Rife with faux flowers, clip art unicorns and glitzy mirror graphics, “XXXO,” M.I.A.’s anticipated hit single has recently been debated and dejected across the Internet. It’s no shock that mega-star Maya Arulpragasam had to include at least one pop hit for her recently released album, the search engine-incompatible /\/\/\Y/\. It’s precisely the Internet that Arulpragasam has recently waged war on. Arulpragasam’s has found a abject and adequate adversary in the Internet, a bolstering battleground for governments and colonial media powers ready to whitewash and subdue the black, brown and beige majority of the world. Like all mass media productions, the Internet is the perfect foe for the artsy and angry, elegant and edgy intellectuals of our time. Art-house revolutionary, Arulpragasam, recently profession that the Sri Lankan government has blocked her YouTube videos, continuing every conspiracy theorist and racial-realist understanding of the “post”-colonial world we live in. And for those who worry about M.I.A.’s pop diversions derailing her aggression and vigor, Arulpragasam explains to Dazed and Confused (July 2010), referring to her glitter-glam, often overlooked anti-colonial masterpiece, “Jimmy,” on the her career catapulting album, Kala, “Every one of my albums has one of those songs, the really pop cheesy side of me.” Like any music fan knows, once a remotely political indie, underground or alternative artist gets signed by a major record label, something of their original intent, vigor and maybe even authenticity fades with the contractual binds and soul-signing expectations and hounding of a money crazed and image obsessed multimedia terrorist network. The doubtful success and draw of the rabble rousing /\/\Y/\ album is proof that Maya refuses to compromise. But even revolutionaries need to dance, make love, eat, sleep and sing a little ditty in the shower.
Arulpragasam’s very presence in the music world, the art world, and the pop/global imagination stands as a sign of hope. Yes, you can be brown, have an accent, be an immigrant, be an artist, speak your mind, have convictions, be anti-establishment because your skin and sex and life dictate it, and through it all, succeed. “XXXO” continues Arulpragasam’s artistic trajectory of making art and music for the masses. “XXXO” translates the overproduced and impossible, CGI and 3D obsessed virtual reality of the mind controllers that keep us subdued and placated. “XXXO” says, “You want me to be somebody that I’m really not.” Arulpragasam returns the music industries’ elicit and explicit expectations to turn any fit, exotic brown body into a commodity to be sold and shackled on the selling block of modern enslavement (aka the mass media) with a sweet and simple kiss. Arulpragasam will not be compromised, nor her vision or her body. Her sexiness is lazy, her gaze, piercing and somewhat contrived. Her supple lips speak to a glazed over and oppressive gender binary. M.I.A. looks overly-fabulous and overtly-flawless. Her lackluster sex appeal rejects societal norms and industry expectations with listless and languid illusions to desire.
“XXXO” is in fact more sedate than any of her previous productions, but reflected in the Narcissus of her digitized water ripples, M.I.A.’s face, –the icon and symbol that Arulpragasam projects– speaks volumes. Reflected in the cheesy, Myspace-minimal and mini mall, photo-booth glam that entraps her, Arulpragasam is telling her fans, it’s easy. It’s not as hard as you think to make a music video with flash and animation tools that most kids today manipulate with ease (if they’re lucky enough to even have access to a computer in today’s increasingly unequal digital divide). Arulpragasam exclaims, behind the subtle subversiveness of her art, ‘produce your own art and propel your own message into the world.’ She’s telling the underdogs and the underrepresented masses, you too can be your own glittering star. Continuing her Dazed and Confused conversation, Arulpragasam notes, “The world needs people who can wake others up on the internet, not put them to sleep.” The irony of the video and Arulpragasam’s empire go hand-in-hand with the re-imagined redistribution of cultural capital, wealth and power. Her scrolling foreign texts, Tamil Tigers translated into Sri Lankan leopards for the video, and war swords slice through the serene and pristine pause of the fantasy world we live in. Her eyes are censored at one point, her mouth stuffed with a glittering X and O. She seems caged by her own glam, the impossibility of a world without true expression and dictated by the powerhouse music execs that blind and bind us all to the music. We are all M.I.A., trapped in a glittering world of iphones and inequalities.