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M.I.A. vs. Lady Gaga: Sex, Politics and Video

April 27, 2010

A few weeks ago M.I.A. released a scathing attack on Lady Gaga in NME, where, apart from criticising her excessive usage of product placements in her videos, also said:

“none of [Gaga’s] music is reflective of how weird she wants to be or thinks she is. She models herself on Grace Jones and Madonna, but the music sounds like 20-year-old Ibiza music, you know? She’s not progressive, but she’s a good mimic. She sounds more like me than I fucking do! That’s a talent and she’s got a great team behind her, but she’s the industry last’s stab at making itself important.”

As if to reflect what she thinks Gaga should be doing, M.I.A. just released her latest video, a Gagaesque 10 minute short film to her latest single, Born Free. With its gruesome violence, brutal subject matter, and grim message, M.I.A.’s “Born Free” video isn’t the kind of thing you’re ever really prepared to see. Kids get shot in the head, bodies are blown up by grenades in slow motion, and people are senselessly beaten and killed.

The video is brutal, but it’s also a significant form of political protest, and a downright subversive bit of art. Given the recent immigration laws in Arizona, the ongoing trampling of Palestinian human rights, the recent Sri Lankan civil war and subsequent detention of Tamil civilians (M.I.A. herself is a Tamil refugee), and the abuse and detention of migrants trying to get into Europe, this video comes at a very good time.

But here is where the parallels to Gaga get interesting. Whereas M.I.A.’s latest video shows the rounding-up of ethnic minorities (in this case, erm, gingers), the trampling of personal liberties, the frustrations that lead to resistance movements, it does so in an unflinching and unapologetic way. But Gaga’s latest video, “Telephone”, portrays female (trans) sexuality and gender bending, and also does so, wait for it, unflinchingly and unapologetically. Gaga’s video is coming at a time of increasingly tense sexual and gender politics in the US, and so is equally timely and relevant.

I can’t help but wonder, is Lady Gaga merely “the music industry’s last stab at making itself important”, and is nothing more than a senseless celebration of capitalism and the excess of the noughties, or are there deeper critiques of sexual and gender politics that are different sides of the same coin that is M.I.A’s critique of racial and ethnic politics?

Where do U stand on the Gaga/M.I.A. showdown?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2010 6:04 pm

    Disagree about this being a time of “increasingly tense sexual and gender politics in the US.” The conversation about sexual and gender politics has become as mainstream as any political debate in America. International human rights abuses, however–especially those perpetrated by the US and her allies–are still beyond the bounds of political debate.

    As usual, MIA is at the leading edge of politics and art. Lady Gaga is simply a funhouse mirror.

  2. April 27, 2010 11:51 pm

    I completely agree with JZ on this point. In America, sex/gender politics have become pretty generic ways to dominate the pop charts and her agressive marketing in this regard is so transparent its insulting…she sells these issues the same way she ALSO in the video markets a ton of consumer products…from soft drink cans in her rollers to the latest cell phone brand item. in the end, she is the boiled down, most concentrated form of pop and she represents everything I HATE about the direction of the music industry…

    have we forgotten the importance of music?! The other day I was having a conversation with my brother where we discussed this. At the end of the day, the public has become too stupid to separate groundbreaking music from a groundbreaking video. Lady Gaga’s music brings NOTHING new, nor (although I am not an expert on Lady Gaga) speak deeply about any sort of social cause.

    About the M.I.A./Lady Gaga comparisons, being a huge MIA fan since 2004, this is sacrilege, although I can’t say that I am unbiased. One might argue that MIA’s new video (a big departure from her earlier work), is very much about the “video”, however, I think what we should note, is that the song merely plays a backdrop to the video in this sense. She is not trying to “sell” us the song at the same time as the “video”. I don’t think she expects this song to catch the charts, rather it provides ambience for an overall political statement that she wishes to capture visually (and how, no?! It is difficult to watch). Lady Gaga sells her ideals like she sells her products like she sells her music like she sells her videos like she sells her image. It’s really apples and oranges to me.

  3. sysh permalink*
    April 28, 2010 12:06 pm

    Hmmm, I see what you’re both saying. But at the same time, Gaga has been quite outspoken about queer rights and has been a very vocal participant in queer politics recently (her famous speech at the rally where she yells at Obama can be found here:

    Maybe it’s my own fandom coming into play, but I’m secretly (still) hoping that Gaga is in charge of her career rather than a well-oiled industry. I mean, she tore down her stage design in the middle of her tour and built another one out of scratch, that’s got to cost quite a bit of money for no reason other than ‘art’. But maybe I’m just being naive and the Haus of Gaga is nothing more than a well-oiled industry machine.

    I think one of our ewz kontributors is going to post something about how Gaga is significant in her own way.

    • ad4msk1 permalink
      April 28, 2010 7:27 pm

      “I mean, she tore down her stage design in the middle of her tour and built another one out of scratch, that’s got to cost quite a bit of money for no reason other than ‘art’.”

      – i wish she hadnt – the result was doubling of ticket prices making her ‘art’ less accessible to the commoners.

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