A week on, the excitement of MIA’s show at the Brixton Academy hasn’t dulled at all, and after reading an irritating interview in the Guardian with her, I feel like I need to hurry up and say something about it all.
One of the things that frustrated me so much about the Guardian interview is something that always seems to come up when people write stuff about MIA; they like to imply that she’s confused, that she is contradictory, maybe is lying about stuff, and that she’s a bit of a brat.
Part of why I love MIA so much is due to her so called “contradictions”, which resonate with me and with the life that I have lived. Not one growing up on London’s mean streets, or having parents possibly affiliated with the Tamil tigers or making Elastica’s album covers or anything exciting that. More just my experience of being mixed race, being queer, being born in New Zealand, having parents who weren’t born in NZ, moving to London, and, consequently also being made to feel contradictory and rootless in so many ways, good and bad.
People want MIA to fit neatly into all the many little boxes they’ve made for her. They want to show her up as a fake. But she’s not confused, people, this is actually the way her life is, and she’s lived it for 35 years, so I’m pretty sure she damn well knows who she is, and how she feels about things; she’s just presenting them to you in a way you don’t understand. Her identity just can’t be neat and tidy. She’s not going to give you what you want, if what you want is a strightforward answer.
Ultimately, like she says in this interview, she’s a punk, far more punk than many of the other self-proclaimed punk musicians around at the moment, cos she spends her time messing with people’s pre-conceived notions, shocking them, and, most importantly, doing what she wants. She’s like Ari Up & Missy Elliott and all those other female & queer musicians who defy expections. And for once she’s south Asian too, damn, that’s hott.
I love MIA because she’s the first musician that I could actually look at and think, she kind of looks like me, or my cousins or my sister, it seems possible we could’ve been her in another life. I’ve never felt like that about Deborah Harry for example. I love her music, because it brings full circle the music I listened to growing up, and what I listen to now. I love her videos, especially Bird Flu , because not only are they visually stunning, she also presents people on the screen who are very rarely on the screen in the context of a music video.
So, her show. Total genius. The first 15 mins had a young woman on the decks, who at first I thought was MIA because they looked so similar in silhouette against the backdrop, but turns out it wasn’t. She commanded the crowd until MIA appeared on stage with her dancers and the background exploded in a digital onslaught of colour. Her set was an almost perfectly balanced mixture of her 3 albums, the usual situation of the new songs kinda boring you was totally not the case with this show. I listened with a new appreciation to “Born Free”, off her latest album; without the distraction of that intense video, the song really comes into its own.
I find her most recent album more chilling, more robotic and less human than the other 2, (by which I mean, great). Coupled with her onstage visuals which included a maze-like screensaver made up of millions of mesmerizing Captchas, chaotically flickering neon lights spelling out the album’s title above the stage, and the audience being projected onto the backdrop, their faces being overlapped by the anonymous Facebook profile picture, the show was occasionally creepy in a totally awesome way; she shows up the way in which the “human” & “the internet” have become so inseperably intertwined.
In saying that though, pulling half the crowd up on stage for the third song (“Boyz”) was a very warm way to start the show, it made clear that MIA’s main agenda was to have a party (and break the rules, of course). And she certainly crowd pleased, ending the night with “Paper Planes”. What can I say, she is full of contradictions.
I never imagined I’d be lucky enough to actually be in London listening to her make that call to arms:“London, quiet down I need to make a sound”. But I was, and it was truely one of the gigs of my life.