M.I.A. brings 'Born Free' to Letterman: Awesome or irritating?

mia-lettermanImage Credit: CBS/John Paul Filo/LandovLast night, M.I.A. dropped by CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman to promote her new album, /\/\/\Y/\. She announced the performance on Twitter with typical caustic sarcasm: “whoring myself on letterman tonite americca, see u there!” Okay then! The song she chose was thuddingly confrontational single “Born Free.” In place of the hair-color death squads of that song’s video, M.I.A. brought along a troop of backup dancers styled more or less exactly like her.

/\/\/\Y/\ is surely the year’s most divisive major-label release. I happen to be one of those people who love 2005’s Arular and (much of) 2007’s Kala but find this follow-up to be a bit of a disaster. But I tried to approach her Late Show performance with an open mind. Image-wise, I think it was a success. The army of lookalikes was a well-executed nod to the increasingly common critique that she’s some sort of superficial phony, as Stereogum has noted. If she had used this setup for an older song like “Pull Up the People” or “Paper Planes,” I probably would have enjoyed it. Yet “Born Free” felt frankly interminable to me as a piece of live music. M.I.A. remains brilliant at making the audience pay attention to her. When it’s for a half-baked blast of empty aggression like this, I start wondering why I bothered.

But maybe you disagree? Check out M.I.A.’s Letterman performance after the jump (clip via Stereogum) and let us know what you think.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (84 total) Add your comment
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  • Entertainment2u-Twitter

    This is how irritating I found it — I actually turned over to Leno to see who his musical guest was. YUP — THAT irritating!

    • Carla

      With few exceptions, I tend to tune out the music guests about 75-80% of the time on all shows.

  • Krunch

    MIA is R.I.C.H, she can’t sell me a line of crap about how discontent she is. Big front from a little rich b*tch.

    • TruTree

      SO What if she’s rich, it’s beside the point. Money is power, and she uses it more wisely then most musicians with more of it.

      • Cupcake

        SHe can say whatever she want! Shes smarter than more artist

  • JAilyss

    Glad that’s over.

  • @Popservations

    I was looking forward to M.I.A.’s performance because I haven’t heard anything from the new album. And there’s something very ‘anti-rock star’ about the fact she chose the atonal “Born Free” for her turn in the mainstream TV spotlight (Johnny Rotten came to mind). While I enjoyed the performance art of her doppelganger army, this morning I’m not inspired to look much deeper at ‘/\/\/\Y/\.’

    • Lanny

      M.I.A is an artist mark my words in a few years people will look back on this album..ohhh i get it now.

  • hhdr

    /\ \/\/ F U L

  • thin

    I turned the TV off for the night while it was being performed. Did not care for it.

  • whoa

    Sweet dancing Jesus, I couldn’t take it after about 2 minutes and even that was really pushing my listening-to-shapeless-white-noise-with-a-bunch-of-women-bouncing-randomly-to-it limits. MUTE. My ears are so much happier now. I consider myself to have a pretty good tolerance and openmindedness about different styles of music (for example, I LOVE some of the dissonant traditional vocal stuff that comes out of some areas of Eastern Europe) but I cannot handle what amounts to very loud and obnoxious static as a form of music. Ow.

  • Jason

    Is it really necessary to type “Maya” in its stylized form every time it is referred to?
    Or when speaking the name of the album, should we start saying “The M.I.A. album ‘Forward slash back slash forward slash back slash forward slash back slash why forward slash back slash'”?

  • KET

    I think it works for her at this stage, as it keeps people guessing what M.I.A.’s next move will be. I certainly thought she would have gone on Letterman with something more safe, but the attack of the clones bit was a nice bit of agitprop on the current bland, imitative state of the pop music scene.

    • TruTree

      Totally Agree!!!

    • McCoy

      Except MIA can’t sing and doesn’t have anything original to say. So she’s part of the problem, not the solution. Give me Janelle Monae any day for a fresh voice and approach to pop music.

      • Delon

        AMEN !!!!

  • Natalie

    Ughhh! Wtf this song and performance was so unbelievably horrible and freaky… I had to get on the net straight away to confirm everyone else hated it too lol

  • Prosper

    Can’t wait to get this Album. I think this song would have been better if they took out the annoying keyboard player who was just smacking the thing lol.

    • Jimmy

      That “annoying” keyboard player is Martin Rev the keyboardist for “Suicide”, the band she sampled for this song.

      • Dani

        MIA’s persona has grown bigger than her talent. Say what you will about Gaga, I have my own issues with her. But she doesn’t pretend to have depth. It’s sad, I love(d) MIA, own her first two albums but her live show sucked BAD and her interviews as of late have really changed my feelings about her.

  • Chris

    I thought it was AWESOME. Not everything needs to be safe and pop. That was punk rock as hell and I loved it. I might not listen to it while making dinner, but that’s not the point – it’s a visual performance.

    • Person Who Talks

      Ummmm that was not music, that was noise…if you want “punk rock as hell” try Velvet Underground or The Replacements; at least they know what the word “melody” means.

      • mtraptor

        Guess you haven’t heard “European Son” then.

      • blahblahblahblah

        the keyboardist for the letterman (and originator of the song’s sample) is martin rev of the band SUICIDE. the punk band hated even by punks because they used electronics and noise. for M.I.A. to put him on national TV was an awesome nod to his influence.
        punk is old, punk is pop. noise is the new punk.

  • u

    I’m pretty sure if Lady Gaga did the exact same performance, EW would eat it up and her fans would call it high art. I don’t like M.I.A. as a personality, but at least her music has some substance, so it’s easier to tolerate her pretentiousness. At least for me.

    • b

      U are correct. People are such sheep…

    • Juicey

      You’re crazy and that’s not music

    • ed

      yeah i think the backlash from the new york times incident has resonated everywhere, critics are being way to hard on this album. and a lot of people just follow. she will overcome it though.

      • Juicey

        @ed -Or maybe it’s just CRAP and MOST people know CRAP when they hear CRAP.

    • Juicey

      I think Seinfeld summed up GAGA appropriately with “She’s a Jerk”. Therefore, if she had attempted this kind of debauchery it would inevitably been deemed by non-fans like myself as “Garbage with Bling” or “Mega-Crap”.

      • A.

        Seinfeld called M.I.A. a jerk? Seinfeld’s a whore. And a jerk. So that’s two strikes for him.

    • Daiz

      If Gaga did this, I’d shake my head.
      Because it’s not ~her, if that makes sense. It works for M.I.A., and to my surprise I actually liked it. See? Not all Gaga fans are biased.

  • runrun

    it was a good performance, but i felt that the music was a little too loud at times. it’s a great and incredible album. But if you watch the performance a couple of times i think you’ll get the point and have respect for it

    • Juicey

      watch it a couple times? I couldn’t stomach it for the 1st 15 seconds! People please visit your local vintage record store and study up on what music is. Then you’ll be equipped to identify it when you hear it…that was some str8 up GARBAGE! An assault on my ears. This is the same ghetto ass chick that was on stage 8 months preggers, right? (I’m obviously not a fan). Send her a 1 way ticket back to India, maybe she can peddle that crap on the streets of Calcutta!

      • KET

        Yeah, you sure sound informed…maybe you should read up on your subjects before you label them in derogatory fashion. You act just like one of them racist tea-bagger types.

      • sandasavi

        M.I.A is from Sri Lanka, not India. That being said. I am not a fan of hers she tries to make use music to make a political point and she fails. She has no basis to say what she says and she is not successful. Good Luck to M.I.A. But, I will not be listending or watching her anymore.

  • Ziggy

    I bet all the haters here are Sinhalas…lol. What’s even funnier is these SL government sponsored Sinhala’s can’t even understand good english. Anyways, awesome performance MIA. Born free is a good theme!! Only MIA can do it.

    • Enrico

      Ziggy = I’m a freak and totally out of my mind.
      Mate, you can’t turn everything in to the hate game.

      • Juicey

        I’m witch’ya Enrico. Why we gotta be haters for liking REAL music? That Sh*t was gross! Even Letterman looked violated!

    • Paul

      Hey Ziggy, when was the last time you ever spoke to a Sinhalese? Trust me, most of their english is a lot more polished and acceptable in comparison to MIA’s trashy street slang. Don’t hate on people you don’t even know SH** about ok?

    • sandasavi

      You are wrong Ziggy. And, you calling people haters because you think they are sinhalese makes you look like a bigot.

    • ron jon

      You idiot – Sri Lanka has a higher literacy rate than most countries – 82% literacy rate in fact…have you checked the literacy rate of your country?

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