2012: the year of M.I.A.
Madonna. Lady Gaga. Usher. Lil Wayne. Dr. Dre. All of these artists are releasing new albums in 2012, but I believe that the year will truly belong to M.I.A. The British rapper, best known for her hit “Paper Planes,” has been off the radar for a while, but coming off a performance at the Super Bowl and with a new album on the way, she’ll be on everyone’s minds. As she would say, M.I.A. is “coming back with power power.”
The unorthodox beats she creates and the lyrics she writes aren’t even the most fascinating thing about M.I.A. She was born to political refugees of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and her father was absent for most of her life. She feuded with a writer for The New York Times over truffle fries. She was denied a work visa to the United States once. And yet, she’s overcome all of that to become a Grammy and Oscar nominee and a mother to son Ihkyd. While her story isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches tale, her career path is rich with material to draw from. The daughter of a seamstress and a rebel became one of the world’s biggest female rap stars, and now she is engaged to an heir of a powerful Jewish family. That is more compelling than almost every other current top-ten artist’s story combined.
The album, currently untitled, will be her fourth, after two critically acclaimed efforts (“Arular” and “Kala”) and an underrated, complex and sometimes-incomprehensible third album, “Maya.” The “Maya” era was perhaps the most tumultuous in her career, as everyone wanted another “Paper Planes,” and she gave them some of the most radio-unfriendly music she had ever made. One of her music videos, “Born Free,” was banned from YouTube, and she gave an interview that made her look awful, privileged and desperate. In late 2010, she released a mixtape, “Vicki Leekx,” which sounded similar to both “Maya” and “Kala” and was viewed as a welcome return.
The new album is due out sometime in the summer. The lead single, “Bad Girls,” had already been released as a song on “Vicki Leekx,” but the production has been refined and the lyrics improved for the new album. It has a sublime hook: “Live fast, die young / Bad girls do it well.” The music video, released on Feb. 3rd, by French director Romain Gavras has attracted more buzz on the Internet than her collaboration with Madonna and Nicki Minaj. The video is set in a Middle Eastern country and features some amazing car stunts, including one in which M.I.A. sits on the door of a car driving on only two wheels, filing her nails. If Romain Gavras ever directs a “Fast and Furious” movie, I will be first in line for that ticket. M.I.A. was also featured on Madonna’s new song “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” which will get more radio play than “Bad Girls,” a fact inexplicable to anyone with ears. She gets nothing more than a short verse on the song, but it is the highlight, with a welcome callback to “Paper Planes.” It’s been almost three years since it seemed like M.I.A. was everywhere with that song. Perhaps that is a good omen of things to come this year.