no other mainstream musician is doing what M.I.A. is doing. kanye once tweeted something along the lines of, “M.I.A. is from the future. our present is her past,” and he’s right. this kind of DIY aesthetic, like .net art meets punk meets pop culture, is something that other musicians are just starting to catch up to, but M.I.A. has been doing it for the past ten years (and more, if you count the time before her music career even took off).
M.I.A. has infiltrated pop culture and has never once been apologetic about her subversion of the culture she has integrated herself into so well, and has never played into respectability. that’s not to say that musicians of color who play into respectability politics are less-than, as they’re only trying to protect themselves in a hostile white world; just to say that it’s incredible that she has somehow managed to evade that. she is in the western world, using western motifs, but using them to communicate the experience of a refugee, an immigrant kid, an outlier.
you don’t often see sri lankan women stirring up the masses on TV, because it’s not accessible for us brown girls from war-torn countries, but M.I.A. has managed it. radio hits like “bad girls” and “paper planes” maintain their political statement with danceable production by diplo and the like; her songs are pop culture-friendly and incredibly subversive and inflammatory to the mainstream all at once – rather than the pop influence watering her message down, it has only added more power to that message.
M.I.A. is a visionary. M.I.A. will be remembered when many others in the current pop canon are forgotten. M.I.A. is some kind of goddess walking among us.