June 17, 2010

Song Review: M.I.A.'s "XXXO"

M.I.A. has built her musical career on purveying controversy, directing tongue-in-cheek lyrical swipes towards her naysayers and self-indulging herself with the notion that she's public enemy #1. To promote her upcoming new album /\/\/\Y/\, the outspoken East Londoner has been on a media rampage. There was her now-infamous beef with a journalist from The New York Times, her disses to pop stars, Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber and a violent-for-the-sake-of-being-violent video for the track, "Born Free." While attempting to put up a front that she is the face of rebellion, M.I.A. has certainly grown in popularity since her arrival on the scene. Yet, it wasn't until the film Pineapple Express used "Paper Planes" from her 2007 release, Kala, in a promo that M.I.A. became an overnight, accidental mainstream pop star just like the ones she often targets. It only makes sense now that her record label, Interscope, wants to push the eccentric rapper to dive head first into an even more mainstream sound, and with that we have "XXXO." It's a single that sounds like something you'd expect to be played on the pop FM radio waves these days, built around catchy electro-pop riffs and generic synths that would much better suit a Lady Gaga or Katy Perry track. The problem with this is that it's apparent what M.I.A. is doing here: She's putting on her own poker face under major label pressure by releasing a song that's very commercial, and yet she thinks she's keeping her pride in tact. The lyrics are seemingly meant to neutralize the sting for anyone about to denounce this song as her way of "selling out." "You want me to be somebody who I'm really not," is the redundant chorus (and albeit, belted out in full-on melody that just does not suit M.I.A.'s vocal range at all.) So basically, this is M.I.A.'s way of saying that just because she sounds like your everyday pop star on this track, the jokes on us because she's aware of it? How novel. The lyrics don't get any better from there. The line, "...you tweeting me like tweety bird on your iPhone" will no doubt be cringe-worthy within five years once new technology comes along and replaces them. It's also a cheap way at making friends with pedestrian music fans who hear a song that inserts a flavor of the moment trend into its lyrics and think it epitomizes coolness. "XXXO" on face value can be construed as a sexed up dance track about a vague relationship debacle, but for those who've followed M.I.A.'s rise to the top, it's never that simple. It's a disappointment to hear M.I.A. trying to rage against the pop music machine by attempting to beat it at its own game, and above all, she puts a solid streak of independent innovation to rest. They want her to be somebody who she's really not, but on "XXXO," M.I.A. is completely oblivious that she may have already become that person.

M.I.A. - "XXXO"

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