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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

Will M.I.A’s Comeback Documentary Answer All The Questions That Brew Around Her Career And Activism?

  • IWB Post
  •  September 13, 2018

Born as Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam, M.I.A is the pop-star who set up the stage for South Asian electronic music.

She was elevated to mainstream stardom right after her first two albums, Arular in 2005 and Kala in 2007, released to great critical acclaim. Peaking in the Top 20 worldwide and also making it to number four on Billboard Hot 100, her single “Paper Planes” put her in league with the seminal British artists of all time.

It made her a phenomenon so big that she in a way inspired and catalyzed the music aesthetics and careers of so many artists like Nucleya, Su Real, and others in India.

Born to Sri Lankan Tamil parents in the violence of Sri Lankan civil war, M.I.A became the defining voice for a generation. Her music became a reflection of a life full of broken relationships, constant displacement (moving from Sri Lanka to India to the UK), and the consequent distraught. Her music thus began resonating with communities with similar predicament and affected by the American foreign policy in the Middle-East and South Asia.

Her music encapsulated the post 9/11 paranoia and the issues of the Global South to mainstream America as she simultaneously took over the cultural landscape.

However, the same activist zeal that took her to the heights soon became instrumental in her downfall. Post-2014, her career graph plummeted. The lukewarm response to her albums Matangi (2013) and AIM (2016) was accompanied by an online backlash resulting from her comments of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But where did she go wrong? It was a 2016 interview with ES magazine that became her undoing when she responded to a question pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement by saying “Is Beyonce or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters?”

She was accused of conflating the movement with the racism experienced by people of colour, of being partial and unjust. The way her statement was received highlights how political rhetoric mixes with the cultural industry and decides the artist’s career.

This is not to diminish or deny issues faced by a community or even just an individual, but it is slightly problematic to expect everyone to look at the world from the same point of view. Not everyone can observe the public discourse from the same perspective.

It is an argument that pertains to the standards set for pop-stars in a globalised society. However, a lot of questions remain to be raised and answered. Perhaps revisiting Maya’s art would answer a few of them.

She is all set to re-enter the mainstream industry this year with the release of an autobiographical documentary, titled M.I.A/Matangi/Maya, directed by Steve Loveridge. The documentary traces her journey to global stardom and her career from a multi-dimensional perspective. It would indeed be intriguing to witness how it tackles all the questions that brew around her.

H/T: Vice

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