M.I.A. is the featured artist for this week's Music Monday. She is a "British songwriter, record producer, singer, rapper, fashion designer, visual artist, political activist, and artist of Tamil Sri Lankan origin", as defined by Wikipedia.
I'm actually not that familiar with M.I.A. I've known of her since early in college, about five years ago, when a much cooler friend would play this incessantly:
But I haven't sought her out much since. I tend to be a passive music listener - my partner is music-obsessed, and I'm far less articulate and defined in my own musical tastes. I often end up listening to what he's listening to and doing little exploration on my own.
I began listening to her last week when Racialicious published a post querying the feminist hype about Lady Gaga and positing a comparison to M.I.A.:
[w]hile the spectacle of Gaga is dazzling, ironically as a singer, her music is the least progressive thing about her. Especially when you contrast it with M.I.A’s bonkers rhymes and bold call-outs to volatile political conflicts.
Personally, I love Gaga because I have really poppy sensibilities and she writes excellent pop songs. And though the post linked above mentions M.I.A.'s claim that Gaga "mimic[s]" M.I.A., I actually don't really agree. Both are dance-y, but Gaga is straightforward singer/songwriter romance-oriented pop - not challenging, but extremely well-constructed and sung. M.I.A. has less vocal emphasis, and her beats are more aggressive and less rote.
Nonetheless, I'm enjoying MIA a great deal even though she's more of a challenge. Her videos are aesthetically pleasing and act as a direct challenge to systems of power. Gaga's videos are also nice-looking and engaging on a visual level, but I really have to look pretty hard to find any political meaning. Not so much with M.I.A.'s video for "Sunflowers", below: