Sunday, March 4, 2012

M.I.A. -- "Bad Girls" (2012)

Live fast
Die young
Bad girls do it well

We have a lot to talk about today, but first I need to say "Thank you" to the young lawyer at my firm who sent me a link to the music video for M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" a couple of weeks ago.  (I don't think she's quite as bad a bad girl as M.I.A. is, but I hear she's in the same neighborhood.)

Let's get right to it.  As my son said after I shared it with him, "This is basically the bombest video in history":


Let's try that again: O . . . M . . . G!!!

M.I.A.'s real name is Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam.  Her parents are Sri Lankan.  Shortly after she was born in London in 1977, her family back moved to Sri Lanka, where her father became a prominent political activist.

Civil war broke out in Sri Lanka in 1983.  M.I.A.'s family were Tamils, which is the second largest ethnic group on the island.  (The majority Sinhalese outnumber the Tamils by about three to one.)  Tamil separatist forces -- known as the Tamil Tigers -- were eventually defeated by the government army in 2009, after a 26-year-long military struggle.

The flag of Sri Lanka
M.I.A.'s mother took her children to live in India after the civil war broke out, and then moved them back to London in 1986.  Her father stayed behind in Sri Lanka, leaving it to the mother to make a living and support the family.

M.I.A. attended an art school in London, and mounted a successful exhibition of graffiti-inspired spray-paint paintings in London in 2001.  Jude Law was one of her first customers.

About the same time, she became acquainted with the lead singer of the band Elastica, designed the cover for an Elastica single, and made a video documentary of the group's tour.  She began to experiment with a synthesizer and drum machine, and released her first single on a tiny independent record label in 2003.  M.I.A. utilized her MySpace page and file sharing to build a large online following, and eventually signed with a major record label.  Her fourth album is expected to be released this coming summer.

M.I.A.'s music is highly eclectic -- it mixes electro/dancehall music, hiphop, alternative rock/punk, Tamil folk, and Bollywood-style music.

Her songs are usually political, and her politics are quite radical.  Given her upbringing, it's not surprising that she supports various third-world revolutionary movements.  What is surprising is that she was once engaged to Benjamin Bronfman -- the two had a baby together in 2009 -- who is the son of billionaire Edgar Bronfman, heir to the Seagram's liquor fortune.

A pregnant M.I.A. with Bronfman
M.I.A. was in the news recently after performing at Super Bowl XLVI with Madonna and Nicki Minaj.  (Click here to read what 2 or 3 lines had to say about the song these three performed as part of the halftime show.)  M.I.A. thoughtfully omitted the word "sh*t" from her verse, but flipped the bird to the TV cameras instead.  

After the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" eight years ago, NBC and the other major networks supposedly had put fail-safe procedures into place to prevent indecent material from being aired.  But NBC censors were unable to blur M.I.A.'s middle finger in time.

M.I.A. at the Super Bowl
"She wasn't thinking," said a M.I.A. spokesperson.  (No sh*t, Sherlock.)  "She's incredibly sorry."  (Sure she is.)

When I watched the "Bad Girls" video, I was immediately reminded of the author Salman Rushdie and the fatwa (a ruling concerning Islamic law that is issued by an Islamic scholar) that the Ayatollah Khomeini announced after Rushdie's 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, was published. 

Khomeini viewed Rushdie's depiction of the prophet Muhammed in his novel as blasphemous, and called upon faithful Muslims to kill Rushdie.  Iranian officials consequently offered a bounty for Rushdie's death, which caused the British government to break off diplomatic relations with Iran.  

There were a number of attempts to assassinate Rushdie and others who were involved in the publication of The Satanic Verses.  One would-be assassin blew himself up while putting together a bomb he planned to use to kill Rushdie in London in 1989.  The Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death, the Italian translator was seriously wounded in a stabbing, and the Turkish translator survived a fundamentalist mob attempt to kill him by burning down his hotel.  (37 people died in the fire.)  

Rushdie with his book
The UK reestablished diplomatic relations with Iran in 1998 after officials in that country pledged that it would not support future assassination attempts on Rushdie.

But the Iranian government has no power to withdraw the fatwa -- only the person who issues it can withdraw it.  Since Khomeini died a few months after issuing the fatwa in 1989, it will remain in effect until Rushdie dies -- hopefully from natural causes.

I bring all this up because I can imagine M.I.A. becoming the subject of a fatwa as a result of the "Bad Girls" video.  Not every fatwa calls for the subject to be killed as punishment -- perhaps a fatwa involving "Bad Girls" would call for the faithful to boycott her music or send her rude e-mails.  

For one thing, I doubt that fundamentalist Muslims would appreciate the chic designer hijab worn by the dancers in the video.  (Hijab is a term that is often thought to refer to a Muslim headscarf/veil, but which really refers to all the clothing that conceals a Muslim woman's entire body, save only the face and hands.)  Hijab garments are not always black, but are generally a single color -- preferably a relatively plain and simple color.  I'm sure that no observant Muslim woman would appear in leopard-print or polka-dotted hijab.

Women wearing hijab
M.I.A. herself does not appear in hijab garments in the video.  (The black top she is wearing in the first minute or so of the video isn't exactly hijab either.)  Hijab is intended to promote a woman's modesty when she is in public, and M.I.A. does not seem to consider modesty a particularly desirable personality trait.  To the contrary, she seems to view bumping and grinding in front of the male extras in the video to be more like it.  

Some people think that the "Bad Girls" video -- which features some mesmerizing stunt driving -- is a protest against Saudi Arabia's ban on driving by women.  That policy dates back to a 1991 fatwa against gender mixing in public.  Some Saudi women are currently suing the government for refusing to issue them driver's licenses.

Maybe the "Bad Girls" video is an impassioned cry for women's rights.  Or maybe M.I.A. just enjoys riding around in cars that are being driven on two wheels or doing other crazy stunts.  Either way, I can't stop watching this video.

M.I.A. in the "Bad Girls" video
One final note.  When I was researching this post, I came across some references to "ghost-riding the whip."  Here's how reporter Paul Fahri defined the term in a 2006 article in the Washington Post:  
To ghost-ride, the driver climbs out of the car while it's moving at low speed. The ghost-rider then busts a move around and on top of the vehicle, usually accompanied by a thumping soundtrack from the car (or "whip," in urban slang). What they're attempting is to make the dance steps as gaudy and elaborate as possible and to stay outside the car as long as possible. It's all about self-expression. Or possibly cheap thrills. Or maybe the ever-popular youthful flirtation with bone-breaking, brain-damaging injury. 
There are ghost-riding videos all over YouTube.  Here's a video of a ghost-ride that didn't go all that well:

Once again, here's the official "Bad Girls" video:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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