The lady gangsta fantasy of M.I.A.’s video for ‘Bad Girls’

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Today M.I.A., aka Maya Arulpragasam, debuted her video for new single “Bad Girls,” working again with “Born Free” co-conspirator Romain Gavras. Filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco, the country’s film capital also seen in “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Gladiator” and several other Western movies, the video is meant to evoke a Persian Gulf landscape – dusty, baked, semi-apocalpytic and in the hands of M.I.A. and Gavras, utterly hard-core.

Set to M.I.A.’s Punjabi-laced chill-banger, “Bad Girls” is a lady gangsta fantasy but one that plays off very real ingredients from life in the Middle East. There’s crumbled architecture, sustained over years of attack; smouldering oil tankards; young men in kaffiyeh, standing around dangerously bored; mysterious women covered from head to toe, with only their kohl-lined eyes flashing out. Most of us Americans have seen that existence only in bits of CNN video, left to venture our own conclusions about their daily grind.


But then “Bad Girls” is M.I.A.’s Middle East -- and in her own way, she makes it everyone’s Middle East. She’s deadpanning about having sex in cars while vamping in front of those tankard fires. Women are gyrating with AK-47s, while swathed in cheetah patterns, polka dots and gold. And like Ice Cube would (or any young dude feeling futile and angry), there are old family sedans to grab and turn into drifting, racing stunt rides, whether on Crenshaw, Eight Mile or a bullet-scarred road running parallel with an oil pipe line. The lyrics aren’t anything you haven’t heard before -– “live fast, die young; bad girls do it well” –- but it’s M.I.A.’s potent gift to be able to take those tried-and-true sentiments of the swagger life and combine them with Bhangra big-drum strains, guerrilla politics and the pure simple sight of people goofing around. She uses the classic markers of one of the most successful exports there is -– rap music –- to draw the other side of the globe ever closer to us. Whether it’s bombs over Baghdad or not, in M.I.A.’s vision, today was a good day in the Middle East.


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-- Margaret Wappler