No. 13: M.I.A., “Paper Planes”

I left Slumdog Millionaire during the mansion scene—I couldn’t watch someone be that stupid anymore, sorry. Flimsy framing device, too. But even I had to admit that when “Paper Planes” came on it matched the images perfectly—even if I also think playing the entire song in the middle of the movie was, well, kind of unnecessary.

Nevertheless: great song, and there was little as heartwarming in Big Pop this year as watching it hit the Top 5. Of course, it did so on the back of megabucks films I have no real interest in, but I’d rather listen to groups of schoolkids sing along to this one than most of the competition. The danger here is that it can wear out its welcome a bit too easily if M.I.A. is serious about staying away from the spotlight—the song could take the place of the performer. Surely “Swagga Like Us” has already helped this begin to happen.

Since I take most young musicians’ professions to retire with basically no seriousness, I’m sure she’ll do something again soon; or maybe Buraka Som Sistema’s “Sound of Kuduro,” which features her, will catch on like “Paper Planes” has. A year ago the idea that there might be a first M.I.A. hit was basically a pipe dream. The idea that there might now be a second is one of the year’s best surprises.

M.I.A. – Paper Planes [Dailymotion]
T.I. ft. Kanye West, Jay-Z & Lil Wayne – Swagga Like Us [Dailymotion]
Buraka Som Sistema – “Sound of Kuduro” [Dailymotion]
M.I.A. [MySpace]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)

  • Anonymous

    I love that Buraka Son Sistema song, but let’s be real: it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of hitting the top 5.

    Also, you walked out on Slumdog Millionaire? Be still my Bollywood-beating heart……

  • Ted Striker

    As happy as it made me to hear Paper Planes rise from obscurity to ubiquity, I couldn’t help thinking that this was the year that acclaimed indie/underground artists became the new-model one-hit wonders.

  • Maura Johnston

    @Ted Striker: i could see this (although i’d argue that the process started with “1-2-3-4″ last year and just crested further in ’08)

  • Christopher R. Weingarten

    on famed indie/underground label Interscope

  • heyzeus

    When discussing this song with a younger person, it’s fun to mention the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” and then watch the blank look on their face.

  • MayhemintheHood

    I haven’t seen Slumdog Millionaire, but I think you’re the first person I’ve heard/read think negatively of it. Interesting. But you also admitted to having no interest in Pineapple Express either, so maybe you’re just crazy.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    @MayhemintheHood: haha I shouldn’t have said that, because I actually do want to see Pineapple Express.

  • bess marvin, girl detective

    @heyzeus: cause it’s ain’t Coca Cola…it’s rice

  • Chris Molanphy

    I loved Slumdog Millionaire, but when “Paper Planes” popped up in it, it felt a little too “Well, natch.” Of course, it’s not Danny Boyle’s fault the song got stolen for a summer pot comedy’s trailer before his flick hit screens.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    @Chris Molanphy: The “Planes” moment, much like the movie itself, would have felt a bit showy and strained even if it hadn’t already been done before.

  • Anthony Miccio

    [i]I couldn’t help thinking that this was the year that acclaimed indie/underground artists became the new-model one-hit wonders.[/i]

    Well, let’s not forget that Neil Young and Lou Reed were basically one-hit wonders when it came to the ’70s singles charts. Groups like Folk Implosion and The Breeders in the 90s, too. I think it’s a a badge of pride when a cult artist crosses over big time with a novelty. Most don’t.

  • natepatrin

    @Anthony Miccio: I was going to question your mention of Neil Young until I discovered that “Heart of Gold” was the only song of his that cracked the top 30, which is my new favorite hard-to-believe rock fact. I think Nu Shooz had more top 30 hits than Neil.

  • TheMojoPin


    Hopefully people will come to their senses over this nonsense like they did with the Streets.

    Weak hip-hop by somebody with an accent is still just weak hip-hop at the end of the day.

    And damn, I miss when an AdRock and Mike D. cameo in a video was fucking awesome. What’s up, “Drop?”

  • Rock You Like An Iracane

    @Chris Molanphy: @Michaelangelo Matos: Yeah. But it fit perfectly. And I can’t blame the mutual hitching of stars to the next big thing, there.

    @heyzeus: @JZ13: I went and found “Straight to Hell” after I learned it was the sample; I really like it, all slow and dark and drummy, with its own great riff in the verses, and that authentic punk voice. I’m 18.

    “Paper Planes” is a party song. It may come with M.I.A.’s own political outlook installed, but it’s an undeniable party song. “Straight to Hell” is not, and that’s why a generation raised on the radio won’t take to it.

    @TheMojoPin: It’s not that bad; I’d agree that she’s not even at the Jay-Z-ghostwritten-Fresh Prince-level, lyrically, but she (and Diplo) have found ways to give hip-hop some aspects of world music and some of the better samples used in music in the last few years, and make it a lot of fun, which has been the M.O. of the few people who’ve had runaway success in the last couple of years (T.I., Lil Wayne, Kanye, Soulja Boy). Sure, she shouldn’t be on top of Nah Right’s nonexistent “Best of ’08″ list, but that’s not her market, anyway.

  • natepatrin

    @TheMojoPin: Funny, I remember people saying the same thing about the Beastie Boys.

  • How do I say this … THROWDINI!

    @Rock You Like An Iracane: Jay-Z-ghostwritten-Fresh Prince-level

    What is this referencing? What Fresh Prince sounds did Jay-Z ghostwrite?

  • How do I say this … THROWDINI!

    @How do I say this … THROWDINI!: songs, not sounds.

  • Anonymous

    @natepatrin: Yes, but “Ohio” reached #14, “Helpless” reached #11 as the B-side to “Woodstock,” “Mr. Soul” charted with Buffalo Springfield, CSNY reached #1 three times, “Long May You Run” (w/ Stills) reached #26, and 12 straight Neil Young albums from 1970 to 1982 broke the top 30, (most reaching the top 20), at a time when the album was becoming the dominant form. I get your point, and Miccio’s point about indie bands, but calling Neil Young a one-hit wonder is a little off-base– he was ubiquitous on the charts in one form or another for two decades, and pretty much seen as rock royalty from the 70s on.

  • Anonymous

    @heyzeus: Yeah, I’ve played “Straight to Hell” for people who love “Paper Planes” and they’ve turned their noses up at it. I guess it’s because that chiming guitar part only shows up two times in the original, which is otherwise quite bare and bleak.

  • moomintroll

    @heyzeus: I put “Paper Planes” on my annual Christmas mix I make for my parents. My Mum really likes hearing new music, but doesn’t know how to find it. My Dad’s a huge Clash fan so I knew he’d appreciate it.
    It’s strange to live in a world where people don’t automatically recognize the sample in “Paper Planes”. I must be getting old!
    M.I.A does choose good sources though, Blue Monday/ Where is my Mind for “20 Dollar” is genius. When I saw her live a year ago, she went into full on “Blue Monday” after “20 Dollar” for almost the entire track.

  • Nunya B

    @TheMojoPin: It’s funny you say that, because I’ve always regarded MIA as an electronic artist who just happens to vocalize more in rap than in song. Kala was more rap than electronic, true, but even in that context I think “Paper Planes” is a novelty song that doesn’t totally reflect the kind of music she makes.

    @Rock You Like An Iracane: I actually think she’s a good lyricist. Her politics aren’t defined well, but she really is a fantastic sloganeer (“like PLO I don’t surrendo” – classic).

    @Christopher R. Weingarten: Technically, she’s an XL artist who happens to be distributed in the US by Interscope. Technically.

  • TheMojoPin

    @Nunya B:

    Fair enough. I like the production (which is far more than I could ever say about the Streets) all well and good. I just can’t get past the REALLY weak lyrics.

  • Lucas Jensen