Student has mixed feelings about M.I.A.’s new album
BY PARKER KLYN
In 2012, at Super Bowl XVI, Mathangi Arulpragasam (aka rapper M.I.A.) was brought out as a guest for Madonna’s halftime show.
She, along with Nicki Minaj, brought some much-needed intensity and swagger to an event that had become tame in the wake of the Janet Jackson controversy.
It was a breath of fresh air, but immediately afterward, M.I.A. was slapped with a 1.5 million dollar lawsuit from the NFL for flashing a middle finger. She later settled, and the amount was rumored to be even greater than the original suit.
Such issues have plagued M.I.A. throughout her musical journey. She’s had visa issues, losing her thousands of dollars in payment.
She was (unfairly) criticized for promoting an anti-poverty cause while being romantically involved with a billionaire.
Plus, she has an incendiary, no-nonsense attitude towards people and social issues that rubs people the wrong way. M.I.A. is an intelligent woman of color in power, and some people recoil at that thought.
Luckily, M.I.A.’s music has generally been at a high enough quality that we are able to separate her life from her art.
Kala, her seminal sophomore album, is widely hailed as one of the best experimental pop rap records in music history. That, along with memorable, inescapable, strange singles like “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls,” has given M.I.A. a lot of musical clout—a new M.I.A. album is an event.
Now, we have AIM, her newest album—and her first following 2013’s panned Batarangi. And it starts off with a bang with lead single “Borders,” one of my very favorite songs from last year.
It’s incredibly poignant and powerful; a dissertation and criticism of the first-world social problems that we express without consideration for those in need (specifically, refugees).
“Guns blow doors to the system / F*** ‘em when we say we’re not with them,” she spits in her signature deadpan flow. “Identities? Privilege? What’s up with that?” she asks.
She’s saying that it’s fine to be in touch with your identities, but for people who are genuinely in danger and inherently oppressed, it may come off as a little bit trite.
Plus, “Borders” just bangs. Here, M.I.A. utilizes trap drum machines for the first time in her career, creating trunk-rattling effects.
Booming sub-bass, harsh sharp snares, and hi-hats punctuate the track, making it not only a powerful statement, but also a great musical accomplishment. It’s one of her best songs.
So, we know that AIM starts great. Does it maintain this success throughout the record?
Unfortunately, nothing even comes close to being as good of a song as “Borders.”
Sonically, the album doesn’t stray far from her previous efforts. We still have fusions of electropop and native music from India, but it rarely makes much of an impact.
The instrumentals on tracks like “Go Off” and “Finally” are so nondescript that it makes me wonder what happened to the boundary-pushing M.I.A. of the past.
Another problem with the record is M.I.A.’s singing. She’s never been a very talented vocalist, but she’s brought enough character to make up for her lack of refinement. There is no energy on many of the tracks here. “Ali R U OK?” and “Jump In” are genuinely monotonous, in both a literal and figurative sense.
The only other real highlight is “Freedum” featuring ZAYN, and even that is a result of the catchiness in the production and melodies, as opposed to being due to M.I.A. being interesting.
At this point, M.I.A. is 41 years old. She’s middle-aged, and while the self-confidence and swagger is still there, it doesn’t seem that she has a great view for the music that she wants to make anymore.
She’s also said that AIM might be her last album; if that is true, then it’s a real shame that someone so transcendent would leave on such a whimper.