Tag Archives: justin bieber

Dear M.I.A: Knock it off.

Ed. note: This was written before the whole NY Times controversy!

Less than a decade on the scene, and two months before her eagerly awaited third album, M.I.A. is in a class alone. Maya Arulpragasam is a singular artistic force, pushing against musical boundaries and political sensitivities with equal aplomb. She is followed by a public that yearns to extract meaning from her every note, word, or Tweet.

So why the fuck is she attacking Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber?

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a plea to leave Gaga and Bieber alone. As much as I enjoy the music that the two put out, it’s just pop. Neither is re-inventing the wheel; they’re following in the footsteps of pop stars before them. And that’s okay! Pop music can be iconic, especially with charismatic, interesting stars like these two. But it isn’t high art. Lyrically, Bieber uses the word “baby” 9 times in the chorus of his number one hit. Gaga sings about disco sticks and fame monsters. Musically, they put out well-crafted, hook-filled R&B and dance music, respectively. Nothing groundbreaking.

M.I.A. is different. Her music is a true melting pot of influences and genres, her lyrics bombastic poetry. She is definitely not a pop star, but has had no trouble getting press, be it critical fawning or political commentary. Her personal connection to and pointed views on the Sri Lankan Civil War, discussed with greater depth elsewhere, are a defining part of her public image. Her dedication to Third World issues and subjugated peoples worldwide is admirable; she definitely isn’t some Bono-come-lately. Her politics are personal; she has as much at stake as the political musicians of the 60s and 70s. So what happened?

A turning point here is the infamous video for “Born Free,” a bit of cinematic ultraviolence that depicts genocide in very graphic terms. With classic shock rock tactics, M.I.A. made a video “so violent” and “so controversial” that it was banned from YouTube… promptly buying her another few news cycles, all about a clip that is not particularly novel or creative. The video for “Born Free” manages to combine the worst parts of collegiate political discussion and overwrought film school productions. It’d be less smug if Michael Moore directed it.

M.I.A.’s release of the “Born Free” video is part is of the same cynical media strategy that includes running to NME every month to shit on pop stars. It’s not as if her album would have gone unnoticed, lost in Trending Topics to Justin Bieber’s haircut. It’s below her, and we should expect more from someone like M.I.A. She’s too important to music, culture, and art in 2010 to punch down like this.

Introducing Fugative (or, Bieber: watch your back)

The UK music scene has been busy of late, exporting more than its fair share of indie pop-rock and electronic music. The next British Invader may be a kid with his eye on a piece of that Justin Bieber money.

Fugative, aka Harry James Byart, is a pop rapper from Essex. Just sixteen years old (and exactly ten days younger than Mr. Bieber), he writes and produces his music with Richard “YoungLord” Frierson. The pairing is a natural fit, as the Top 40 hip-hop producer was also a sixteen year old prodigy, working with Puff Daddy’s Hitmen Production Team in the mid-90s. The Bad Boy connection goes deeper, as Fugative is signed by Bad Boy co-founder / ex-Mary J. Blige manager Kirk Burrowes.

Fugative’s hip-hop is the sonic and lyrical counterpoint to Bieber’s R&B: age-appropriate, de-sexualized, “schools and girls are confusing” territory. The beats range from 90s dance throwbacks (“It’s Summertime,” which reached #4 on the UK R&B charts) to re-hashed club beats (“Supafly” apes the fills from “Drop it like it’s hot”). Still – a hit is a hit, and Fugative’s audience probably doesn’t care about originality.

Between shuttling him between Atlanta and the UK and building his social media presence, the team behind Fugative are also trying something novel to boost their young performer. Remixes of his tracks are not coming from Timbaland or Young Money – but from top EDM producers like A1 Bassline, Roska, and Moto Blanco.

In fact, I first found Fugative while searching for a song with an infectious “I think I’ve got a crush” hook. Turns out the song was Fugative’s “Crush” (single release on May 10th), remixed by none other than TGRI-favorites Nadastrom. Keeping the pop melody and sugary hook, the guys dropped most of Fugative’s rapping in lieu of some serious wobble:

By brandishing his blog credentials before he even gets a stateside release, Fugative will already be on the minds of taste makers and culture fiends when he gets a US push. Probably just in time for the summertime.