Review #421: Arular, M.I.A.

Karla Clifton
2 min readJul 19, 2023

#421: Arular, M.I.A.

I thought M.I.A. was the coolest growing up. She was releasing music during the heyday of iTunes, and I bought Kala, Maya, and Matangi. All great, as I remember them — ever heard of “Paper Planes” or “Bad Girls”? But this one I’d never heard of — sue me, I was in the fifth grade when it came out.

M.I.A.’s debut was a respected smash, and I knew nothing about it. Maya Arulpragasm is a spiritual ancestor of Rina Sawayama, a radical woman-of-color in Britain, leaning into their East Asian identities. Sawayama would name two albums after herself; Arulpragasm would name her debut after her father’s nickname, Sri Lankan radical Arulappu Richard Arulpragasam, who abandoned her mother shortly after her birth. She essentially said that her intent was to find him: “I thought that if he Googled himself, he’d get my LP and then he’d get in touch.” It worked. I wonder what he thought.

Critical difference between Sawayama and Maya: Rina is a pop singer, and M.I.A. is a grimy rapper. See the skits, “Banana, “Dash the Curry,” and “One for the Head,” which might reference Gwen Stefani and the Fugees. When she’s not acting/acting out, she’s rapping with a thick London accent. See “Sunshowers” and the freaky-harmony-filled “Fire, Fire.” I would argue that there are even moments where M.I.A. was ahead of her time, in a Grimesy/Artpop way. See the electro-exotic “Pull Up the People” and “Bingo.” She’s also a master of the great one-liner: see the way she sings Home made lanterns on “Amazon” and the way she sings I can get squeaky/ So you can come and oil me on “Hombre.”

Also, say what you want about M.I.A., but she is great at communicating who she is and the weird kind of music she wants to make. I’m rocking on this new beat, she insists on “Bucky Done Gun,” doing her best LL Cool J impression. My favorite is “Galang,” a badass London transplant anthem where she looks about as young as Billie Eilish while wearing the coolest London girl clothes. Also self-titled “M.I.A.” where she begs the question, You can be a follower but who’s your leader? I don’t know if I’d let M.I.A. lead me into battle but you’d be a fool not to take her seriously.

I liked this one, so I put on Kala afterwards. My boyfriend, who had loved Arular, particularly “U.R.A.Q.T.,” left the room. So interesting, when someone proves Rolling Stone right to me. (In fairness, Kala does kind of slap — see “20 Dollar,” the sequel to this album’s “10 Dollar,” which interpolates “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies.)

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