A funny thing happened on the way to hearing M.I.A.'s third album: We heard a lot about it. Sure, we heard a lot before her 2005 debut, Arular. A videography gig leading to a drum machine, MySpace phenomenon, and so forth. We also heard a fair amount before her follow-up, 2007's Kala. Denied a visa ….
Amid the furore surrounding almost everything Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam has done or said these last few months – whether it’s launching a one-woman tirade against a journalist who misquoted her in the New York Times, claiming the Government is inextricably linked with websites like Google and Facebook, or simply unleashing that video – it has become easy to overlook her achievements as an artist. It’s true that in many ways, she doesn’t help herself: from the beginning, her music has been that dressed up in the kind of iconography and blunt radicalism that it is nigh on impossible to separate the two, while her discernible lack of a filter has landed her in some awkward situations, many of her own making. Whether this is the time or place to consider her merits as an activist is something I’m still wrestling with, but I will go as far as this: I like M.
London-born Sri Lankan Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam could just be the perfect pop star. She’s that irresistible, hard-to-ignore mix of intrigue, fun, controversy, branding know-how and beauty. She’s always on hand with a quotable soundbite, whether it be pertaining to herself, other artists or political activism. Last year, she was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 “World’s Most Influential People” and - despite not even considering herself a musician - she’s already made two albums of glorious, cacophonous, joyous, genre-melting, Technicolor pop.
M.I.A. :: MayaNEET/InterscopeAuthor: Jesal 'Jay Soul' PadaniaI have a theory about M.I.A.'s new album. This was supposed to be her version of "OK Computer" - or at least, that is what it started out as. She sat there heavily pregnant, so the story goes, unable/unwilling to do anything but sit on the Internet and explore.
There are moments during MAYA when it seems like M.I.A.'s next move might involve walking into a laundromat, filling the dryers with bricks and silverware, pulling the fire alarm, blaring a drop-forge beat from a tinny boombox, and recording the result. Much of the singer’s third album is situated to prove, if anything, that motherhood and a comfortable living situation have not softened her. She does so with a load of mostly unorganized noise produced alongside Switch, Blaqstarr, Rusko, Diplo, John Hill, and Derek E.
M.I.A.'s third album is a frustrating mix of brilliance and bullshit. Her first album (Arular) was named after her father, her second (Kala) after her mother, and this one after herself (inexplicably stylized as the ungoogleable /\/\ /\ Y /\). Appropriately, it's also her most self-indulgent, and the results are mixed, to say the least. The new industrial influences and heavily distorted textures work amazingly well at times, but after a few songs you find yourself longing for something resembling a melody.
For a moment, let us uncouple Maya Arulpragasam's third album from the media hoo-hah that's attended its release. Let us banish from our minds the New York Times's recent profile of MIA and its author, Lynn Hirschberg, who, depending on your view, is either a smart journalist that gave a gobby, incoherent pop star enough rope, or someone so intent on stitching MIA up she might as well have rocked up with a sewing machine instead of a Dictaphone and a plate of truffle chips – Arulpragasam's fondness for the latter being apparently symbolic of her inherent hypocrisy. Equally, let us blank out the sneaking suspicion that MIA doesn't need to be duped into saying stupid things in interviews: she does that of her own accord.
Through it all—the spats with journalists, the pot shots taken at other artists, the bandied-about allegations of truffle fry ordering—there’s a reason why we continued to pay attention to M.I.A. It wasn’t just because we love celebrities who harness the media’s insatiable appetite for news to their own ends (though, admittedly, that may have had something to do with it). Rather, it was because M.I.A.
As if timed precisely to capitalize on the controversy generated by Lynn Hirschberg’s widely-blogged NYT hatchet piece, sounding the warning shot in an inevitable critical backlash, M.I.A.’s third full-length album arrives with plenty of baggage in tow. For better or worse, Maya Arulpragasam’s work as M.I.A. seems destined for critical scrutiny of a very specific sort.
Pop music has a way of forgiving artists on a hot streak. You can say, do, or get accused of horrible things, but most of time, if you're delivering the goods, the public will remain on your side. This is why R. Kelly is like Teflon, and why outrage regarding Michael Jackson's scandals and peculiarities only truly hobbled him when the quality of his music began to slide in the early 1990s.
”You know who I am,” Maya Arulpragasam intones repeatedly on her third full-length’s dense, drilling opener, ”Steppin’ Up.” And indeed, even the most casual consumers of popular culture have a pretty good idea by now: She is M.I.A. — agit-pop provocateur, media lightning rod, ambassadress of multiculti swagger. What the Sri Lanka-bred Brit isn’t here is a very compelling musician.
The cluttered cover of M.I.A.'s third album speaks volumes. She's always gone for sensory overload in terms of aesthetic and message, but what are we to make of bad Photoshop? In the fickle Internet age, it's impressive the British/Sri Lankan artist has stayed relevant this long, especially since she found fame and fortune and currently enjoys a charmed life that clashes with her rebellious street persona. Now, Maya Arulpragasam's outrage at the "system" carries extra cushion, providing a stage for either indulgence or transcendence, and there's more of the former than the latter on Maya.
M.I.A.’s spectacular third album has much to offer an inquisitive and open mind. Matthew Bennett 2010 Some musicians fret about the difficulties of writing a new album. Since 2007’s hugely successful Kala, Maya Arulpragasam has designed clothing, set up her own label (N.E.E.T.), been in and out of the press for several reasons mostly unrelated to her latest material, and had her first child.
M.I.A.“/\/\/\Y/\”(N.E.E.T./XL/Interscope) “You know who I am,” Maya Arulpragasam, or M.I.A, raps in “Steppin Up” on her third album, titled to be read as “Maya.” One song later, in “XXXO,” she sings, “You want me be somebody who I’m really not.” She’s right on both counts. As every rock-blog reader knows, M.I.A. was born in England, grew up in Sri Lanka during civil war, attended art school in London and started making hip-hop tracks with a friend’s drum machine.