M.I.A – The One
M.I.A is a born again Christian. In a recent interview with Zane Lowe discussing her freshly announced upcoming album, MATA, the Sri Lankan-English alt-rapper spoke about how a vision of Jesus Christ changed the trajectory of her current creative journey. “It’s very, creatively, it’s a very crazy thing because it turned my world upside down,” she said, explaining how her spiritual experience resulted in a sort of ‘clash’ on MATA. “I kind of couldn’t let go of the Tamil side. I think that’s why 50% of the record is sort of like that… But I think the message was just to get to a peaceful place.”
The One, the first single from MATA, may be the result of divine intervention but reads like a step backwards for M.I.A. Since 2016’s divisive AIM, the artist has mostly been releasing music exclusively via Patreon. A sort of foreshadowing to the NFT boom (of which she’s also been an essential player), the music M.I.A presented outside of the major label system over the course of the past two years has arguably been her strongest in years. Tracks like OHMNI and Amen returned her to the convention defying glitch and noise of her early dub informed experiments, the veil of cyber secrecy seemingly opening the floodgates of her formidable creative chakra. The One, on the other hand, is startlingly insipid. A trap-pop song, The One makes M.I.A sound, dare we say, generic. Clocking in at just two minutes, the track plays out like something from the depths of the Tik-Tok algorithm, a short and sweet something that doesn’t really say much of anything. It’s vaguely gospel inclined, impossible not to relate lyrics like “When you’re tryna find the one /Why do you need reminding /No matter how you look at it / It’s me you keep finding” back to M.I.A’s divine visitation. But even then, she’s not really interrogating the experience beyond the surface, which makes The One play off as superficial. It’s jarringly out of character for an artist who, even when deliberately playing into pop trends ala-XXXO, has always sounded distinct.
The One raises more questions than it answers. M.I.A had previously forsaken the mainstream label system, suggesting her future music would be independently released. The MIATANGY YouTube channel which provides an archive of her work released exclusively on Patreon, hints that whatever she was cooking up prior to the left-turn of MATA was some of the most “M.I.A s***” she’s done in a while. Perhaps the dichotomy on MATA she’s speaking about is the push and pull between these two sides; the underground guerilla artist and the potential pop star. At this point, only Jesus knows.