Of M.I.A. and Other Demons and an Album Full of Paranoia
By now, you are probably aware that controversial electronic artist M.I.A. has released a new album called /\/\/\Y/\ (thus referred to as Maya from now on to preserve our sanity). After two highly praised album, Arular and Kala, M.I.A. has faced some serious blacklash, both from the New York Times piece, AKA Trufflegate, and from the off-putting sound of Maya.
But to understand her latest effort, once must look at her entire body of work -- Arular, Kala, and Maya -- as a triptych that has come full circle. Arular was of her life from London to Sri Lanka, and of being a Third World refugee. Later, Kala -- which had it gone as planned with intended heavy-handed production by Timbaland and Three Six Mafia, wouldn't resemble the masterpiece it is today -- spoke more of the immigrant struggle living in the shadow of the First World. So where does Maya fall this is? It's purely American.
Maya is a tough pill to swallow, there is no getting around that. But taking a closer look at the message compounded with the visuals (because, let's not forget, Arulpragasam is first and foremost a visual artist and was before she ever considered being a musician), the album reveals that despite lyrics like "You tweetin' me like Tweety Bird, on your iPhone," M.I.A. still poses difficult questions and truths.
Some of the "truths" are outright paranoid. Intro track "The Message" claims that Google is a tool of the government. While it's probably partly true, the track is on the verge of hysteria the way she tackles the theme.
But that quickly leads to "Steppin' Up," the obligatory let-me-remind-you-my-name-is-M.I.A. track (see "Pull Up the People" and "Bamboo Banga"). In it M.I.A. boasts, "Steppin' up / in the club / all tooled up / like a thug" and "You know who I am / I run this fucking club." Despite the migraine-inducing power tool backtrack, this is one of the album's few melodic highlights.
However, the real climax here is "Lovalot," which former Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau points out sounds uncomfortably closed to like she's saying "I really love Allah," a jarring dubby track that is equal parts dance floor-ready and thematic manifesto. "I fight the ones that fight me," she says.
The paranoiac play on words doesn't stop in "Lovalot." Is she really saying "Teqkilla" or "tech killer"? Is "Illygirl" about being "illegal"? Take it for face value or read more into it if you want -- it's sort of the point. Paranoia runs rampant through Maya, biggest indicator being the virtually unfriendly search engine album name.
That being said, the uncomfortable nature of the album isn't going to win her any new fans or be the mainstream crossover success we bet Jimmy Iovine was hoping for. Still, when M.I.A. has something to say, it's wise to listen, and our guess is most people will.