Album Review: ‘Matangi’ by M.I.A.

| Senior Cadenza Editor

For fans of:
Major Lazer, Left, Kanye West

Singles to download
‘Y.A.L.A.,’ ‘Bad Girls,’ ‘Sexodus’

It’s been one of her most famous lines for most of her career, and an overly quoted line when referring to this era, but it’s undeniably true. M.I.A. is “coming back with power power.” The artist even announces it herself at the end of “Come Walk With Me.” This is not the M.I.A. of feuds with reporters or flipping off people on national TV. Those scandals were overblown, and even if they mattered, one spin of “Matangi” will make you forget that sometimes Mathangi Arulpragasam can be a bit melodramatic.

The title track, “Matangi,” is an assault of noise with a “Bird Flu”-like beat complete with pounding drums and piercing screams. With about a minute left of the song, an entirely different beat drops, reminiscent of a Bollywood mandolin pumped through sky-high amplifiers. Another highlight, “Double Bubble Trouble,” fearlessly fuses a typical reggae beat with pulsating trumpets. It’s no surprise that she’s collaborated with some of the hottest producers in music at the moment; she’s worked with Hit-Boy (“N—– in Paris”) and Danja (“Gimme More”) alongside longtime collaborator Switch, the non-Diplo half of Major Lazer.

And in what can only be described as a Pitchfork writer’s wet dream, M.I.A. has not one but two collaborations with fellow Internet darling The Weeknd, “Exodus” and “Sexodus.” The better of the two similar-sounding songs is “Sexodus,” which she apparently offered to Madonna. I’m grateful she kept it for herself, though, because I can’t imagine anybody but M.I.A. singing the song’s hook: “Yeah, you keep on telling me you wanna have it all./Tell me what for.” The song closes out the album with her fading vocals played over the noise of a helicopter blade slicing through air, the perfect metaphor for the tone of the album: incisive in the unique way that only M.I.A. can be.

The staggering accomplishment that is her sound’s growth is matched by increasing prowess as a lyricist. “Bad Girls” is easily her best chorus ever—who hasn’t quoted “live fast, die young/bad girls do it well”? And her raps in “Bring the Noize” and “Y.A.L.A.” are simultaneously clever, hilarious and impressive. Who else but M.I.A. could come up with lines like, “I’m so tangy, people call me Mathangi/Goddess of word, b—— I’mma keep it banging”?

And “Y.A.L.A.,” which is a response track to the “Y.O.LO.” (you only live once) culture created by rappers like Drake and Lil Wayne, features line after line of fiery raps. Only someone like M.I.A. could get away with saying, “Bombs go off when I enter the building” and make her listeners love it, too. It’s a song critiquing the reckless, bottle-service and ladies-in-the-club culture, but this song is a better club-banger than anything those other rappers have put out. The production, by Dutch disc jockey duo The Partysquad, is just as explosive as the lyrics. It ends with a spoken word insult that asks “If you only live once, why we keep doing the same s—?” Her audacity grows with every album but is never over-the-top like other overconfident rappers can be. Perhaps her unique life story, reflected in her fusion of different genres and musical cultures, is what lends her credibility. Or perhaps it’s just refreshing to hear a female artist operating on the same level in the overwhelmingly male-dominated genre of rap.

Yet while it’s easy to connect some of the songs with hits from her previous albums, M.I.A. is working on a whole new sonic level. It’s not as easily digestible as “Kala,” but she appears to have rediscovered her knack for making hits since the commercially and critically underwhelming “Maya.” This is avant-garde pop, but it is still pop. “Bad Girls” has become just as inescapable as “Paper Planes” was in movie trailers, and there are at least three or four songs with the potential to join those two. Regardless of whether or not M.I.A. ever left, this is her return to cultural relevance—relevance she deserves more than most other artists on the charts right now.

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