Smashing pop and politics together is at the core of M.I.A.’s identity as an artist. So much so that invoking Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, and Black Lives Matter in the same sentence to make a point about Muslim visibility in the media shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with her work.
— M.I.A (@MIAuniverse) June 30, 2015
The English-Sri Lankan rapper sat down for a new interview with The Evening Standard where she was asked about Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance that controversially used Black Panther imagery. Despite being possibly the most political mainstream-crossover artist in modern music, M.I.A. didn’t seem impressed. Black Lives Matter, she says, has dominated activism attention in the media.
“It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV program, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.”
From these comments, it appears that M.I.A. isn’t criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement itself, but rather the disproportionate attention she feels is focused on it by celebrities like Beyoncé and Kendrick, especially when other suffering is taking place across the globe. From her examples, it seems she is especially off-put by how little mainstream spotlight is put on the Middle East, despite the fact that it is debatably the most violent region in the world.
Like all of her art, M.I.A.’s views on this issue are no doubt shaped by her own upbringing. The rapper grew up in a war-torn Sri Lanka during its civil war, a conflict that did not receive anywhere near the attention from pop icons as Black Lives Matter does today. It’s logical that she would be more defensive of these issues, but it also seems odd to ignore the fact that Beyoncé and Lamar are talking about problems within their own communities.
— M.I.A (@MIAuniverse) January 14, 2015
While M.I.A.’s Black Lives Matter comments have already perturbed some, they make more sense to the context of her work. Take her stand-alone single about the refugee crisis, “Borders,” for instance, where she makes it abundantly clear that the cultural lines that divide us don’t apply to her political philosophy.
“Freedom, ‘I’dom, ‘Me’dom
Where’s your ‘We’dom?
This world needs a brand new ‘Re’dom
We’dom – the key
We’dom the key’dom to life!”
Still, it’s a hard swallow to hear M.I.A. diminishing the Black Lives Matter movement when its central struggle has been a problem for African-American communities for so long. While some have criticized Beyoncé for lacking personal experience with the campaign’s central struggles, Kendrick was a living part of the prison industrial complex before rocketing to fame.
Perhaps it is be more odd for Lamar not talk about Black Lives Matter in his music. Kendrick’s song “Alright” has even become an unofficial anthem of the movement, with some protesters chanting its lyrics as their slogan, reported Pitchfork.
Generally unfazed by public uproar, M.I.A. is unlikely to give much importance to the fall out over her Black Lives Matter comments either way. Speaking with Evening Standard, she seems to have resigned herself to the life of a divisive public persona.
“I have a reputation for being difficult. I still don’t get invited to the BRITs. I think they’re scared of me. And I hardly ever get approached by corporations or brands. I have this massive ‘No’ sign on my face.”
What do you think M.I.A.’s Black Lives Matter comments in reference to Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé?
[Image via Taylor Hill and Scott Olson/Getty Images]