Immigrant Songs

How Rihanna and M.I.A. delivered the most profound political statements of 2007

Rihanna's thinking about Iraq, honest
photo: Roberto d'Este
Rihanna's thinking about Iraq, honest

Arulpragasam was less marketable than Rihanna—Kala, her first for Interscope, may be her last—though she did pose in a recent Marc Jacobs ad. Detractors will grouse about M.I.A.'s allegedly hipster fanbase and largely symbolic political rhetoric; gushers will gush on about her genius. Her complex backstory and revolutionary sloganeering have divided critics from the onset, and she remains highly combustible, with her affection for talking out of turn, her unwillingness to kowtow to those who could make her famous (Timbaland, David Letterman), her passionate ire directed at smart targets. It pissed a lot of people off. Rihanna, conversely, aims to please everyone all the time, and with "Umbrella" she wildly succeeded. But both artists arose from the same subversive place, wielding politically charged immigrant songs designed to both thrill and incite the masses. One imagined a firestorm; one provided the shelter.

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