She: [M.I.A.]'s so good.
He: I like the CD you made me.
She: She sounds so Indian. Like, exotic.
Now, until last night's show, I had no idea who bought her albums beside rockcrits and readers of their prose. Which isn't entirely fair: I've students who went to her show in early 2006. But it was a coterie, and (teen) musical coteries store facts like granaries store wheat, without digesting them. Thanks to a grainy pre-concert film showing an authoritarian Ceylonian head of state and a Soviet kepis that M.I.A. sported (crowning a baggy gold sequined blouse thing that Phyllis Diller would have loved), the coterie had some inkling that her music was "political" even if its content was lost on them. On me too. Anthony articulated some of my discomforts a couple of months ago, predictably more sophisticated than protests from Ethan Padgetts of rockcrit. She gets too much credit for statements that wither when listened to as manifestos; her many good songs, as he rightly put it, "revole around not just facile slogans but facile questions."All I could glean from "Boyz" and "Sunshowers" is what I've enjoyed from noted theorist Prince Rogers Nelson: there's fucked-up shit in this world, so let's dance and fuck. While I'm not accusing her of cynically exploiting her background to add a patina of social relevance to those shape-shifting beats, she gets toomuch credit for them; or, rather, the beats are ever so much weirder than her lyrics.
I live in Miami. M.I.A. could have been Gloria Estefan, "Sunshowers" and "Boyz" could have been "Get On Your Feet" and "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" -- songs by another dark-skinned exotic who gets points for being friskier than what was on most of the audience's iPod's. Since she (and us) was having such a great time I don't begrudge her reluctance to turn into Linton Kwesi Johnson, but there's a reason why "Paper Planes," live and on record, remains her most conflicted statement and most striking musical moment -- she hints that she isn't the only one up for indictment.