M.I.A. might be the internet personified. Since the start of her career, her musical output has been more a series of audiocollages of computerized soundbites than identifiable singles, and she clearly has an unhealthy obsession with net art. Her musical recordings take her all over the world — incorporating sounds from Jamaica and Liberia to performing at the Super Bowl — making her appear everywhere and nowhere at once. And now, she’s playing a role in a viral campaign. Along with H&M, she just released a Youtube video featuring a song for H&M’s World Recycle Week, a project in which people can bring in worn clothes (from any brand) to H&M shops in exchange for store credit.
The video for “Rewear It” shows people all over the world dancing all over everything — on top of horses, on the street, atop seaside mountains. While the campaign is about recycling, the video and song link bodily movements to the clothes we wear, emphasizing each as a marker of identity. Just as the words seem to randomly flow from her lips, so too do these actors’ gestures. They fling their limbs with the ungraceful spontaneity of professionals releasing themselves to epiphanic self-expression. And M.I.A. seems to be doing the same thing: using her immense talent to just do whatever she wants.
Although she can sing in hushed lullaby tones, more often she mobilizes her lyrics in whiny, spoken rapped sentences, following a rigid — and forced — rhyming scheme that manages to pair words such as “team” and “in” or “January” and “victory.” But the lyrics aren’t the point here. (Which is good, since at one point the music stops and she inexplicably says “spin your wheels!” What?)
Instead, what’s notable here is how M.I.A. plays with language. She employs words as raw sound in many cases, using a word’s associated grammatical rules and dictionary definitions loosely, if at all. Does “water” or “air”, as strictly defined words, really have anything to do with a clothing retailer’s PR stunt? Only tangentially, but chants of “water” and a barely identifiable “air” appear heavily at the start. And that’s the point really.
The song is about the dance movements and green movement it is meant to inspire; it’s about how M.I.A. is recycling and repurposing language itself. Her work shies away from the obvious. She makes a song about recycling without singing directly about the process or H&M, opting instead to demonstrate the power of reuse musically. H&M may want to recycle old clothes, but M.I.A. shows us the power of recycling fashions, through her mish mash of ideas and movements, and inspiring listeners to let go and do the same.
Listen here. Image from here.