On Facebook and Twitter, there’s hot debate over “Bad Girls.” Many absolutely love the video, proclaiming it to be M.I.A’s big comeback, while others remain unsure. Some see it as embodying resistance to the norm, while others don’t think it resists enough.
For my part, I’m taken in but left feeling uneasy. What’s missing is the present context of North Africa and the Middle East; it’s been a year since the revolution that toppled Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s #Jan25 call that led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the Libyan uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and ongoing struggles for political justice in Syria and Yemen. Images, videos, and news reports of the region have shown inspiring scenes of resistance.
But in “Bad Girls”’ depictions of the Arab world, I see a false, hyped-up misrepresentation of the region we now know for the Arab Spring. I’m bothered by M.I.A.’s reproduction of Orientalist tropes–“Orientalist” in Edward Said’s sense, of a distorted lens through which Arabs are viewed and “experienced” by the West. “Bad Girls” is just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding, and dangerous.
M.I.A. and the video’s director, Romain Gavrais, perform controversy for the sake of controversy and cash in on the Arab Spring. They aestheticize the recent uprisings while avoiding a precise political statement.
I get that it’s just a music video. I also get that there’s only so much a music video can do. At the same time, compared to a reality in which Arab peoples are demanding control of their own representation, not as terrorists or blank faces with guns but as people fighting for political voice, “Bad Girls” seems lacking in creativity and vision. While undeniably hip, M.I.A.’s video is politically vacant in comparison to lesser-known artists with far fewer resources–like DAM and Shadia Mansoor from Palestine and the Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst."
— Hyphen Magazine's Thanu Yakupitiyage questions M.I.A.’s solidarity politics in her “Bad Girls” vid on the R today.