There are few artists in the world — or that have existed throughout the industry’s history — as M.I.A. Critically-acclaimed, commercially-successful, socially-aware and wholly unique, the Sri-Lankan-born and British-raised rapper-singer has been blazing trails in not just the hip-hop and global music scenes for 20+ years, but also as an activist, fashion icon, political commentator and woman of color. And with her latest single and music video, “Popular,” she continues to lead the way as both an icon and provocateur.

Serving as the second single from her highly-anticipated upcoming LP, Mata, “Popular” is an immediately catchy and distinctive track when compared to anything else in the music industry today. It’s a mix of Desi-meets-Western hip-hop beats and globally-inspired electronica, alongside a punk spirit that’s epitomized incredibly well in M.I.A.’s vocals and rap verses. She points out confidently how she is, “Gold and curly, brown and worldly / Packed in a 5’5″ body / Give me the mic and I slay somebody / I hope you’re all gonna be ready,” which only further cements her as not only a rare female, brown-bodied voice in music, but also as someone who will always say what she means and fight for what she believes in, no matter how controversial. M.I.A. seems self-aware of her place in society not just as a woman of color, but also a music star — a dichotomy that she says is explored on her upcoming album:

“I think there’s a bit of a battle on the record. That there is a bit of a clash, but the clash is like your ego and spirituality. Those are the clashes. Because as a musician, you need some ego, otherwise you can’t do it.”

With a chorus that goes “Yeah, love me like I love me, love me / Suddenly it’s about me, ’bout me / Now you wanna be around me, ’round me / ‘Cause I love myself, I’m livin’ my best life,” it’s hard not to see the commentary that M.I.A. is making with “Popular” about the state of influencer-culture and the modern YOLO mentality. This is no more evident than in the unsettling yet effective music video, which features an AI of M.I.A. — aptly named M.A.I. In the video, both M.A.I. and M.I.A. work together to make the former look and act as realistic as possible, with the rapper having the AI copy her movements and fashion so that it’s hard to tell the two apart — but not impossible. As segments of the video cut away to social media profiles, viral dance crazes, thirst traps and all manner of other influencer-based content, it becomes more and more apparent that M.A.I. cannot ever replace the individuality of M.I.A. As such, the video ends with her squirting a water gun at M.A.I., making the AI malfunction and cease working as she walks away — and the camera slowly zooms into the ever-lifeless face of the imitator. It’s a powerful statement on popularity and influencer culture, and a great showcase for yet another potent song from a very unique artist.

M.I.A.’s sixth studio album, Mata, will release soon via Island Records — exact details are forthcoming. You can take a listen to her latest single and watch the music video for “Popular” below!

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