third world street cred for monetary gain, for popularity points. Which is a fair criticism.

But, as P4K's Nitsuh Abebe so eloquently puts it: "Isn't it possible to swallow the music and spit out the cloak? To not act like she's speaking for anything beyond her own messy self?" I think so. Unless, of course, you don't like the music, then you're better off just looking elsewhere. -ben krusling

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M.I.A. on Myspace

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