Song Analysis: Paper Planes, M.I.A.

M.I.A. has by far one of the most interesting and awful backstories I have ever heard of in the music industry. She grew up in Shi Lanka running from the civil war and being shot at everywhere from the street to her school. When she was 11 she moved to London and declared herself a refugee enrolled in school, graduated, and went to college to study film. With her father being stuck in her homeland as a political advocate, he was never a part of her childhood running from the war. When she began her recording career in 2002 she named her first album after him at which point he told her to change it to avoid anything bad happening to her and she did not listen. These bad experiences have influenced some of M.I.A.’s most popular works, the most popular being “Paper Planes”.

“Paper Planes” by M.I.A. was released in 2007. The song had a lot of influence from different key events throughout her life. The main influence however was her inability to gain a long-term visa to enter the United States to record an album. She called visas paper planes because they were a piece of paper that allowed her to fly to the US and make music. This song also makes a huge reference back to her violent childhood. The gunshots that are used as a lyric in the song make a specific reference to her elementary school being shot down on a regular basis during her childhood. the opening lines of the song “if you stop me at the border, I’ll have a visa in my name” show that she doesn’t want to cause any problems but the fact that she cannot further her career by entering the US is frustrating to her.

M.I.A. puts her heart, soul, and experiences into her music. Give it a listen and see if you can her the brutal reality of her life and her background. I know for me it was obvious the first time I listened to the song.




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