M.I.A.’s video for her newest single, "Popular," casts her robot replica in the role of the pop star. The song explores self-love and success, separating M.I.A. from the role she plays in culture today. With choral lyrics, "Love me like I love me, love me/ Suddenly it’s about me, ‘bout me/ Now you wanna be around me, ‘round me/ Cause I love myself, I’m livin' life," M.I.A. speaks to the duality of life in the limelight, where personal perception is always in conversation with public perception.
The video follows M.A.I. recording a casting video, while the real M.I.A. guides her through the affectations and idiosyncrasies of identity. With a gentle hand, M.I.A. shows her A.I. alter-ego exactly how to make a heart sign and "pop, pop" her finger gun, before moving on to more advanced material like how to "pop and lock." As M.A.I. gradually gains sentience, M.I.A. gains popularity.
M.I.A. got "really, really popular" in the early 2010s for pioneering a sound influenced by the dance and electronic music of her London upbringing, with elements of rap, hip hop, and her Sri Lankan heritage baked in. Beyond her innovative discography, her lyrical and visual perspective provided commentary on everything from globalized identity to immigration and warfare, channeled through songs you could (and would) hear on any good night out.
After gaining superstar status, M.I.A. retreated from the spotlight in the wake of her 2016 album, AIM, and a lot has changed in her absence. She and Diplo seem to have rekindled their relationship, artistically, earning him a producer credit on "Popular," and M.I.A. announced she is a born-again Christian in the 2021 song, "Babylon," coinciding with the NFT auction of her 2010 mixtape, Vicki Leekx.
After six years, M.I.A. is back when we need her most. Her revival comes at the perfect time, as musicians continue to innovate and deviate within genres, and the UK dance scene that once influenced M.I.A. gains next generation notoriety through the likes of PinkPantheress.
In her 2016 single, "Borders," M.I.A. asked the question, "What’s up with that?", interrogating everything from buzzwords like "slaying it" to "breaking the internet." But "Popular" harkens back to an even earlier iteration of M.I.A. Her breakout song, "Paper Planes," served as a commentary on border imperialism, capitalism, the war on drugs and US involvement in the Middle East, all rolled into one catchy tune with a chorus that sparked one of the first pre-TikTok dance trends.
If you and your friends didn’t make a YouTube video acting out the "Paper Planes" chorus with finger guns and air-cash registers in 2008, you simply weren’t there.
In “Popular,” M.I.A. and M.A.I. practice similar gun-cocking dances, this time, for an iPhone. The video then jumps into M.A.I.’s POV as her algorithm consumes and analyzes rapid-fire images, videos and notifications. She gains a new sense of confidence in her dancing and tries to kiss M.I.A. Offering a meta depiction of self-love in the context of social media, “Popular” examines the process of building and loving a persona without judgment. But, ultimately, in a crime of passion, M.I.A. takes her AI offline, firing a water gun for one final bit of irony, causing the robot to malfunction and fail.
RIP M.A.I., but M.I.A. proves she is back and better than ever in the second single off her forthcoming album, MATA. The release date of the project has yet to be announced, but its lead single, “The One,” released in May, left fans hungry for more and it’s clear she’ll only get more "Popular."
Photo courtesy of M.I.A.
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