After a six-year hiatus, electronic and rap artist M.I.A. is back with a new single and accompanying video, entitled “Popular.” The single is the lead track off of her upcoming album, “Mata,” expected later this year, though no official date has been released yet.
Since releasing her debut album “Arular” in 2005, M.I.A. (real name: Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam) has released a new album generally every three years. This was the longest break in between albums since 2016’s “AIM.” M.IA.’s albums have featured highly-charged political messages focusing on immigration, war, and globalization. No doubt inspired by her personal upbringing as the child of Sri Lankan parents, she was born in London before her parents moved back to Sri Lanka when she was just six months old. As a result of the Sri Lankan Civil War, her family was forced to move back to London as refugees.
M.I.A. first started attracting attention with “Arular,” which she named after her father. She gained a lot of fans for blending world music with electro and hip-hop, as she sang and rapped. Unlike several mainstream rappers at the time who sang about affluence and being “ballers,” she was able to integrate political lyrics with a beat that you could find people dancing to. Her follow-up album, “Kala” (named after her mother), quickly picked up momentum where her last album did and only started gaining more traction. The album’s first singles, “Bird Flu” and “Jimmy,” did well, however it was one of the last “Kala” songs released that would propel M.I.A. into a huge star.
“Paper Planes” was released in 2008 and was nearly immediately a mega hit single. The song, which samples the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” features a chorus with the sound of cash registers and gunshots, leading it to be heavily edited on the radio. That did not stop the song from receiving heavy radio rotation, initially on rock stations like KROQ and ALT 987, then on hip-hop stations, and eventually top 40 stations. “Paper Planes” would eventually go triple platinum, selling four million digital copies and boosting “Kala” to gold.
The new release, “Popular,” is produced by frequent and long-time collaborator, Diplo, along with Boaz van de Beatz. The lyrics are a satirical look at the glamorous lifestyles often portrayed on social media, bragging how people are “livin’ my best life.”
What stands out most about the music for this song is the thumping bass that had my car speakers shaking, along with a blaring reggaton horn blaring during the chorus.
The video features what appears to be an A.I. version of M.I.A. dressed identical to her and trying to imitate the singer. Interspliced in the middle are random images from social media and the repeated words “popularity” along with various videos of teens attempting viral dance videos.
Without analyzing the lyrics too much, it seems like a song aimed at the enhanced importance that is placed on popularity and doing whatever it takes to gain likes and follows, while everyone strives to portray the best face and best life possible on social media. It’s the kind of unfiltered and scathing look at society that we’ve come to associate with M.I.A. If the song is any indication of what “Mata” will bring then M.I.A. is back and ready to reclaim her throne.