M.I.A.'s acclaimed video for single "Bad Girls" charmed viewers by combining visuals of the West with East (more specifically, Middle East); now the dancehall/pop/noise/hip-hop artist has done it again with her fresh "Bring the Noize," crowning herself a goddess in a temple of dance.
"Bring the Noize" is a nod at the Public Enemy song of the same name, a good descriptor of its sound and is also the intro to "Matangi," M.I.A.'s next album. Matangi is a Hindu goddess of music and word. It's also M.I.A.'s real name -- Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam. A fertile combo -- political songwriting, spiritual maxims, pop cultural context.
All interesting stuff, following a week filled with Kanye West proclaiming himself "Yeezus."
M.I.A. has spent her career on sensational, radical, halting, genre-bending and political statements, some coherent, others not nearly. In the video for "Bring the Noize," she uses familiar symbols in Hindu that are, without coincidence, less familiar to Western audiences. It starts with devotional singing, chopped and screwed into the noisy beat, and looped around images of sacred cows; breaking coconuts; the OM symbol in brilliant colors; ritual "washing" from holy fire (with smoke machines, natch). She dances, bejeweled around rows of mostly male worshipers, who have removed their shoes and dressed all in white.
There's a holy purpose in all the topis, turbans, and the wild Western spin on traditional fashion: in the words from her Facebook page, "GODDESS OF WORD BITCHES IMA KEEP IT BANGING." Crudely, she's co-opting those "sacred cows" to establish herself with a whole new swagger, or at least the kind that Interscope or any other major label has yet to push large-scale.
And yet it comes with its own issues. She makes her hands into an automatic weapon during the "da-da-da-dums," the "uniform" of this temple appearing militaristic. "Bring the noise when we run upon them," she chants call-and-response, but who is "them?" Audiences see people of color assembling, which would be a refreshing sight in music videos if we weren't also accustomed to (wrongly) associating groups of brown men gathered "holy purposes" with terror and violence.
Maybe it'd bode better if there was a dance-off, and if she put her "gun" down. In "Bad Girls," she illustrated what it is to be "bad" within a Middle Eastern, traditionally male-dominated culture (and subculture -- you saw those cars, right?). Here she introduces her goddess-among-men in style, as an icon of worship. It's at least an intriguing watch, playing with cultural unfamiliarity within familiar fashion and art. Whether she's empowering or entirely full of sh*t, M.I.A. as a female, Tamil-descended Hindu-practicing music artist knows what it is to be marginalized, and busts that experience open in an exciting, fun song. Also: nail art.
"Matangi" is due some time this fall. Watch the video below. Do you like it?