M.I.A.: "Born Free"


miath.jpg W.O.W. A shocker of a video for M.I.A.'s new single "Born Free" is out. The track will be included on her forthcoming Neet/Interscope release. Here's a tracklist for the yet-untitled album.

Watch video on Vimeo (not worksafe, and not for kids: nudity/sex/violence). Directed by Romain Gavras, full credits here. A live version is here. You can listen to the track here.

The song is a thrilling, aggressive, hardcore electric anthem and heavily samples "Ghost Rider" by Suicide (ca. 1977, buy MP3 here). As my friend Clayton wonders aloud, perhaps the lyrics "America America is killing its youth" in the Suicide song influenced the visuals in the M.I.A. video.

At the risk of spoiling the video for first-timers (and making too much light of the themes of racism and militarism it addresses), I will say only three words: global ginger jihad.

(Via M.I.A. on Twitter; also spotted on Dangerous Minds & LA Times on Friday, and everywhere else by this morning).


  1. Funny how Gingerism is a uniquely British prejudice. I think it must be something to do with the Irish; dating back to the times of Oliver Cromwell and subsequently perhaps William of Orange fighting the Jacobites.

  2. global ginger jihad

    Dammit. That was supposed to be a secret. We talked about this at the last meeting, people. Who broke the silence? Was it you, Beschizza?

  3. MIA is masterful at combining her political views with art. I wasn’t sold on “Born Free” the first time I listened to it, but after I watched the accompanying video, her message is much clearer.

  4. I like the nod to Suicide, but for me, nothing beats how the last album opened with a nod to Jonathon Richman and the Modern Lovers.

    Personally, what I like about her is how she takes/borrows/references so much of the pre-punk/punk music I grew up on (Clash, Modern Lovers, Suicide, etc.) and turns it into something where if someone told me “M.I.A. is really popular in country X,” I wouldn’t be surprised.

    But wasn’t there a sketch comedy thing in the UK that was based on a similar theme?

  5. Outstanding – particularly as I saw a friend on there I haven’t spoken to in a year – time to go digging for email addresses and find out if he survived the minefield…

  6. Once again, Boingers miss the friggin mark. This video is a masterpiece, and every Teabagger in America should be forced to watch it. AZ is leading the pack with that. THEY WANT THE POLICE STATE FOR AMERICA.

    Fight the Power before it blows you the f#ck up in a lonely barren stretch of desert.

    Don’t give in to these fear mongers trying to steal what WE voted for..Obama may not be the Hope and Change we expected, but the tide was turned and it’s up to us to keep it going.

    1. Teabaggers? Seriously? That’s what you bring to the argument?

      Government has innumerated powers which they are expected to do well. Border security is one of those powers. They do not do it well. Thus dissent.

      And it was the AZ legislature and governor which passed that law, not “teabaggers.” How about, you know, actual debate instead of name calling?

      I am sympathetic to those protesting under Tea Party banners just like I’m sympathetic to people protesting cruel and unusual punishment. Calling people teabaggers is childish and holds us back. Stop holding us back please.

    2. The video was jarring, the song was mediocre….I loved the message though the point wasn’t driven home. There were gaps in it definitely but maybe now that I’ve seen it again people should direct that criticism towards the director and not M.I.A., although I’m not currently a fan of this particular song I still hold by the fact that she is a genius. Oh and about Obama, I was not an Obama supporter in the least during his campaign (got soo much flack about that being black and all) BUT I hear people so quick to talk now about how he isn’t giving them the change that they wanted or thought that he would. How can he with republicans on his ass like 24/7 trying to make him back down, democrats dropping out of senate left and right, disguised KKK rallies = “Tea Party” conventions. I mean with all of this opposition how can you really put it off on one person to make these drastic changes to deep seated corporate control in the government?

      You want change you have to keep rallying together, keep making your voice heard…take a page from the sixties and get out to voice your opinions. It didn’t take one person to get Obama into office, it was all of you out there who voted for him so it’s still going to take the strength of the people for your voice to be heard and for movements to be made in congress which best represents us.

      To digress back to the video, the song may be like nails on a chalkboard to me…but the video has been effective. It gets people to look at themselves, especially Americans, and look at our society as a whole. So maybe she accomplished her goal on that one.

  7. This video tends towards amping the emotional impact to insane levels. It reminds me a little of the “This is Vivisection, don’t let anyone tell you different” ad campaign by PETA. Its good, and it uses an indirect shock “Ginger Teens” to make its point (especially with the young girl getting executed). Thing becomes how far do we have to go next time to make a point? Instead of good CGI do we just film real people getting blown up in full gory HD? We find we amp up everything over time once one person does it, it becomes the new standard. Don’t believe me? Candy Samples in the 70’s was huge with DD breasts Sheyla Hershey now has KKK breasts.

  8. “Once again, Boingers miss the friggin mark.” NP, you win, but you only get to put three initials on the high score board.

  9. That was a Goddamn masterpiece, I loved every frame of it. The director has a knack for turning a 5 minute music video into what feels like an excerpt from a feature film. Check out the Justice “Stress” video by the same director if you liked this one.

    1. Ah, I’d forgotten that earlier work, Syd! I think I blogged it before but can’t find the post. Thanks.

  10. British ginge here.

    I don’t think it’s an Irish/Scots thing. There’s not an awful lot of difference statistically between the three nations (except for the fact that *all* British-island nations have a much higher ratio of gingers than elsewhere) and the cultural rivalry isn’t what it used to be.

    I’ve head that it’s a folkloric thing, too, but that goes the same way: you have to make rather sweeping assumptions about the persistence of a specific and very odd tradition in a society that changes traditions like socks.

    My guess is that ginger is a kind of freakonomics-style statistical ‘hotspot’ in the UK, rare enough to be unusual but commonplace enough to leave the realm of the ‘other.’ And its a visual stereotype, too, in an authoritarian, politically correct country that will never take petty violent crime seriously. And so it become a last legitimate target for the stupid people to focus petty hatreds and resentments on.

    1. But it IS persistent, that’s the thing. Characters from Jane Austen novels mock ginger characters, I guess indicating that the prejudice existed about 200 years ago (ish?).

      I think that the even spread of ginger hair throughout society NOW doesn’t contra-indicate a historical distribution along geographical or socio-political divides.

      I’ve also heard wildly different account of how ginger hair came to Britain – some say the Celts, others say the Vikings. I think that the celtic theory is probably more reconcileable to the incidence of red hair amongst jewish and arab communities.

      I think that you’re probably right about the teasing though – red hair is rare enough to be different, and common enough to be held in contempt, so all in all a massive bullseye painted on the back, in the average schoolchild’s mind. Little shits.

  11. Man, I love MIA, even if her baby granddaddy is Edgar Bronfman Jr (inherited wealth kinds flies in the face of the whole ‘fight the power’ thing). Intense video and song, the likes of which I have not seen since the early 90’s.

    1. ‘(inherited wealth kinds flies in the face of the whole ‘fight the power’ thing)’

      correct me if i’m wrong, but didn’t M.I.A. grow up in the middle of the Sri Lankan Civil War? does marrying a rich dude disqualify her from making an artistic statement?

      “I don’t wanna talk about money. I got it.”

  12. The track had me amped, but this video blew me away. I did not expect her to ‘Hit it!’ (Sonic Youth Death Valley ’69 style) like that. The timing is just perfect in score with the leak of the track last week.

    1. Gingerism has existed in the UK for a long time. I did a school research project on it years ago and found out that 1 in 4 people wouldn’t date a red-head, teachers were told to “pick on the ginger-kid” to gain kudos with a new class, and journalists pretend that they deride ginger celebrities because it’s “character-building” for other red-heads. Some of the red-heads I interviewed tried “passing” by dyeing their hair, many were keen to point out the variety of hair colours that exists within the ginger spectrum. And, yes, some were militant gingers, reclaiming the word and using it with pride.

  13. Even though I have lost all respect for MIA since seeing her at Coachella a few years ago, I respect that she collaborated with Romain to create a strikingly controversial video that’s getting people to talk.

  14. Personally, I just can’t get past MIA’s ideological affinity with her father’s cause. The Tamil terrorist movement is particularly unpleasant, and has shared operational links with the more violent elements of the Palestinian diaspora, including Habash’s PFLP and the PLO’s Abu Jihad. (Yes, the Sri Lankan government can be quite brutal, just as the Israeli government can, but in both cases the slide to state-sanctioned violence is accelerated by terror attacks on civilians, police and military personnel.)

    Thus, listening to MIA induces in me a rather disturbing cognitive dissonance: I can’t stand the violence that she supports (and don’t buy her justification through grievances), but I really enjoy the music.

  15. I’m sorry…but that video was just jacked up. I’m from the US, and I’ve never gotten the whole hatred thing for we redheads over there across the pond. With all the other major issues in the world, I cant believe people waste such energy on hating those of us who just happen to have a unique hair color. Geez.

    1. its not just about red heads >/ its a statement about racism and discrimination and everything else thats going on right now, think about whats happening in arizona. ur completely missing the point!

    2. If that’s all you thought it was about, I’m afraid you completely missed the point… dig a little deeper

  16. I don’t know… I think they went over-the-top to the point that it’s no longer a shocking political statement. Felt more like a student film (though with a much higher budget) with an unclear, purely emotional message that the filmmaker didn’t fully understand.

    And seriously, how much of a statement is it to use redheads/gingers at this point? Maybe if South Park hadn’t have done it, it would have meant something, but now it seems like a joke.

    Furthermore, the behavior of the police in the video isn’t shocking, because it’s outrageously unbelievable… storming into each apartment looking for the redhead is one thing, roughing people/things up who get in the way, sure… but mercilessly beating everyone for no reason in the process, some of whom weren’t resisting at all, while leaving the guy smoking crack (or whatever) alone? Really unfocused and nonsensical messages going on here.

    And then… there are three redheads on the street who resist. Quite a lot of buildup for them in the film… you think, are they holding pipe bombs or grenades? What’s going to happen? Then it turns out all they do is throw glass bottles at the armored vehicles. Ahem… why didn’t the police stop and pick them up too? They were obviously unarmed.

    I’m glad they’re putting out political and social messages like this in music videos again, but, it really needs to be done more skillfully than this in order to be effective. And the video really overshadows the song here… the song wasn’t interesting enough (to me) to seem like anything other than repetitive background music for the film.

    Finally, it seems pretty derivative of District 9 (which itself is not necessarily original), which I think made much more powerful political and social statements than this, despite using aliens instead of people.

    1. Your right, oppression has so been done before, she should have found something more original to make a political statement about.

      And your right, genocidal paramilitary officers would never kick anyone, thats just rude.

    2. “an unclear, purely emotional message that the filmmaker didn’t fully understand.”

      Amen to this.

      The three kids throwing bottles was a ridiculous anti-climax. The lack of hope in the video makes it quite bland. Not enough resistance = not enough drama.

      The main ginger guy was awesome. And then he just gets beaten up. Why couldn’t the last seconds of the video show him in a fight he might win?

      1. Yeah a total letdown he didn’t get stung by a radioactive cactus and spiked everybody to death. Why couldn’t that have happened?

    3. Our armed forces of all kinds all abuse their power like is represented. Also, how do you not understand the brushing off of “the crack user” while unnecessarily searching for a stereotype they ignored real issues.

  17. Video also puts me in mind of S. McQueen’s recent film “Hunger”, about the IRA hunger strikes of the early ’80s. Similar relentless intensity and focus on the “textures” of political violence.

  18. Xeni, you should take that last line out, I didn’t read it before watching the video. It was an awesome surprise when they got on the bus and you figured out why they were after that guy.

    I am disappointed that some of the people posting comments actually think this video is about redheaded people. Really?

    1. No, dude. I think BB’s Happy Mutants are smart enough to realize that M.I.A. is using red-heads with white pasty skin as a metaphor for the brutality and oppression people of color face via the U.S.’s racist domestic and foreign policies. Some white folks may only “get it,” ie: give a damn, when the victims look like their own “kind.” I know a dude who ONLY jacks off to (fat) red-headed chicks… so, gingers are obviously a popular pr0n category here in America, at least!

  19. The situation in Sri Lanka not so long ago is probably a big influence on this video as well guessing from M.I.A.’s background and the videos and reports that came out during the end of the civil war. Video made me kind of pissed the whole situation did’t get the attention it deserved.
    Great music though, I am hyped for the new album.

  20. I think the thing with the main ginger guy is that he ran off course, and then after the thug-cops chased him the got lost and realized the are in the minefield .

  21. BB, all this wank about ginger prejudice is really disappointing. Scenes like this of generic military police storming the projects and beating brown people, filmed first-person-shooter style, are so widespread in media and live footage that a lot of people don’t register it as shocking anymore. When MIA replaces whatever demographic you’re used to seeing this kind of action get taken against (black people in the US; Iraqi civilians) with white people speaking US English, and casts the profiled group as young white men instead of black or brown, she is talking about how white Western audiences have become desensitized to seeing this kind of violence directed at people of color, not national kick a ginger day. ~themoreyouknow

  22. millrick-Not being Sri Lankan, nor having been there, nor even claiming to begin to understand the Tamil Tiger Separatist movement, can’t really comment on it at all. In fact, I am an American so I can’t even appreciate the defensive British colonists guilt stance. I guess the emPHAsis here would be, “even if”. I prefer my rich people as consumers rather than producers (and yes, I recognize the circular hiccup in this comment YAWN).

    I think M.I.A. is a fabulous artist worthy of all recognition and acclaim. I have even had a knock down public argument with a friend who insists her fame is completely and solely owing to Jay-Z who sampled “Paper Airplanes” in one of his songs (Which was her sampling of THe Clash). Now if her baby daddy were to pretend to be an artist….oh wait.

  23. I agree w/ Penguinchris et al. Afterwords I had to listen to CarbonSilicon’s “The News” just to wash my mind out with soap.
    Unfortunately, MIA has started to believe her own press, this isn’t edgy or subversive or politically enlightening, this is just something created to disturb the sensibilities of the the hoi polloi. The daughter of the Tamil Tigers has forgotten that overheated rhetoric can kill.
    As far as the comment above that all the Tea Partiers should see it; What makes you think they wouldn’t love it? It’s them standing in the sonoran desert with shotguns, not the US Army.

  24. I like MIA, but the video and song were horrible. Redheads as a metaphor for oppression? How original. I used that same metaphor in a short story I wrote in middle school. It wasn’t a great idea then; it’s a worse idea now.

    Also, the slaughter is so over the top that it becomes as cartoonish. The real persecution that she’s trying to call attention to is horrible enough, and the hyperbole in the video just alienates the people she’s trying to reach.

    1. @christopher and @seokso summed up quite well how I felt about this. It’s a clumsy metaphor, and skirts any real impact that the video hoped to achieve, instead reducing it to a punchline. “Oh they’re all ginger! Oh, very clever.”

      Discussing this video on Facebook, it prompted one of my friends to comment (on hearing it had been removed from youtube), “They should ban video games.” Strange, how when confronted with one form of censorship (breaking youtube’s ‘no tits’ policy) to react with a far more obtuse call for censorship. At I least I now understand why MIA dumbed down her video.

  25. i’m usually in the position of defending silly concepts as actually brilliant, but they shot so high with this one that i have to admit the drawbacks are kind of glaring.

    i love MIA and her aesthetic, but sometimes her message doesn’t actually cohere. the effect of this video reminded me of her shout-out to “third world democracy” in paper planes. it’s like: yes, third world democracy, great idea, who are you arguing with?

    the apparent message here is that she’s really against the US government mounting a genocidal campaign against redheads. i know that it’s supposed to be synecdochial for political violence against any ethnic/racial minority, but it’s so far-fetched that it comes off as a super-ridiculous straw man. yes, killing all redheads would be bad. or, yes, genocide by the US government would be bad. or, um, genocide bad.

    otherwise, the editing is excellent, and i’m perfectly okay with taking this as an attempt to dehabituate the world’s real, current, gut-wrenching violence to which we immure ourselves by way of racial coding. it’s scary effective in this sense — the fat soldiers and the little american flags just scramble the signal.

  26. very nice, I am listening again and again. The video is spot on. Its not about Red Head’s , for god sake try and understand the the message.
    Spotlight is on oppression of people based on their, colour, religion and ethnic identity or even believes.

    if people think this not real. Look up the video by Chanel 4 news about the execution Tamil men.


  27. I thought it chose an easy target and preached to the choir. This kind of thing may win a few hearts and minds somewhere, but it also makes the job much easier for conservative strategists to argue that the left is anti-American. “Stess” was a more effective film in this regard.

  28. This is not about gingerism, it’s about state santioned discrimination anywhere in the world. Just look at Arizona’s new immigrant law in the US. This is against states/countries being able to do what they want and target a select group of people based on their race, religion or spoken language. Once you get past the whole “oh look their ginger” you will see this video for what it truly represents. The persecution/targeting of a group based on their looks, culture, religion, or national origin.

  29. Even at my age, I got the message. I am the redhead “shot in the head”. I am proud to be a part of M.I.A.’s shout out to the world.

  30. It’s 2010. People who were conceived after their parents saw A Clockwork Orange in the theater are now grandparents. This is what passes for a shocker?

    Oh, but wait, there’s more.

    Cops with billy clubs… bad. Oppressed minority group… yes, yes, that’s right, I’m getting it now, they are oppressed.

    Well, dear viewers, that is certainly a timely and novel message that I, for one, have never seen put quite that way before. And now a word from our sponsor, NEW droning rumpty-rumpty-rumpty beat with processed vocals!

  31. An annoying video, to be sure. And as an American, I totally didnt get it, other than thinking the redheads were a silly stand-in for real minorities.

    But yes, anti-redheadism (or anti-ginger as they say there) is a very real form of discrimination in the UK, as I recently learned. And well, MIA is a Brit!

    So the transatlantic takes on this stupidly gritty video are very very different.

  32. Yeah, it’s been pointed out before in this comment thread, commenting on the video (not necessarily the song), I’m pretty certain it’s not about “ginger” people… but about racism in general. What the visuals depict is going on in private homes in Iraq, people being harassed and their homes being vandalised. I think the vid. just says: “what if this happened to you and your homes?”.

  33. this video is about oppression and those who impose it. if you don’t think so,
    you are part of the problem.

  34. I think the video/track “Born Free” is brilliant and necessary. If you haven’t seen it, view it. Its powerful. Artists like M.I.A are long over due. We need more artists who are willing to take risks and speak out about issues of social injustices. The world will not change unless people are willing to take risks and speak out. We need more little children who point to the Emperor and say, “HEY, THAT EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES.” M.I.A is one child who speaks from the heart and speaks truth to power. She is a hero.

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