British-Tamil hip-hop artist M.I.A unveiled a big-budget gulf-cool rap video this week, for her latest single ‘Bad Girls‘. The video depicts Gulf Arabs as anarchic, gun-toting, stunt-driving street-dancers, in an interesting cross-cultural attempt to address social norms. Or simply because she is a brazen musician seeking controversy wherever she can find it. We all saw the ‘Born Free‘ video…and if you didn’t, get familiar. M.I.A’s aesthetic, whether you find her irritating or not, is significant in its power, influence and downright badassness.
The video is set in the desert of an unnamed country, with a mostly male cast in Gulf-style dress (kanduras and kaffiyehs), while other men and women appear in military fatigues, toting guns. Men and women both put on performances of “drift” stunt driving at obviously unsafe speeds.
Now, Arabs are more often written about than writing themselves, more often depicted than creating the depiction. Needless to say, the imbalance can be troubling. I do feel that the video is meant more in the way of a compliment to a complex region that the strands of its underground culture are used to promote a mainstream video. Drifting is a cultural meme in Gulf Arab society, and has now been featured in a different cultural form. That seems like an encouraging cross-cultural pollination.
Check it out for yourself below.