Hearing M.I.A tracks playing in the background to Danny Boyle's brilliant new film, Slumdog Millionaire, feels like a victory lap for the Sri Lankan singer, who's had an incredible and unprecedented year.
Film soundtracks are what made M.I.A. a mainstream hit in ‘08 when her Clash-thieving, Diplo-produced Paper Planes song, from 2007's Kala, exploded from a Pineapple Express trailer score to a massive North American single. Downloads, ringtones, and endless remixes by hip-hop heavyweights vaulted her into stardom and onto the cover of this month's Spin Magazine, where only a headshot is used since M.I.A is due to give birth in February.
Witnessing this second go-around in the media is kind of nauseating for those who praised her endlessly when Kala - and even ‘05's Arular - came out and for the thousands who faked gunshots in the air to the chorus of Paper Planes in the summer of '07; all we can say to the latecomers is - where the hell were you?
The Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack will be released today digitally by Interscope Records, and then in physical form December 23. It's produced by India superstar A.R. Rahman and features the original and a DFA remix of Paper Planes, which feels exhausted at this point but Boyle insists he had the track first. For what it's worth Planes feels more appropriate in Boyle's film since much of Kala was inspired by M.I.A's time in India. Though you have to wonder why M.I.A.'s Bollywood disco tribute Jimmy wasn't used. Too obvious?
The musical highlight, however, is a new song called O...Saya - a co-production between M.I.A. and Rahman that reminds us why we liked M.I.A in the first place. There's no clever sampling, just a hard hitting rhythm and vocals that stay low key in the mix but compliment the beat and enhance the vibrant scenes in the film depicting India's ghettos.
M.I.A's ability to fuse other cultures into her electro-structured pop is her stronger asset, and the Slumdog track is reassuring to those who worry she might lose this touch in the wake of mainstream success, child rearing and marriage to a Bronfman heir - all of which on paper looks like a near-certain recipe for losing your edge. Let's hope M.I.A. resists the perils of North American stardom and keeps looking around the world for musical inspiration, because we'll always gladly follow.