m.i.a aims, misses?
By Kenalyn Ang
“I don’t need any audition. I just got my own little mission. It grew bigger than the politician. Yeah history is just a competition. Do you want to sign my petition?”
This is the beginning of MIA’s fifth and supposedly final album, and I think quite accurately sums it, and MIA’s creative intentions behind it, up.
AIM is a cacophony of sounds. It outlines MIA’s response to political and social issues of today and yet another instance in which MIA has refused to shy away from controversy. The jaded singer has years of experience in the music industry, not only transcending genres, but also jumpstarting trends that have dictated what is popular and deemed good today. No doubt, MIA is a revolutionary artist, a figurehead for singers and artists in a wide range of music genres and a well-known critic of music, social trends, and pop culture. What’s most unique about MIA is the audacity and rowdiness she is able to buffer and polish to shine through in her work and artistic choices. Yet with AIM, audiences might be confused and slightly annoyed when left with what seems to be a half-baked MIA album, a project in the works.
Throughout the seventeen track album, MIA explores the medium of sound, holding nothing back in her experimentations. Songs such as Visa begins with a shrill, auto tuned spin off of the famed Bollywood song Mundian to bach ke, while Foreign Friend features elements of an R&B ballad, with guest artist Dexta Daps’ almost lamenting the best friend he and MIA seem to whine for. With AIM, MIA collaborates with the likes of ZAYN and Skrillex, rapping in and out of ZAYN’s ephemeral, hazy voice and Skrillex’s snappy and ecstatic accompaniment. MIA interjects here and there with her sharp raps and eclectic rhymes, blending the diverse quality of sounds from each artist involved. Yet despite the array of talent and effort of the artists, several of the beats and phrases of sound feel out of place with the rest of the album. Just as the listener begins to get into a phrase, MIA comes in rapping or a new set of beats will begin, interrupting what could have been an enjoyable set of chords, even if heavily auto tuned. This is evident in Fly Pirate, where 30 seconds in, the background noise increases as MIA repetitively chants ‘fly fly pirate, fly pirate’. Meanwhile, Jump In is nearly two and a half minutes of MIA’s murmurs, edited to overlap and cluster her words with the sounds, making one repetitive track of noise. The rhythm of the song is so regular throughout, that the title of ‘jump in’ is fitting: the listener can hit play at any point in the song and hear what is essentially the entire track. If MIA’s lyrics were written to mean anything significant, which they were and are, the listener’s attention is pulled away from that message and forced to pay attention to the mass of sounds being emitted from their earbuds.
Despite the discomfort listeners might feel as a result of the musical choices made, the topics rapped are just as important as you would expect from MIA, and the majority of the lyrics written on AIM reflect MIA’s political opinion. Unlike her previous work, MIA appears calm when addressing migration and the refugee crisis. She candidly reprimands society when rapping lines such as ‘this system has to come/ with way better sh*t than racism’ in Tal’. In A.M.P. (All My People) she breezes through references as diverse as Oman, Bequia, and Mormonism, seemingly mixing together a wide range of diverse national societies. Yet in other songs, her word choice appears shallow and superficial, as in Freedun she raps ‘I’m a swagger man/ Rolling in my swagger van, from the People’s Republic of Swaggerstan’. Listeners are confronted with common, colloquial terms such as ‘swag’ to go with such a dire issue, and as a result, are often left confused and unsure of how to react. MIA’s previous works were wild, unruly and just as eccentric as AIM, evoking a thrill and excitement in listeners, yet they were more intelligently constructed and composed. As a result of the connotations brought forth by her choice of words and instruments, this album appears slightly haphazard and unsteady.
Before releasing AIM, the singer also faced several obstacles, causing further frustrations. The Borders music video, directed and performed by MIA, features crowds of young, refugees, climbing fences, scaling walls, and staring listlessly off into the distance. The re-enactment is a visual element meant to go with the audio, MIA’s lyrics and message, but what should have been a thought provoking and meaningful video instead raised several legal, and for MIA, less important concerns. Of her seven outfits in the video, MIA is seen standing on a boat, clad in a Paris Saint-Germain sponsor jersey amidst a crowd of young refugees. Rather than focus on the greater message of refugees as MIA had hoped, the French football club honed in on this shirt and wrote to MIA, complaining that the singer did not ask permission to wear their kit and accusing her of using their popularity to ‘enhance’ her artistry and appeal. The singer later said the legalities never occurred to her, as she was ‘thinking of the bigger picture’ and it was ‘crazy’ that the club should go after her when ‘people are dying at sea’. The exclusion of the same music video at the VMAs also angered MIA, who accused the voting committee of being racist, sexist, elitist and classicist.
With a confused audience and vexed corporations to greet the arrival of AIM, MIA certainly did not receive the responses she had hoped for with her final album and greatest political statement to date. AIM’s cover features a much more mature cover than any of her past work. It lacks the eccentric graphic designs present on other albums and salutes the years of experience and service MIA has dedicated to the music industry thus far. Yet the seventeen track ensemble, indicative of the several ideas MIA had for this album, features a discord of sounds and cluttered beats that could suggest a lack of development, or focus to fully refine it. MIA seems frustrated with the industry she knows so well, notoriously complaining about big stars speaking about the same things and ‘overlooking’ other topics such as ‘Muslim lives matter’. The legal issues and lack of audience engagement she received could have discouraged her more. Her work has always been hectic, yet always led to comfort for listeners no matter how bold and frenzied a track was. In AIM, MIA seems to buckle down to get serious, an undertone of resignation in her words, only to jump up and pulse through a rap verse or two.
As MIA said herself, ‘Sometimes I have many visions!’ (See Freedun). She is #freedun with society’s sh*ts. Let her sign off how she wants.