Discovering M.I.A. at the malleable age of fifteen tremendously impacted my life. Like all high school sophomores I was confused, temperamental, and insecure but despite all of that I still thought I was an “adult” that could survive in the real world. I listened to a lot of mainstream music, things that I would hear on the radio and whatever I saw on TV. I never felt connected to any of the pop or hip-hop stars that were famous, they all looked different (white girls and gangster black men) and their influence on me was fleeting. I grew up thinking that girls that looked like me weren’t seen in mainstream media because we weren’t cool or attractive enough. Due to this feeling, I was first intrigued by M.I.A. because of her appearance, her skin and hair were dark like mine but at the same time, she radiated coolness. The first song of hers I ever listened to was “Sunshowers” which confused me at first, because her lyrics weren’t about the usual love and heartbreak but seemed to be making a statement about something bigger and more worldly. I ended up having to do some research on her to truly understand what her songs were about, and a lot of them were about life in war ridden third world countries.
M.I.A. grew up in Sri Lanka during a civil war and had lived through violent time which resulted in fleeing her country and living as a refugee. Her music is deeply influenced by her childhood and her negative views on war. I was born in America and lived in New York all my life, the most contact I’ve had with the third world experience is when I go to India with my parents, even then I know in a week or two I’ll be back in the states where running water and electricity aren’t considered a luxury. Because of this, M.I.A.’s lyrics did not apply to me whatsoever, but somehow they still inspired and taught me that there were bigger problems than boys and worrying about the SATs. Shortly after I listened to “Sunshowers,” I began listening to all of her music, and constantly playing them on repeat. I told all my friends about her (they thought she was weird) and eventually all my clothes began to mirror her style. I had hoodies and pants in crazy neon patterns and wore big gold jewelry that weighed down my ears and neck. My hair was curly and unkept like hers and even though I probably looked like a moron, I felt cooler than ever.
“Sunshowers” is about the violence in Sri Lanka during the civil war. The song is very political in its lyrics “You want to go- You want to win a war-Like P.L.O.-We don’t surrendo” but is very cheerful and something you can dance to. Her strong political criticisms are probably the reason why this song wasn’t featured on channels like M.T.V. When M.I.A. was questioned about the meaning of the song, she stated “Sunshowers is about how in the news the world is being divided into good and evil with this axis of evil and terrorism thing, so the song is asking: how can we talk about gun culture and other issues while Blair is preaching that if someone hits us, we should hit back twice as hard?” This statement clearly displays her negative thoughts on war, gun use and her dissaproval of violent retaliation. I remember blasting this song constantly and my mom complaining about the crazy noises that were coming out of my room. M.I.A.’s unique and influential music taught me a lot about life outside of my little bedroom in Queens, which is why I admired her so much-and still do today.