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Monday, October 25, 2010
M.I.A. @ the Roseland
Last week this time I was waiting for M.I.A. to take the stage at the Roseland. A single blue spotlight was shining down on a microphone in front of the crowd as a DJ spun records. The place was packed despite a savage article that popped up in the New York Times last spring. It portrayed the rapper as a pampered princess far removed from the horrors of her native Sri Lanka but still smugly determined to exploit it all through her music.
As true as these accusations might be, what would you prefer? Another Taylor Swift contentedly spewing ballads about her various former celebrity boyfriends? M.I.A.'s latest album is a mishmash of beats and political diatribes that's a far cry from what typically clogs the pop charts.
She's also a hell of a live performer, somewhere between Bjork and Jay-Z. She seems keenly aware of her own bad press and eager to mock both herself and it. During the show, two dancers in jalbaabs and niqabs, what Bill Maher might describe as "beekeeper outfits," spun on stage near the DJ. As M.I.A. stormed around the venue, two buff male dancers helped her on and off stage. In the background, a video screen displayed bright red bullet holes and footage from her homeland.
Featured in this video are two songs from the show. "Paper Planes," her most well known track, kicks in at the 6:30 mark.
Cheeky exploitation? Guerrilla kitsch? Maybe. M.I.A. kept a straight face throughout the show, jumping in and out of the crowd and merrily waiving her feet ala Humpty Dumpty on the speakers when she wasn't climbing along the balcony over the crowd. The show lasted a mere 70 minutes. A minute longer and she might have collapsed from exhaustion.
With a crowd of female audience members dancing on stage, the set ended abruptly. "Come to the after party at the Crown Room," she offered. A line was stretching past the Magic Garden as I hiked back to my car. No after parties for me though. It was a school night.