Review Summary: Maya's got mujahadeen, can't sing, and ends the year with a bang.
2010 has not been particularly kind to Maya Arulpragasam. By this point, we all know the story - the once-excellent artist thrust into sudden fame lets her ego get the best of her, tweets a journalist's phone number after an unflattering profile in the New York Times Magazine
, starts spewing bullshit like "Google and Facebook were invented by the C.I.A." and releases a record that's nothing but self-aggrandizing noise (with a stupidly stylized title as well!). Except that MAYA
was so much more than that - aside from being an utterly gripping listen, it was an oddly prescient work that focused on how fame, self-absorption, and politics were becoming increasingly muddled together. "We're growing up in middle of the digital ruckus." This line, crucial in its summation of MAYA
's overall concept, doesn't appear on VICKI LEEKX
, M.I.A.'s new mixtape, but its presence is very much felt.
Which means that VICKI LEEKX
will probably be met with the same polarized response that MAYA
encountered; that exploitative title certainly won't help matters. But this time, the music is less insistently discordant, forgoing the jarring (and literal) drill-and-bass of "Steppin' Up" for something slightly more...well, it's hard to say if accessible
is the right word. This stuff is still pretty messy, after all, continuing to work in the schizophrenic Internet-driven vein of MAYA
. But songs like "Gen-N-E-Y" and "Bad Girls" have more traditional beats and hooks, rendering them more immediate than, say, "Lovalot". Their lyrics are also more intelligible, giving the former track's chorus of "you can have my money but you can't have me" an extra punch.
A line like that exemplifies precisely why M.I.A. has been vilified by so many people this year; her marriage to the wealthy scion of the Seagram company in particular incited outrage among those with self-righteous ideals about "genuineness" or "authenticity". Such criticisms aren't necessarily invalid, but they are a bit irrelevant, since one of the reasons we ever paid attention to Arulpragasam in the first place was her bundle of contradictions. "I'm not talking about getting it for free. I'm talking about making it...freer," M.I.A. says early in the mixtape. It's a great slogan, sure, but it's also ridden with paradoxes, not to mention practically meaningless. So my ear instead focuses on the chaotic production, which melds videogame blips with tribal drums and lo-fi beats that wouldn't sound out of place on that freaky Gonjasufi album.
Not that we should just ignore the mixtape's typically murky politics in favor of just sitting back and enjoying the ride, but isn't it just that much more enjoyable to do so? It's silly to search for a cogent intellectual thread in VICKI LEEKX
, especially when there are bangers like the intoxicating Blaqstarr-driven "Let Me Hump You" placed alongside a glitchy remix of "Meds and Feds". The computerized voice that opens the proceedings is more comic than anything else, saying: "We choose the right format. We leak the information to the public. And we defend ourselves against inevitable legal and political attacks." Right. I mean, at this point, we could either take M.I.A. seriously or interpret this as a piss-take and we'd reach the same conclusion, so what's the point of trying to look at this - which is more a celebration of the powers of the Internet than an actual statement about freedom of information - through the prism of intellectual analysis? If this mixtape is, for the most part, less interesting and focused conceptually than MAYA
was, it's also more fun
. "Hey, you wanna be the next big thing?/get thing, do anything...but you can't sing," M.I.A. chants knowingly (and good-humoredly) in "Marsha/Britney". Maya Arulpragasam might have had a rough year, but with VICKI LEEKX
, she's ended it with a bang.