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Is MIA the Julian Assange of Pop Music?

With her new Vicki Leakx mixtape, Maya Arulpragrasm reiterates her case as America’s most important, politically savvy young popstar.

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She’s referring to Julian Assange, but she was also being self-referential. The mixtape’s WikiLeaks references were foreshadowed by MIA’s Twitter leading up to its release. For weeks, she’d been tweeting in defense of Assange and Bradley Manning, and the CableGate fall-out fit neatly into her viewpoints. More importantly, she finally backed up her seemingly out-of-nowhere comments about the Google-CIA connection, tweeting on December 7, “heres the CIA/GOOGLE shit that GOT ME IN SOOOOOO MUCH FUCKING TROUBLE IN 2010! finally found the site http://www.google-watch.org/inqtel.html.” The site details how, in 2003, a private leg of the CIA teamed up with the company developing the map technology that would eventually become Google Earth. That company was the Keyhole Corporation; Google Inc. acquired it in 2004.

VICKI LEAKX is a scathing comeback to last year's “smear job,” and reestablishes the case that she's the most relevant pop artist of 2010. MIA believes hard. Yes, she can be vague, her lyrics can be broadstroke, her rebel connections tenuous. But if this mixtape drove anything home, it’s that to focus on her porousness is to miss the point. We are meant to listen, and to connect our own dots. Just as WikiLeaks unleashes raw information and lets newspapers draw the conclusions, MIA is slinging statements and letting her listeners choose which stick, a far more effective way to open minds than to hammer home rigid ideas. She is giving us the aesthetically advanced clay and we can mold it.

Further, no other young pop star in America of her caliber of fame acknowledges politics within as broad a range. Through postmodernism and a sort of ideological Photoshop job that bleeds into her music, she’s transformed WikiLeaks, immigration, war culture, government life-tapping, the disconnected/overintelligent ennui of http babies into salient musical points. For certain, there are other examples of outspoken superstars, but most stick to their pet topics -- Lady Gaga with DADT, for instance, whose activism has proven fealty but who hasn't branched out beyond the topic. Others are less heralded, to be sure -- to pick a less obvious example, the formidable rapper Lil Wayne has released several songs denouncing the war and the culture surrounding it, but he's still best known for his alien mic flow and big radio hits.

But it's MIA who invites controversy, who makes us grapple with tough topics, to develop a viewpoint. On a red carpet last October, in the wake of the Park 51 controversy, she wore a full burqa emblazoned with her album art. Some decried it as an empty gesture or a marketing move, others thought it was a genius statement on religious freedom -- but whatever your stance, she forced us to really consider it.

Surely some of those who remember the staunch political musicians of the 1960s will (and have) chafed at the idea that a lyricist like MIA could be considered an important political artist. And, certainly, in the 2011 American underground there is an abundance of musician-activists who put their agenda forth in easier-to-understand plainspeak. But rarely do leftist political lyrics/sentiment converge with music that is so aesthetically of the zeitgeist, of the age, and more importantly, with a sound that will resonate with a younger generation and plant revolutionary ideas into their collective consciousness. For politics to work and change to germinate, they need pollination. That's always the rub with political art, right?

MIA’s found the perfect balance between her rebel viewpoints, scathing critiques and relevant aesthetic modes, fusing the sound and feel of politically inclined music before her -- rap, punk, techno, to name a few. In the information age, our motto is to keep it moving. To tap into the political awareness of younger generations, you have to speak our language. And even if you doubt how she constructs it, it’s clear that MIA is not only speaking the language -- she’s creating it.