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M.I.A. keeps threatening to retire, and after a decade of speaking her mind and taking the flak for it, we can’t really blame her. But I suspect she won’t be gone long. How can she resist all of this chaos? As a cultural figure, she’s more relevant and necessary now than she was ten years ago. Though Paper Planes was her mainstream peak, in the general optimism of 2008, her message didn’t really sink in. Right now, though, we really really need to hear what she’s been saying all these years. As an artist her subject has always been instability and displacement, and the identities of people who’ve built their lives far from their cultural homeland. In other words, M.I.A. speaks from, and about, the global diaspora. For her, global culture isn’t picking up something ‘exotic’ at the fair trade market, it’s not something to stumble across on Sirius, it isn’t a souvenir. It’s the real experience of living between languages, faiths and customs. It’s toggling between worlds, adapting to new customs, evolving with your surroundings. And there’s a freedom to that, despite the danger and sacrifice. Those brave enough – or desperate enough – to leave everything they know and start over from nothing in a new place, and the children they raise who understand both worlds, those are the people who keep society from stagnating in apathy and conformity, they’re the ones who stir and refresh our shared cultural pot. People like M.I.A. are the future, and we have always been the future.

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