Mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel.
Michaela Drapes: I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time lately pitching an imaginary article (to myself, I guess) about how utterly frustrated I am at all the knee-jerk, dashed-off commentary of late w/r/t to the prevalence of various incarnations of the badly-behaved young woman in pop music these days. The thesis of that piece is firming up nicely now that M.I.A.’s trumped everyone else playing this game with her trademark globally-focused fuck-the-world attitude and charmingly infectious nihilism. Maybe not a huge leap forward stylistically from her previous work, but that’s okay because there’s still lots frontiers in this space she can nudge at with well-placed bribes to the border guards of popular culture. (P.S. Is that a squelched-out nod to the hook from “Toxic” I hear at the end, or am I imagining things?)
John Seroff: See, Madonna? THIS is how to be a international pop megacypher in 2012: commune with the hoi polloi by showing you’re down with the most artistic and hip culture on earth. No, not the Middle East, duh. I’m talking YouTube Culture. Embrace lyrical meaninglessness with a soupçon of eye-rolling irony; exalt truffle-fry swag and play lip-service politics; pretend you’re somehow a nihilist millionaire; fuck tha system and flip off tha Superbowl but never stop twittering; package the whole thing up and sell it to Vice. Just don’t forget to get a spectacular beat from Danja. As Robert Frost said, that shit makes all the difference in the world.
Jer Fairall: Consider that despite far fewer years of experience, M.I.A. is apparently much savvier, these days, at generating pre-release controversy than Madonna, even if it is with something as tame as a blurred vulgar gesture. Consider, too, Sasha Frere-Jones’ right-on takedown of the “tiresome and completely hypocritical” outrage that followed the event, taking place as it did during our culture’s most popular annual mass pandering to the lowest common denominator. Consider, furthermore, the words of a reader commenting on the aforementioned: “Every superbowl we must be outraged by a brown female body part. JJ’s nipple. MIA’s finger. This country is so weird.” Consider that considering any of the above is, sadly, far more interesting than listening to this song.
Alex Ostroff: Option #1: After receiving a critical drubbing for being as ‘difficult’ as people claimed she was (secret: /\/\ /\ Y /\ was both significantly better and significantly less avant-garde than everyone claimed), Maya beats a hasty retreat to the safety of vaguely “Eastern” commercial global dance music. Option #2: After putting up with pointless “truffle fries” bullshit, Maya gives the pop masses what they wanted — KALA, Part 2, minus all those confusing politics — then calls us on it with her most hilariously Orientalist video since Sunshowers. (Oil barrels! Hijabs! Raised fists! Women driving cars! ٢ Fast ٢ Furious!) It’s not the direction I wanted post-Vicki Leekx, but it’s certainly a welcome one. Lana, this is how you troll.
Jonathan Bogart: Dunno why Lana Del Rey became the one we had to have conversations about trolling over, because Ms. Arulpragasam is the Queen Bitch Trollolololololololah, and may we never forget it.
Anthony Easton: I am not sure what the implications of the change are, but this is a fantastically solid banger of a track, with an insatiable ego and stripped of all of the politics that made her previous work both so intriguing and infuriating. I don’t know how bad she is any more, but she sure is doing it well.
Brad Shoup: Everyone does multiple vocal tracks, so I dunno why I’ve developed a sudden intolerance to it. The song is a slow-moving thunderstorm, sure, but my mind scrambles when considering just one Maya + a fleet of fellow joyriders doing the drive-by chant. Who’s got Ciara’s number?
Andy Hutchins: Rare is the song with vocals in which they are completely irrelevant to the beat, and rarer the music video that obsoletes the song, but M.I.A. doesn’t do common.
Iain Mew: This doesn’t do much that, say, “Bamboo Banga” didn’t already, apart from the (sitar?) loop. That loop is bliss though, and “Bamboo Banga” was and is great, and so is “Bad Girls”.
Sabina Tang: This strikes me as a throwback to Timbaland’s “Middle Eastern sample” period, plus successful iteration on “Paper Planes” chant-along chorus. (Minority-opinion context: I really enjoyed “Come Around” despite lyrical racefail.) No clear career progression, but the sound is bullet-tested and -proof. I saw a tweet the other day about the video which made me roll my eyes; it says something that I seem to have deleted the actual message from short-term memory, retaining only the reaction.
Edward Okulicz: “Bad Girls” has an ominous, spooky and downright banging loop, and no doubt M.I.A.’s voice, clapping down as if a percussive instrument as it always does, is a great match for it. The problem is that intoning nothings about bad girls and chains is all very well if you sound tough, but her punkish pronuncuations (“froo”) make her sound about as bad as a Bollywood Shampoo, and Shampoo at least had the benefit of good choruses.
Alfred Soto: Next to “Born Free,” this is a linear, restrained, unadventurous single, with the Bollywood sample less fetching than her sung hook. But what’s that line about timing — about how it’s “everything”? Maybe middle America needs conventional M.I.A. to twirl that hook around her middle finger.
Katherine St Asaph: It took three iterations of “Bad Girls” for the world to wake up and realize M.I.A. was selling out: once on Vicki Leekx, which flimflammed the world into thinking it was awesome, then once as her lead single, where a few argued that Danja’s drama was too Orientalist or her video too Vice but everyone else chanted that too-perfect chorus: live fast die young bad girls do it well my CHAIN hits my chest…. But now, thankfully, Maya has displayed her middle phalange on national television while football and Madonna and Brentwood and ungratefulness and cheerleading and truffle oil, and finally the world’s been freed of that foul notion that whatever music sounds best must be best. Tedious backlashes are people too, my friend.