To say that M.I.A. is no stranger to controversy is a severe understatement. The Sri Lanka-born artist’s unapologetic sociopolitical commentary and activism have led to visa complications in the U.S., being called a “terrorist sympathizer” by her home country’s government, and most recently had her removed from the lineup of Afropunk Festival.
M.I.A.’s festival removal was likely a direct result of backlash following a comment the artist made in an April interview with Evening Standard, when she was prodded about her thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement:
It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.
Though M.I.A. has praised the Black Lives Matter movement in her music, she maintains that her focus is more global, and in a recent NPR interview attempted to clarify her previous comments, bringing up a very valid point about international representation in the mainstream along the way:
When you have 20 icons, and all 20 icons are American — apart from, say, Adele and Coldplay, who are British — then the pressure kind of goes on someone like me," she says. "I was saying, well, if we've got 10 artists to listen to for the next 10 years, either make those artists varied or open up the floodgates for these artists to talk about other issues and don't just make it particular to their own experience, because it's shutting down a lot of current affairs affecting the rest of the world. ... If we're waiting for a Syrian kid to come up and talk about Syria, we might be waiting for a long time, because those kids are not gonna get that opportunity.
This additional context to her initial comment brings to light not a downplay of the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, but an assertion that the sociopolitical conversation in American entertainment is very much kept relegated to divisive homeland issues with very little attention paid to global injustices, and is perpetuated through a purposefully Americentric media and entertainment climate.
Though the United States is a glorious melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, it doesn’t take a very lengthy look into our music industry to see that it is largely lacking in representation from an international perspective. M.I.A. represents a growing globalist ideology that, regardless of political or religious belief, is somewhat inevitable due to our technologically driven, exponentially-increasing connectedness, and has consistently used her artistic platform to address injustices on a global scale.
Through her own experiences, M.I.A. is justified in questioning the reasoning for high-profile artists not using their platform to touch on more varied, international issues. She’s not saying these artists don’t care or aren’t aware of worldwide injustices, she’s flat out saying they’re not allowed to speak about them.
Though it may sound like a conspiracy theory, you have to remember that M.I.A. has literally been kept from entering the U.S. due to the “radical” nature of her art. The same country that touts freedom of speech as its very first amendment continues to stifle the voices of so many. Considering music in general, and hip-hop specifically, have long been vessels for social justice, at the root of M.I.A.’s comments is a desire for a more unified duty to use the platform of fame as a tool for global change, and there’s nothing radical about that.
By Brent Bradley, whose Twitter is probably now on an NSA list.
Photo Credit: Instagram