Update: Thanu Yakupitiyage has written a more detailed comment on M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” video over at Hyphen Magazine. It is a quite insightful piece, I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the questions raised below and by many others about this video.

I think the recent incident of M.I.A. raising her finger at the Super Bowl kind of illustrates the point that her primary motivation might be more about getting attention rather than anything else.

The further point that she apparently hired three women as extras for each show on her last tour who were required to wear full burkas on stage possibly speaks to a tendency to orientalize Arab culture.

(Just as a small clarification on this point, I want to make clear that I fully and vocally oppose racist efforts by rightwingers and small-minded liberals to ban the burka (or niqab or hijab) in France, Quebec or elsewhere in the ‘West’).


M.I.A. has recently debuted a new video* ‘Bad Girls’ in the lead up to the upcoming release of her fourth album. Personally, I was pretty into her first two albums Arular and Kala at one point, but didn’t get much out of the third album. This new video however just has me a bit puzzled.

Apparently, M.I.A. filmed this in Morocco to celebrate or glorify (or perhaps to simply culturally appropriate) the recent resistance Saudi women have been demonstrating against driving restrictions in their country.

After I pushed play when I saw the video in a friend’s facebook feed, my reaction shifted quickly from surprise to just being kinda weirded out. I won’t bother to give an in-depth analysis but I’ll just say it all feels very stereotyped and orientalizing, and it feels a bit cheap. Apparently I’m not the only one who came to similar conclusions.

I asked A Saudi friend of mine for her thoughts on the video. She responded:

[M.I.A.] is actually perpetrating stereotypes about Arabs. No wonder why she didn’t care to get people who actually know how to dance the Arab Gulf way or wear the proper Gulf garment. Her being a woman of color does not justify her taking up the cause and making this horrible video. There are lots of Saudi women who can respond and have responded to the ban on driving. Her video is just offensive.

*full disclosure: I admit I am writing this despite the fact that I could only stomach watching the video about 1.5 times.