mia0M.I.A. is a popular and controversial musical artist from England, of Sri Lankan origin. Though many of us remember her music from years ago (I have to say, her song “Galang” is still one of my favorites), her 2007 album Kala got a lot of play. The single “Paper Planes” was sampled everywhere, from commercials to movie trailers. She’s caused a good deal of controversy for always incorporating her political opinions into her songs. She’s been outspoken about the US ‘War on Terror’, saying:

You can’t separate the world into two parts like that, good and evil. Terrorism is a method, but America has successfully tied all these pockets of independence struggles, revolutions, and extremists into one big notion of terrorism.

She’s also very critical of the Sri Lankan government & what she views as a genocide against the Tamils, and features lyrics about Palestine, (specifically the PLO). She has always integrated violent lyrics into her very danceable songs.

M.I.A. has just released a new single, and a new video. It’s called “Born Free” and I think it’s incredibly thought-provoking, as well as incredibly violent. (Seriously, this is a warning– it contains reaaaaaaalllly graphic imagery).

(EDIT: the video has been taken down from YouTube, but you can watch it here: http://vimeo.com/11219730)

I have two things to say about this. This first has to do with the fact that M.I.A. is a woman who is outspoken & incredibly aware of political issues. As Jezebel wrote earlier, “In an era when MTV is airing The Hills and Jersey Shore, M.I.A., Lady Gagaand Erykah Badu are making the music video an artform again.” And I think there’s even more to say than that. Unlike Gaga and Badu, who still use their bodies and sexualities to make their points (not a critique at all, just a fact), M.I.A. often doesn’t even show herself in her videos, and she features much stronger, more realistic violence. In an era where we’re bombarded with Heidi Montag’s new plastic surgery and Lindsay Lohan’s party girl demise, we’ve also got women in the media making bold, thoughtful statements. Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for The Hurt Locker, and many were surprised not at a woman’s ability to make a great movie, but at the content– this was no ‘chick flick,’ but a thoughtful, gritty collection of vignettes of soldiers in Iraq. I think that “Born Free” also demonstrates the ability of women to not shy away from depictions of violence, and even to view them as integral to the articulation of a point.

The second take-away point that I have is about the content. The theme is clearly about the Other, and the violent, completely arbitrary decimation of the Other. Jews, blacks, the Japanese, Hispanics, Muslims, gays — and many more — have all at one point in history suffered under violent oppression because a group in power believed them to be ‘less than’ or even ‘dangerous’ to humanity. M.I.A.’s video deals with humanity’s obsession with violently “othering” a group of people. This narrative has been replicated so, so many times in art, music, movies, and literature– but very rarely with white-on-white oppression. I believe the fact that she picked redheads was very deliberate. I think gingers might be the most easily identifiable subgroup type of white people based on coloring (had you picked brunettes, or blondes, people may not have as easily picked up on why they were all being rounded up). And of course, it’s so random, unnecessary, silly, and upsetting to see soldiers slaughtering redheaded men, because it’s not an image we’re used to seeing. The liberation army, wearing kefayas, is an obvious nod to the Palestinians, but the message has a very different impact due to her deliberate choice not to use people of color as the victims.

Regardless of your opinions on her political views, you can’t deny the fact that this is a young, successful woman of color, fully immersed in youth culture, using her platform and influence to make incredibly bold political statements. That in itself is worth celebrating.