Because M.I.A. will tweet “FUCK NEW YORK TIMES! DO YOU THINK YOU NEED TO GO HERE ON VACATION!” and “HERE IS THE LUSH COASTLINE THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT” with a very disturbing and graphic photo of dead Tamil civilians in response to an article in their Travel section, “The 31 Places to Go in 2010,” where Sri Lanka was listed as one of the top tourist destinations a year after the long and bloody civil war ended. That was the first time I had seen a pop star publically criticize the tourism industry and point out that people who have the privilege to travel also have a responsibility to educate themselves, and she did it in a way that was emotional and unafraid.
Because nonwhite individuals are often expected to speak for entire groups of people, which leads to hand-wringing arguments about authenticity, about whether someone—who never asked to be the spokesperson for an entire group of people in the first place—has suffered enough to earn the right to be heard. M.I.A. understands that—she said in an interview with Tavis Smiley, “The more successful I’m getting, the direr the situation in Sri Lanka’s getting… It’s ironic that I’m the only Tamil [in the Western media], and I’ve turned into the only voice for the Tamil people.”
Because political activism is for everyone–flawed people, self-absorbed people, immature people, mature people, artists and philistines and intellectuals and sensualists and materialists. People who do good in the world are not saints, and it’s bullshit to believe that political activism is something only incredibly serious and morally upright people do—that kind of thinking not only makes it very unattractive to be politically active, but it also excuses the rest of us from any obligation to educate ourselves or take action. It elevates the notion of “political activism” to something reserved for the saintly, the extraordinarily gifted, the spectacularly selfless and devoted, like Martin Luther King or Gandhi, both of whom have been mythologized into angelic warriors, leaving the rest of us to think: Well, of course I can’t be expected to sacrifice on that level. M.I.A. is not an angelic warrior or a political pundit or an academic or an intellectual, but she cares about politics and she cares about having FUN and she makes a call to action fun to dance to. And seeing her publicly eviscerated for not having sophisticated or even consistent politics only makes me more determined to help create a space where young people who are just learning what their political beliefs are can do so without fear of being shamed.
Because M.I.A. isn’t always articulate or eloquent, and her moments of inarticulateness and ineloquence have given me the courage to not be so hard on my own moments of inarticulateness and ineloquence and to accept and love my bad teenage poetry and my attempts to speak and write about issues I was and am still learning about.
Because she is a brat and unapologetically so. When the journalist Lynn Hirschberg tried to make M.I.A. come off like a shallow, privileged provocateur who ate fancy truffle fries while talking about wanting to be an “outsider” in a New York Times Magazine profile, M.I.A. retaliated by tweeting Hirschberg’s cell phone number and posting an audio clip that she had secretly recorded of the interview, revealing that it was, in fact, Hirschberg who ordered the fries. This move was widely viewed as unethical and immature, but I ate it up. And when M.I.A. flipped America the middle finger at the Super Bowl, my heart beamed and soared like a shooting star. Because I’m all for antics; I’m all for juvenile gestures.
Because M.I.A. got me into London dubstep and grime and Jamaican dancehall and the funk carioca and baile funk that came from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Because her music makes patois cool and beautiful in a world where those who deviate from “standard” English are often (wrongfully) considered uneducated and ignorant. Because “Paper Planes” saved me in 2007 when I was living in Iowa City and dealing with some next-level racism. Because M.I.A. filmed the video for “Paper Planes” in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, where she lived for a year, where she once filmed an incidence of police brutality from her apartment window and posted it on YouTube. Because when she appeared on Letterman, they altered the sounds of gunshots in her song without telling her, and the look of utter WTF dismay on her face (at 1:16 in this very blurry video) when she realizes what’s happened is the most beautiful moment I have ever seen on The Late Show With David Letterman.
Because she refused to wear ugly maternity clothes when she was pregnant and instead wore THIS:
and performed “Swagga Like Us” with Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne, and T.I. at the Grammys ON HER DUE DATE, and was having contractions while looking like a gorgeous alien panda princess, and she was magnificent and magnetic and killed it.
Because her first mixtape, Piracy Funds Terrorism, is the only thing that can make me feel better in the dead of winter when it seems like daylight disappears an hour after I wake up. Because when she was first blowing up and people were attributing her success to the DJ/producer Diplo, a white dude from Philly who was going around taking credit for M.I.A.’s sound, she wasn’t afraid to stand up and be like, HEY I CREATED THIS AND YOU AREN’T GOING TO TAKE THIS AWAY FROM ME. Because that happens to female artists, and especially female artists of color, ALL THE TIME. “I find it kind of insulting,” she told Pitchfork, “that I can’t have any ideas on my own because I’m a female, or that people from undeveloped countries can’t have ideas of their own unless it’s backed up by someone who’s blond-haired and blue-eyed.”
Because M.I.A. is literally the best thing ever to have happened to pop culture and pop music in my lifetime, and like Le Tigre said in their song “Hot Topic”: “Please don’t stop / I can’t live if you stop.” Because she’s the queen of my world. Because somewhere there is a T-shirt that says “If I can’t dance, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” and here in my little Brooklyn apartment, I’m dancing to M.I.A. and wanting all the rest of you to join me. ♦