Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hopefully, MIA Will Have No Problems Being A Career Upper-Mid-Carder.

The first sizeable chunk of this is reprinted from my own Sunday Morning Coming Down column from 411 (07.18.10). Beats the hell out of explaining this whole situation all over again...

  • And finally this week, we’ve got a treat for the rasslin’ fans in the house - a bonafide, old-school, elimination-style three-way-dance. Our main event is M.I.A. vs. the New York Times vs. Pitchfork.

    The match started with a New York Times piece on MIA that (deliberately, in all probability, since the Times had to print a retraction, but I’m getting ahead of myself) made her out to be a hypocrite. In particular, people latched on to this set of quotes:

    “I wasn’t trying to be like Bono,” Maya told me. “He’s not from Africa — I’m from there. I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.”

    For one, this is where the retraction came in. Appended to the end of the piece now is:

    The cover article in The Times Magazine on Sunday profiled the singer and political activist M.I.A. While discussing her efforts to draw attention to the civil war in her home country, Sri Lanka, she was quoted as saying: “I wasn’t trying to be like Bono. He’s not from Africa — I’m from there. I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.”

    While M.I.A. did make those remarks, she did not make the entire statement at the same point in the interview, or in the order in which it was presented.

    The part that begins, “The whole point of going to the Grammys,” up to the end of the quotation, actually came first. The part that begins, “I wasn’t trying to be like Bono,” and ends, “Give war a chance,” came later in the same interview. The article should have made clear that the two quotations came from different parts of the interview.

    A retraction is normally relegated to the back pages and therefore mostly overlooked nowadays. It gets too much in the way of a story the writer wants to tell instead of the actual truth and doesn’t sell as well as the rest of the sensationalism does. Nonetheless, a retraction - basically a journalistic admission of guilt - was not only printed but placed prominently at the end of the story online so it can be clearly seen. It’s fun watching a “reputable” (*cough*) source having to admit they fucked up.

    Secondly, a quote that tells a much clearer picture was virtually ignored:

    “We went to the Grammys, we had the baby and we bought the house,” Maya said as she studied the menu, deciding on a glass of wine and French fries. “A month later, all this stuff was happening in Sri Lanka” — the Tamil insurgency was being defeated amid reports of thousands of civilian casualties — “and I started speaking up against it. And then, within a month, I found out my house was being bugged, my phones were being tapped and my e-mails were being hacked into. I was getting death threats, like ‘hope your baby dies.’ The biggest Sinhalese community is in Santa Monica, people who are sworn enemies of the Tamils, which is me.” She paused. “I live around the corner from Beverly Hills, and I feel semiprotected by Ben and, if anything happens to me, then Ben’s family will not take it. Jimmy Iovine, who runs Interscope, my record company, said, ‘Pick your battles carefully — don’t put your life at risk,’ but at the end of the day, I don’t see how you can shut up and just enjoy success when other people who don’t have the fame or the luxury to rent security guards are suffering. What the hell do they do? They just die.

    This is much more important because, for those paying attention, this just torpedoed Lynn Hirschberg’s (or the Times’s as a whole) entire agenda. The point was to show MIA as portraying herself as a downtrodden speaker who’s life is so rough, yet she lives in a posh California home with her baby and the son of the CEO of her label. See? She’s living the high life! What right does she have to speak about stuff she known nothing about just to be controversial?

    Well, for one, she’s speaking about her background and trying to bring attention to those that are suffering where she comes from. Two, she admitted her lifestyle, but still uses her public platform to do some good. I wasn’t aware it was such a sin in this country to use your higher status and wealth to attempt to help others who are unable to help themselves but are still in dire need of it.

    MIA responds to this attack by posting Hirschberg’s phone number on Twitter (ha!) and imploring people to “call me [MIA] and let’s talk about the story ;)”. Hirschberg called the move “fairly unethical...infuriating...and not surprising.” And that seemed to be the end of it - until Pitchfork got involved.

    At first, Pitchfork took the side of the industry darling they feel they helped create (echoing some of what I thought upon reading the original piece)...

    ...a correction is a correction, and it does make you wonder if Hirschberg's desire for a strong angle got in the way of her piece's veracity.

    (Ulterior crackpot theory I just thought of: Perhaps New York Times columnist and notorious peacenik Bono is behind this entire charade!)

    Even more damning was Hirschberg's recent statement to
    The New York Observer about the part of the piece that depicted M.I.A. as a truffle-fry-eating hypocrite. The writer said, "I don't think the French fries illustrate that much about her character." But, as The Village Voice's Zach Baron tactfully points out, "This statement, of course, is entirely disingenuous-- details like the above are included in profiles precisely because they are assumed to be illuminating, character-wise."

    Pitchfork called out Hirschberg on attempting to ruin MIA (which, you notice, she never did answer for) and eliminated her from the match (to take the job of Editor In Chief at W magazine, natch). Once Hirschberg bailed out of the ring, Pitchfork made all niecey-nice with MIA - but the foreshadowing was there...

    Will she be able to break free of such online censorship or perish beneath the weight of a mass media conspiracy (supposedly) hell bent on taking her down?! Tune in next time!

    That sounded a little...snide. As for some “mass media conspiracy (supposedly) hell bent on taking her down,” maybe they can shed some light on that because they totally fed the idea with a sudden charishot right to MIA’s skull in the form of scathing review of ”Maya” (because I refuse to type all those symbols and stuff), which came out this past Tuesday.

    A 4.4. That was their score. Seemed kind of odd for someone whose last album they gave an 8.9.

    Okay, time out. Let’s look at these a second. From their review of Kala:

    If anything, Kala finds her puffing out her chest and asserting herself more strenuously than ever, half-baked agit-prop and all. When she boasts on the stomping, Bollywood-sampling opener "Bamboo Banga" that she's "coming back with power/ Power," you get the sense that by "power" she means "courage of conviction." Regardless of how you square with her politics, her willingness to continue the muckracking is admirable, if not dimension-adding. Don't forget, she's rubbing elbows with the likes of Interscope and Timbaland now; for all the choices she might have made and the audiences she might have aimed at, the fresh-sounding, adventurous, and not-exactly-accessible Kala is the kind of record that obviously demanded a defined personal vision.

    And now, from their review of ”Maya”:

    It's hard to tell whether /\/\/\Y/\ is half-assed or half-baked. There are certainly a number of good ideas in the mix here, but the execution is lacking. Tracks like "Story to Be Told", "Lovealot", and "Teqkilla" come across like mildly promising demos ready to be edited into sleeker, stronger compositions. Lead single "XXXO" sounds unfinished, as if everyone involved figured they may as well wait around for someone else to make a better remix. Most of the songs are built out of digital clangs and electronic noise

    A little later on, same review...

    It's not exactly a surprise that M.I.A. would opt to create such an off-putting and anti-pop album at this point in her career. She may be reaching for an interesting and provocative style, but her motives seem defensive in nature-- reasserting her artsy, agit-prop cred not long after breaking through to the mainstream and becoming engaged to the heir of the Bronfman liquor fortune. On a superficial level, /\/\/\Y/\ is a challenge, but it's really more of a retreat. She's shrinking from her chance to engage with a mainstream audience, and refusing to live up to her potential as a pop artist., what am I to take from this? That if they take the same sentiment they praised her for in one review and break it up in to two parts using slightly different language, then they’re suddenly saying the opposite? Like, she kinda sounds the same as her last album, but they loved her then, so it was okay? And alluva sudden they don’t, so now that exact same sound and approach is suddenly no longer cool and she should be raked over the coals for it?

    Something stinks, here. And I’m pretty sure I have an idea of what that smell is - Hirschberg and Pitc--excuse me, Bitchfork being full of their own shit.

    Hirschberg has a history of this sort of thing (see: Love, Courtney) already. Hell, both of them do, really - Bitchfork is well-known for (wanting to be) tastemakers. What they say goes, and you’re a Bolshevik weenie if you don’t agree with them.

    Their hatchet job even got a mention in Billboard. Good for them, but it’s Billboard who blows a pretty big hole in their idea of being the hipster place for music, as well as Heischberg’s ill-executed “takedown”.

    The problem with both of them looking to affect MIA’s career is that it would have to be assumed that, in order to accomplish that, sales of ”Maya” would have to drop like a brick. That’s what determines popularity - the more people buy, the bigger you are. That’s how the game works.

    While MIA’s last album, Kala has been certified Gold by the RIAA having sold over half a million units, it took three after its release for that to happen. (“Paper Planes” didn’t take off for well over a year after it came out, and it wasn’t the intended single even when it did.) In fact, Kala’s first week sales were 39,000. According to Billboard, ”Maya” is projected to open with...about 25,000. Not a very big difference, there. Doesn’t look like the rest of the planet hates MIA as much as Bitchfork and Heischberg do, because the rest of the planet cares about her as much as they used to - not very.

    I’m not a big MIA fan; that wasn’t the point of this, to come to her defense. I don’t hate her, either, really; I just don’t see what the point of this two-pronged takedown was. The problem I have here is both Heischberg and Bitchfork getting themselves over and thinking they’re a lot more important than they actually are. People desperately trying to use the media to get themselves over is a big pet peeve; that’s why I can’t stand that douchelord Perez Hilton. I’m merely here, to paraphrase Emergency Pizza Party, “to call out their bullshit like I was Penn & Teller.”

    I’m wondering if it was even necessary, because their efforts look like they were for naught. All in all, their combined actions seemed, at the end of the day, to do very little for her career one way or the other. Looks like Bitchfork’s supposed reputation of ruining careers with a bad review is a little overblown. And Heischberg simply decided to be a bitch on her way to a career change. Neither, it looks like, accomplished what they wanted to do, and I’m glad for that.

    The winner of the match, after last eliminating Bitchfork: MIA.

    MIA has stayed pretty much on a rampage (because of all this? If it is, I don't blame her a damn bit). Next target, courtesy of Time Out Magazine (although I couldn't actually find the article...) by way of 411 Music (...but Mitch is normally solid with his sources, so I'll go with what I got), was Lady GaGa:

    M.I.A.: ...Oprah seemed like she was giving me the cold shoulder.

    Time Out: What do you mean?

    M.I.A.: She was with Iman [Bowie]. Iman was always dancing with me, hugging and kissing me, but Oprah seemed really pissed off with me. Also she made this huge speech at the ball praising Lady Gaga and about how she is helping Americans to be the best of themselves. There's millions of other Americans who represent that for me. Is [it] about numbers? About how much you're selling? Is it truly about the journey? Because [Lady Gaga's] journey isn't that difficult: to go from the fucking Upper East Side to a fucking performing arts school and on to a stage at the museum of fucking wherever. That journey's about four miles.

    ...deeeeeamn. Bonus points for hilarity aside, she raises a point. In her own way, I guess.

    You see, I'm no GaGa fan, but I understand and get it. And I have nothing against the fact that, debates about actual talent aside, she's more than willing and able to play the game of media manipulation to the point that she's about the fill the void of next big Pop Superstar. The media's gonna let her do it and planet Earth is gonna stand aside and watch while they're all being played.

    MIA, meanwhile, is doing the same, but in another direction entirely. She's looking more and more like this generation's Chuck D. The media is there, for her, to get her beliefs and her character over, but not to play the game of stardom.

    At the end of the day, I think MIA will be the more respected but less successful of the two. Lady GaGa has no problem whoring herself out in the name of fame, but MIA's after the integrity vote. The planet is too full of supercilious sheep with short attention spans to care about things like character and integrity. Hell, they think all you need for "character" is a weird outfit once a week.

    And THAT is why Lady GaGa will ultimately win the Pop Stardom World Heavyweight Championship, while MIA, though the more respected (and respectable) of the two, will have to settle for the Intercontinental Title.
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