Sunday, September 16, 2007

Timbaland seems to think she has a teepee

In 2005, I felt like MIA's pop relied too much on concept/hype/persona, and my pick click on Arular was "Bingo," where the beat lulled below her enough to sound like some nagging Eno outtake. So when the slower, more esoteric Kala showed up a few months ago, I figured she was letting her art-school side show and better for it. Only when I went back to Arular, I finally heard it for the hookfest everyone had claimed it was.

I've always been unimpressed with people who took her for a poseur (Simon Reynolds' "don't be fooled by the brown skin" being the most heinous example), but the inescapable discussions about her politics and background made her actual output seem milquetoast in comparison, and unworthy of such fervored debate. Cooler heads said "pay attention to the bass," and I assumed they were suggesting it would contextualize the lyrics. What they were meant is that it was an end to itself.

It's not that they were saying one should (or could) ignore the words coming out of her mouth, but that the lyrical associations weren't where the joy was. Her reference s to global unrest suggest awareness not insight, and in the face of deafening buzz, those not sold on her could claim exploitation (most flagrantly in her cheeky comparisons to the KGB and PLO). And even if you don't begrudge her her symbolism (my glass house gets enough abuse as it is), "Hussel" and "Boyz" revolve around not just facile slogans but facile questions, the ultimate sign of a bad folkie. My favorite lyric of hers is "REM KLF," from early '90s rememberance "XR2," which implies it's possible she was directly influenced by fellow post-punk hanger-on turned dance-pop genre-masher Neneh Cherry (TS: "Trout (feat. Michael Stipe)" vs. "Come Around (feat. Timbaland").

So it's about the music, right? New Yorker cultural commentator Sasha Frere-Jones called it real "world music," ILX time-hater Ethan Padgett called it "fake dancehall," and I'd guess the truth is somewhere in between (helps that I don't think "fake" has anything to with "good" or "bad"). I'm the last person who should presume to know where these beats originated, but whether her music is innovative or a remarketing of other's innovations, it moves. As long as it does, the third-world bent of her internationalist rhetoric helps more than it hurts.

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