Ten ways that the pop iconoclast has shattered convention through her high-octane visuals
Last month, news emerged that M.I.A.’s new video had been axed amid fears it would leave the musician open to accusations of cultural appropriation. The decision to scrap the video, which was shot in the Ivory Coast and featured a dancer that the singer had been trying to track down for two years, prompted M.I.A. to open a debate on Twitter. “I wanna talk about cultural appropriation!” she wrote. “I’ve been told I can’t put out a video because it’s shot in Africa. Discuss.” Fans were quick to defend the singer, tweeting messages of support like, “There’s a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural celebration,” with some pointing out that she comes with a different perspective as a woman of colour herself.
While it’s clearly hard to call because we haven’t actually seen the new clip, M.I.A.’s music videos, though often controversial, have rarely been anything short of iconic. Revisit some of the ways the pop iconoclast flipped the game on its head with her music vids.
SHE KICKSTARTED A DESIGN REVOLUTION
The Dazed cover star has long been known as a style trailblazer, and nowhere is that rep more apparent than in her brashly eclectic, colour-drunk videos. The sensory onslaught of her 2007 video to “Boyz” is a perfect example of the clash-heavy aesthetic popularised by the rapper, from the overlapping, fluorescent shapes of the mid-00s to her inimitable collection for Versus.
SHE GIVES NO FUCKS
When “Bucky Done Gun” came out in 2005, it was a bolt from the blue. A fierce, baile-funk dancehall gem in a world of white, male indie bands with faux-mod haircuts, the track was accompanied by a flash-filled music video that confirmed M.I.A. as a pop provocateur that didn’t give a single fuck about the rudimentary musical standard of the time. She still doesn’t – and this banging visual feels every bit as fresh ten years on.
SHE REINVENTED THE LYRIC VIDEO
Ah, lyric videos: for when you get home from a night out and want to do a drunken rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”. But M.I.A.’s 2013 clip for “Come Walk With Me” was a jolt of electricity into a pedestrian format, with its animated, effervescent deities and lion-headed figures tearing out the innards of a sleeping man. If that’s not a reinvention, we don’t know what is.
SHE’S UNAFRAID TO GET EXPLICIT TO PROVE A POINT
When the disturbing Romain Gavras-directed video for “Born Free” came out in 2010, many viewers complained that its graphically dystopian, terror-filled vision of ethnic cleansing and gun violence went way over the top. Others hailed it as a political allegory touching on themes such as indigenous resistance movements and the pervasive force of the American military. Revisit it below and decide for yourself.
SHE EMBRACED THE POST-INTERNET AESTHETIC BEFORE YOU
Long before you donned that nail polish emoji cap, waxed lyrical about Future Brown and started talking to your friends in GIFs and GIFs alone, M.I.A. made a video for “XXXO” that looked like it had slid straight out of Bebo, with its glittering digitalised bling and winking, “thanks for adding me” refrain. The track and accompanying clip preceded third studio album Maya, which embraced internet culture while offering prescient critique on 21st century privacy and information politics.
SHE KEEPS IT IN THE STREETS
Faced with success, some artists leave their lo-fi roots behind for a glossy, airbrushed v2.0 – not M.I.A. though. Her music videos show that blockbuster budgets are no substitute for raw talent and a shedload of ideas. This VHS-quality video, though primarily focused around 3D weapons, 1984 and Google, also fits in a bunch of street dancing troupes and wayward Peckham locals.
SHE MADE YOU WANNA WEAR WHITE TO THE CLUB
The video for the ridiculously catchy dancefloor-ready “Bring the Noize” was one of the most stylish things to have been spat out of 2013. Apart from the beat explosion around the 2:38 mark, it’s the ice-white attire that’s the true star of the visual here. Who knew that wearing a head-to-toe Colgate-coloured suit could look so fierce?
SHE PUT POLITICS BACK INTO POP
For M.I.A. and her abrasive beats riding shotgun with insurrectionary and slang-filled flows, music and politics sit together comfortably. The cinematic video for slinky 2012 hit “Bad Girls” elicited mixed reactions, with some claiming it propagated Arab stereotypes, and others claiming the video confronted women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and brought globalised feminism to the forefront. Wherever you stand, it’s hard to deny that she shone a spotlight on politically urgent issues, and that can only be a good thing.
SHE MADE POP LESS EUROCENTRIC
Even today, the UK charts are dominated by Western sounds and ideas, which can get pretty boring if you want to get out and hear more of the world. M.I.A. flies in the face of such euro-normative tedium, instead serving up a mish-mash of art-punk dancehall bangers, funk carioca-inspired rhythms and hip hop beats. The Nezar Khammal-directed video for “Jimmy”, a cover of classic Bollywood song “Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja”, features M.I.A. striking Shiva-like poses with a crown on her head surrounded by dancers. Like the song, it’s a ridiculously fun three and a half minutes.
SHE GAVE US “PAPER PLANES”
This was the summer hit of 2007, and we’ve got to give it to her for making the sound of gun shots and the ting of a cash register into a chorus so catchy it’s probably still spinning round your head eight years later. The video sees M.I.A. swaggering down the street in rainbow-coloured leggings and selling mysterious items wrapped in tinfoil out the window in a Metallica t-shirt. Are they drugs? Falafel wraps? Maybe we’ll never know, but this video still rules.