[20 January 2011]
According to M.I.A.‘s Twitter Feed, she’s been going by the name “Vicki(y) Leekx” since late November or so. At that point, it felt like yet another one of her all but trademarked non-political political statements, a pun built on a reference to something political that allows her to acknowledge political controversy without really taking a side. It’s one of the many aspects of her personality that came under fire in 2010, a specific instance of her need to come off as confrontational without actually sparking confrontation on anything deeper than a purely personal level.
It’s the way her public persona has always worked even when she was being celebrated for genre busting and boundary breaking. When she made /\/\/\Y/\, she made it easier for journalists and critics to call her out, because it’s an album that completely overhauls her sound, complete with an accompanying video (“Born Free”) that exists primarily to shock and provoke. She begged us to take a closer look at her words by throwing sirens, feedback, and a dose of graphic violence at us; what we found were odes to liquor, sex, and herself. Enter the backlash.
Deserved or not, M.I.A. found herself on the negative end of public opinion for the last half of 2010, not only for her music but for her attitude; tweet the phone number of a writer for the New York Times and be prepared for what’s coming to you, I suppose.
The ViCKi LEEKX mixtape feels like the first step on the road to recovery, a move destined to win back some of the good favor that slipped through M.I.A.‘s fingers over the past year. Little has changed between the release of /\/\/\Y/\ and this mix—the politics remain present but uninterested in taking a position, the production team from the album proper is still intact (though joined by Danja, Munchi, and So Japan), and Ms. Arulpragasam is as belligerent as ever—but there’s a good-natured party vibe going on here that was all but completely absent on /\/\/\Y/\. Those thinking the Vicki Leekx pseudonym was going to be an outlet for M.I.A.‘s more political work are going to be disappointed; this is how she has a good time.
Two nods to /\/\/\Y/\ do a good job of pointing out just how different this mix is from that album. “WWW/Meds/Feds” and “Steppin/Up” show up back to back, but only total just under three minutes combined. The first spends two minutes completely ditching the punk guitars of “Meds and Feds” in favor of a minimal glitch beat that grooves better than anything on /\/\/\Y/\ ever managed, while the second spends a minute riffing on the phrase “I run this fucking club” before moving on to bigger and better things.
“Gen-N-E-Y” shows just what she’s capable of right now, an intense, catchy banger that fires off at apathetic youth culture as effectively as anything she’s ever put out. Sonically, it actually fits right in with the /\/\/\Y/\ sound, complete with barely restrained machinegun hi-hats and an affinity for heavily processed noise, but it also puts an auto-tuned M.I.A. at the front of the mix, a smart choice that allows her to sound as though she controls the noise rather than vice versa. That that track leads directly into “Bad Girls”, the most obvious call back to the sound that brought her fame, is likely no accident. Rather than point out just how much she’s changed, the positioning of those two tracks actually does a pretty effective job of pointing out just how much her “old” sound has in common with the “new”.
Perhaps the only real disappointment to be found throughout ViCKi LEEKX is just how utterly banal some of M.I.A.‘s lyrics have become. Something like “Let Me Hump You” is so ridiculous as to border on satire, but it’s hard to take it as such when M.I.A.‘s primary lyrical inspiration seems to be the club. Similarly, “Marsha/Britney” seems like it could be a statement on the differences between people’s true colors and the representation of themselves that shows up online, but M.I.A.‘s delivery makes it come off surprisingly petty, especially given her own adventures in social media.
Still, it’s hard to be too critical of tracks that don’t last more than two minutes or so.
That’s really the true beauty of ViCKi LEEKX—the average track length here is actually under two minutes, and even the trio of three-minute bits that round out the mix are almost collage in their construction. This is the sound of an artist throwing ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks, and what makes ViCKi LEEKX exciting is just how damn sticky some of those ideas happen to be.