Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What is going on with M.I.A.?

Unless you have decided to stop reading magazines, newspapers and blogs in the last two months, you have probably heard quite a bit about M.I.A. recently. I did not read the New York Times article that supposedly exposed her as a fraud by contrasting her revolutionary rhetoric with her currently privileged lifestyle, but it was hard to ignore the aftermath, which included M.I.A. tweeting the reporter's name and phone number. Spin and Rolling Stone have both done recent articles tht reference the NYT article, and try to give a balanced account of what M.I.A. says versus what she does. Ecko Complex did a puff piece on her with lots of nice pictures. Diplo, a former partner and producer, has wasted no bandwidth telling the world exactly what he thinks of MAYA, the latest album. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't like it.)

I was finally able to hear the record after reading all of this primarily negative press. I hoped the music would overshadow the hype. I was excited about M.I.A. when she debuted with "Arular" and was being hailed as the newest, most exciting thing in hip-hop. "Arular" was spotty, but where it was good, it was really good. I loved "Galang," "Pull up the People," and "Sunshowers." The album as a whole showed a lot of promise and potential and a new, fresh voice. Her second album, "Kala," was dope: much more consistent, with great beats and hooks. I still didn't understand what she was talking about half of the time, but I didn't care. I have never been sure why people spend so much time talking about her revolutionary lyrics. M.I.A.'s thoughts never seem finished, at least in her songs. Even some of her quotes in articles seem more like slogans than real revolutionary or anarchist thought. But her inability to spend enough time in the U.S. to allow Timbaland to produce all of "Kala" forced her to go in many different directions, including using full Indian drum sections, sharing the mic with street kids, remaking Bollywood classics, etc. "Kala" was a successful hodgepodge, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, the new album sucks. There was not one song I wanted to listen to more than once. There were a few I couldn't even sit through one time. M.I.A. appears to adhere to the "all publicity is good publicity" school, but the music has to back it up. This album does not. I have read reviews that talk about her subversiveness, singing lines that sound like she might be saying "I really love Allah." Whether that is what she said, or that is just what she wants you to think she said, does it matter if the song isn't any good? Unfortunately, no. The hype machine will probably continue revolving around M.I.A., but there is no substance to back it up this time around.