Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2005 : 01 "10 Dollar" by M.I.A.

Is M.I.A. the artist of the decade? She wasn't my favorite artist of the last ten years, but there's a couple of things about her that neatly embody any number of trends that were important to the Aughts.

A lot of ink and pixels have already been expended on discussing her personality / biography/ brand, and it's likely that most readers of this blog already have an opinion. I will say this: love it or hate it, M.I.A.'s diaspora-inflected polyglot mashup identity—part refugee, part resistance fighter, part art-school hipster —puts her in a pretty good position to create songs about militaries, terrorists, prostitutes, hostages, and markets: all highly relevant subject matter for the Aughts. The fact that songs with these heady, even grim topics almost uniformly work as sure-fire dance-floor igniters is a small miracle unto itself. (Exhibit A: "10 Dollar.")

None of this might have mattered very much if M.I.A. didn't also have a keen grip on the mutating systems of musical distribution, another reason why she stands for me as a key cultural figure from the decade. She was not the first person to understand the mash-up, the remix, the calculated leak, the MP3, the file-sharing network, and the blog as the new decade's prime mechanisms of musical transmission, but she exploited that understanding with unusual canniness. Recall that prior to Arular's release, she and Diplo built buzz by integrating her vocal tracks into a mix (Piracy Funds Terrorism) and circulated that mix via the Internet. This move ended up being a wildly successful end-run around the traditional apparatus of music production and distribution, a stunning implementation of strategies and technologies that were, at the time, novel. What this meant, in my experience as a listener, is this: Arular is the first album I bought on the strengths of tracks I had downloaded from blogs.

As I think back to that story, I remember that when I went into Tower Records to purchase it, I was thwarted: the album hadn't come out yet. Thanks to the Internet, I had a few tracks from the record literally in my pocket, but the actual physical album hadn't yet made its way into existence. I didn't understand that as a sea change at the time, but in retrospect, with Tower Records now vanished from the earth, it kind of looks that way, and M.I.A. will probably forever stand as the artist who best embodies that transition for me.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: M.I.A. >> "10 Dollar"

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