“Whose world is this? This world is mine, so bring it on.”
M.I.A. is an artist that has never shied away from defiantly promoting a position of activism through her music. AIM is Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s fifth, and reportedly her final album. The message conveyed throughout the songs is one of the experience of being a refugee and the misconceptions of being foreign. The lyrics and preceding events to the record’s release has fuelled AIM as her most politically charged work, to date. When her video for lead single, ‘Borders’ was overlooked by MTV’s VMA Awards, M.I.A controversially accused the institution of ‘racism, classism, sexism, and elitism.” How successful is the artist at addressing the issues plaguing the world in the twenty-first century? In the midst of questioning egos, breaking the internet, “being bae” and “slaying it,” her fans may wonder where her infectious beats have vanished to in her latest release.
While M.I.A. is, for the most part, direct with her intent, the songs feel directionless and hard to be enthused by. The instant appeal that her previous albums possessed in abundance is what AIM lacks. In the twelve songs, or seventeen if you listen to the deluxe edition, there are two songs that are instantly recognisable as M.I.A.’s ability to write and produce an instant ‘sound of the summer’ style single. AIM is challenging to listen to sequentially from start to finish, even though its introductory songs are the most strong and accessible with interesting dynamics in their compositions from the chaotic exotic hip-hop grime of ‘Go Off’, to the stripped back, ‘Jump In.’
The struggle stems from the inability to listen to anything else on the album that isn’t ‘Freedun’, the fifth single from the record featuring an unexpectedly addictive vocal from Zayn Malik. From that point, we are aurally assaulted by messy and lacklustre compositions like ‘A.M.P. (All My People)’, ‘Visa’ and ‘Survivor.’ You find yourself hopefully searching for the energetic moments from her previous albums that helped to expand her status and fan base with songs like ‘Exodus’, ‘Bad Girls’, ‘XXXO’, and of course, ‘Paper Planes.’ However, the middle to end section of AIM flows aimlessly into an elongated and forgettable blend of overworked sounds with lyrics about emojis.
Musically, there is a lot of native influences from recreating the sounds of a bustling forest of exotic birds with a jarring arrangement of kazoos in ‘Bird Song’, which was remixed by Blaqstarr, who was in the company of Dexta Daps, Diplo and Skrillex as fellow contributors to the heavily produced collection of songs. It feels like the commerciality of M.I.A.’s music has crossed over from featuring prominently on the radio and more so in films and television series such as Gossip Girl, The Bling Ring, and Pineapple Express. This is unfortunate because these appropriations belittle the value of the political and human rights activism at the helm of the songs.
As the outro of ‘Freedun’ fades, M.I.A. sings, “I’ve got to sing my song tonight. And you gotta sing my song tonight.” I wonder though whether people will be singing along to AIM in years to come, as we have with her previous albums.