Lilian Min
June 16, 2015 6:27 am

M.I.A.’s music has always had a worldly, political focus. From the very start, the Sri Lankan provocateur (real name: Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasum) has thoughtfully incorporated deep cultural symbolism and motifs in her music and visual complements, even in poppy, chart-topping hits like “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls.” But her latest music video is also a reminder of the female-driven power that serves as another source of energy for this boundary-pushing artist. This time she showcases that girl power via the Shaolin Tagou martial arts school in China.

A collaboration with the French producer GENER8ION, “The New International Sound (Part II)” is bombastic, belligerent, and cool, the kind of song you want to play when you’re making a grand entrance, or doing a work out/makeover montage. M.I.A.’s vocals, which already have an almost metallic edge to them, are taken to their pixellated extreme with the help of Auto-Tune, and they pair perfectly with the push and roll of the production.

But the lyrics, which include lines like “You can kill my privacy / but you can’t kill that love in me,” and the boom of the background gain an extra layer of resonance when paired with the music video. A revisit of the film Dragon Girls, it focuses on tens of thousands of incredibly well-coordinated Chinese students attending the Shaolin Tagou martial arts school, and more specifically it focuses on the girls who go through the beautiful but brutal training.

Now, the video isn’t just about the girls, but when put into the context of the film and the lyrics, everything comes together to sucker punch you in the feels.

Though China is clearly a modern world power, its society is still very patriarchal — without getting too into it, Chinese women and girls of all ethnicities have to grapple with cultural norms that continually devalue them all the time. The full effect of the video in that cultural context, coupled with the steely intensity of the girls in the video, is a tribute to girl power, girlhood, and growing up despite adversity.

We’re adding this song immediately to our workout playlist, and we’ll definitely be keeping an ear out for M.I.A.’s next project — a 12 minute long, 3 song mixtape/film project. Based on her previous body of work, including this, it seems she already has her audio-visual themes on lock.

(Image via.)

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