I first heard of this M.I.A beef at pitchfork and then overheard (overread?) this conversation at Sepia Mutiny via Racialicious and in true form, I figured I would turn it into a post of my own seeing as that I've had some personal arguments over M.I.A.
There's no denying that M.I.A is a formidable cultural force - she popularized a kind of multinational lifestyle that some people have come to believe is the norm for many (children of ) expatriates/immigrants (especially those hailing from nations wrought with political strife) and as Cicatrix opines, she has certainly brought Sri Lanka to the forefront of popular discourse. I cannot put it more aptly than Joanna Eng when she says that M.I.A's "flashy and noisy and chaotic" music "seems to represent our generation of media-saturated, globalized, de-sensitized minds." And it just plain sounds cool.
However, there's also the issue of her message and how genuinely she endorses it. Enter a second Sri Lankan musician, DeLon Jayasingha. Apparently, the self-proclaimed "new guy to look out for" called M.I.A out on her Tamil Tigers references in a rap he did over her now viral "Paper Planes." Even though it has been taken off youtube by da powers that be, I found it and you can watch it in all its horror here. Graphic material and good looks (can't hate) aside, the guy is unimpressive, to put it mildly, and it's of little surprise that he would resort to this for the free publicity.
But this is not the first time M.I.A's potentially controversial lyrics and references have been brought up. Cristagau clued his readers in on the conversation a while back and had taken his cue from a now defunct thread - yes, it's that old - which, in Cristagau's words, had "morphed from rumor to exultation to, suddenly, a heartrending roller coaster of a political debate." M.I.A must have expected this reception and even though she had responded to DeLon's accusations with little more than a wave off, it could be argued that they are both as guilty as the other for exploiting Sri Lankan civil tensions. However, M.I.A did come first, and she isn't the one with propaganda-like bullet points in her video. Plus, her pastel & neon tigers and guns come off more like an artistic interpretation than DeLon's raw footage and cheap Obama/MLK references.
Also, before you young ones forget, Paper Planes samples The Clash's Straight To Hell. If anyone remembers that song, or almost any other Clash song, maybe you will understand the historical context of this one. Now, I am not saying that M.I.A is pushing any agenda but I don't think we can ignore the conversation she included herself in by making a reference to a clearly political song. The Clash version is a condemnation of the hardships and exploitation immigrants (among other "minority" groups of non/half European descent) experience. Look up the lyrics if you are unfamiliar with them and you will notice that M.I.A is not introducing anything new but is really just reinterpreting the same dystopian narrative The Clash had put forth decades ago.
So, does that make M.I.A a deconstructionist genius? Maybe, but it certainly makes this DeLon guy look like a total idiot. Why does it always have to be the pretty ones? Sigh.
PS: I adore this blog. If I was smart and had the patience to write longer posts, this is what I would want it to be like.