(Warning for all my civilian readers: inside hipster joke forthcoming.) Hey, I love the new Santogold album, but I still went to M.I.A. at Myth last night. Call me nostalgic. (Civilian reader tip: laugh here.)
Seriously though, last year’s hipster princess, the Sri Lankan rapper Maya Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., really did perform in Maplewood. I mean, had to see that, right? Even though the show was coming only five months after she so memorably went knocking on the doors of First Avenue’s Hummer Hummer last November.
The production values at the Myth are always exquisite, and M.I.A. made full use of them. She performed in front of a large, maybe fifty-foot-by-ten-foot video screen that spanned the length of the stage. Atari-inspired graphics and quick-cutting footage of multicultural children dancing in various third-world gutters was the backdrop, as M.I.A. bounced her exotic Colombo-via-London-via-Brooklyn cockney off her trademark window-rattling beats.
As a draw, M.I.A.’s globalist exotica is just behind her bamboo banga beats and her overt sexuality (she raps from this weird frog crouch that is imaginatively obscene, and she ends a lot of her bars with a Monica Seles-pitched diphthong of a whelp). The hyperactive energy and color of her stage show seem to be borrowed from a refugee camp anywhere in the world. She came out last night wearing purple tights under white quilted designer hot pants, wearing some sort of Peruvian wool jacket, silver lamé Chuck Taylors, a platinum-bob wig, and gigantic sunglasses. The hipsters in the packed club had followed her lead, dressing just as colorfully, just as exotically.
The ironic thing here is that Myth is actually more multicultural during any of its popular dance nights—The M.I.A. Nation is as white as the people that voted for Hillary in West Virginia last night.
Did anybody read Frank Rich’s column on Sunday, “Party Like it’s 2008”? Well, Rich’s point about the out-of-touch cable-television-pundit class is made clear by watching all these young middle-class white kids in Maplewood shaking it to songs like “20 Dolla,” where M.I.A. raps over a bastardized Pixies riff in the voice of the collective Third World radical:
“We goat rich we fry/Price of living in a shanty town just seem very high/We still like T.I./We still look fly/Dancing as we shooting up/And lootin just to get by.“
Just like Biggie and 2Pac, M.I.A.’s art is a powerful, necessary reflection of what’s wrong with our culture—it's just that instead of Bed-Stuy or Long Beach, she takes her stories and stances from the global ghetto. Some question Maya Arulpragasam’s authenticity in the same way they questioned 'Pac’s once upon a time. But even if it was necessary to have actually called your boyfriend in Darfur on a sat phone in order to rap about it, M.I.A. has come close enough in real life—she fled Sri Lanka’s civil war with her family in the 1980s and spent time at a refugee camp in India before making it to London and attending an art school there, where she learned both the graphic and sonic techniques necessary to make her background relevant to all these hipster kids.
And it’s clear how much fun she has putting on those of us who lack an irony sensitivity meter. The highlight of last night’s show was the mash-up of “10 Dolla” and “Boyz.” First, she called up all the girls in the crowd to come on stage. It was mayhem, with maybe 100 women forcing M.I.A. to the very edge of the stage, just in front of the monitors, as she rapped about a Chinese prostitute climbing the ladder. “What can I get for ten dolla,” M.I.A. called out to a stage full of Minnesota girls. They responded, “Any ting you want!” After the girls were sent off, it was the boyz’s turn. Again, they crushed the stage, and she had them hollering along to their own song. ”How many no money boyz are crazy/How many boyz are raw//How many no money boyz are rowdy/How many start a war.”
Yeah! Fun times! Oh…wait.