M.I.A. has steadily worked her way up and become a well-known name in the mainstream music industry over the years. In terms of her music, she is revered for her creative blending of hip-hop, pop and world music, all driven by politically charged lyrics. Behind the scenes, she is known for her activism for a variety of causes, which backs up her music’s messages and stems from her past as a Sri-Lankan refugee. I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of M.I.A. but I’ve always admired her motivations and I enjoy a lot of her popular tracks such as “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls.” So in a sense, I was somewhat excited to learn about her new album “A.I.M.” released Sep. 9. However, after struggling to listen to it in its entirety, I am very underwhelmed.
M.I.A. has never been a perfect rapper. She often interrupts her flow and makes questionable rhyme choices, but she has always approached her music with enough enthusiasm and inspiration to help listeners look past that. But on this new album, it almost sounds like she didn’t even attempt to innovate or entertain. On many of the tracks her vocals are absolutely horrendous and boring, both in lyrical quality and flow. Anybody who has listened to her hit “Paper Planes” remembers the incredibly catchy, and somewhat controversial, hook that people are still discussing today. But none of the verses or hooks on this album hold any impact or significance whatsoever.
In the track “Borders,” M.I.A. lists various world issues such as police brutality, political corruption and refugee hardship. However, she decides to follow each one of these issues up by lazily asking, “What’s up with that?” She never addresses the specific problems or how they can be made better. It is simply a juvenile attempt at sounding current and aware of the world’s situations. The track “Finally” is dedicated to her “haters” and makes her sound like a high schooler calling out her rivals on social media. This is the type of track a small-time rapper makes early on in the game before moving on to more important subject matter. M.I.A. has taken a staggering step backwards in her lyrical prowess.
The backing instrumentals to each of these tracks aren’t anything particularly interesting or innovative either. While they all do sound like they could accompany an M.I.A. track with their elements of modern hip-hop fused with various cultural music, they are also extremely repetitive and forgettable. There are a few tracks on the album that have interesting and fun musical concepts, but these concepts are used in such an underwhelming way that all of their merit is lost.
For example, on the track “Swords,” the sound of swords clanging against one another is used as backing percussion. But there is no variation in the sounds, which grows tiring after a few bars. Both the Diplo and Blaqstarr remixes of “Bird Song” included in this album don’t sound much different from one another. On top of that, both use extremely annoying vocal samples of M.I.A. making random bird noises over and over again. While “Visa” and “A.M.P.” feature much more fleshed-out instrumentals, they still don’t compare to her past hits. Not to mention, the vocals on these tracks are just as uninspired and flat as they are across the rest of the album.
This album marks the end of M.I.A.’s career in music. Considering the apparent lack of effort, it seems like she didn’t even want to make this album. While I will continue to enjoy her older releases and her accomplishments as a vigorous activist, “A.I.M.” will be forgotten very soon.