Click Track: M.I.A.'s 'Born Free' video sparks debate

BLOOD AND GORE: M.I.A.'s "Born Free" video has been yanked from YouTube. (Jim Cooper/associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
Sunday, May 2, 2010

Brit rapper/provocateur M.I.A. unleashed her new video for "Born Free" last week -- a hyper-violent mini-film directed by Romain Gavras. The song is from her forthcoming album, scheduled for release on June 29.

In the video, riot gear-clad goons swarm the streets of Los Angeles, rounding up young men with red hair and busing them to a remote internment camp. Then things get really, really bloody.

YouTube yanked the video on Tuesday citing "gratuitous violence." As the debate raged on Twitter, Click Track's contributors pondered the following: Is "Born Free" a powerful political statement or just vapid sensationalism?

* * *

Chris Richards: For an artist who has built her entire career by challenging our pop sensibilities, the hyper-graphic blood-and-guts approach seems both crass and far, far beneath her. Pains me to say it, but I think the song is whack, too.

* * *

Allison Stewart: I don't doubt M.I.A.'s genuine sympathy for genocide victims, and I don't discount the video's powerful imagery. Good art certainly provokes, but there's something about the whole exercise that seems insincere to me. It's as if she's saying: Look at all the terrible things you Americans do -- and did I mention I have an album coming out? I'm sure she figured there was nothing wrong with pointing out the evils of genocide and selling some records at the same time, and maybe if her touch had been lighter, there wouldn't have been. But the combination of self-righteousness and self-promotion sets my teeth on edge.

* * *

Sarah Godfrey: I can understand some of the fuss being made over the "Born Free" video, but this is what M.I.A. does (and what director Romain Gavras does). She's all about shocking and provoking, and the video definitely succeeds on those fronts. I'm not quite cynical enough to think that M.I.A is just trying to create controversy to generate buzz for a new album -- I really do think she's trying to deliver a message here. And using graphic sex and violence to make some sort of a statement -- heavy-handed and muddled though it may be -- is definitely preferable to making a graphic music video that doesn't make a statement at all.

* * *

David Malitz: I'll be honest -- I haven't watched the thing. I'm experiencing some M.I.A. overload. First there was that silly feud/diss of Lady Gaga. Then there was a new song that wasn't so hot. So when I see there's some NSFW video with redheads being killed, I'll pass. I can barely watch the scenes in "Lost" when Jack is operating on someone! When the new album arrives, I will instantly devour it. But until then, later M.I.A.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company