M.I.A's Pure Pop Perfection

M.I.A. delivers pure pop spectacle to an eager FFF audience

M.I.A. delivers pure pop spectacle to an eager FFF audience

M.I.A. at Fun Fun Fun Fest
M.I.A. at Fun Fun Fun Fest. Photo by Jon Shapley
Fun Fun Fun Fest 8 Day 2 in Austin 1037
M.I.A. took to the Orange Stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest. Photo by Jon Shapley
M.I.A. at Fun Fun Fun Fest
Fun Fun Fun Fest 8 Day 2 in Austin 1037

Backstage before M.I.A.’s Orange Stage set on Saturday night, a security guard advised us to freeze. “No one walks!”

An SUV sat parked to the right of the guard, and inside was Maya Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., dressed in a hat, glasses, and a coat (like someone either trying to avoid paparazzi — or attract it). After roughly a minute of no one walking, she exited the vehicle and walked up the ramp to the stage. We all put our phones up to capture this digital moment of intimacy between press and pop star.

 This wasn’t the crowd that needed to hear about the NSA. They wanted the pop star, and she gave it to them. 

“Come Walk With Me,” the latest single off M.I.A.’s new album, Matangi, is probably the most “pop” song she’s written in years. The album’s heavy on spiritual metaphor and pop-culture reference; she’s also reappropriated the millennial mantra “YOLO,” and presented as “Y.A.L.A.” (you always live again), hinting at that spiritual point of view rather than a political one.

Of course, M.I.A.’s political opinions often attract more attention than her music, something the singer is both aware and in control of. Much of her new album focuses on her critics, as she adapts more to her self-appointed role as artist and lightning rod. (She most recently collaborated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.)

But onstage last night, there was no political vamping. In front of a neon “Matangi” sign, M.I.A., her dancers and her DJ touched on older material from Kala and Arular, as well as her new album. It was pure pop spectacle tailored for a festival like Fun Fun Fun. When she performed “World Town,” with its refrain, “Hands up, guns out,” the crowd responded by collectively throwing its Absolut Vodka neon swag noodles in the air.

This wasn’t the crowd that needed to hear about the NSA. They wanted the pop star, and she gave it to them.