Fresh off her bird-flipping performance at the Superbowl, English/Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. is experiencing unprecedented levels of attention from angry parents and disobedient school girls alike. How fortuitous, then, that she just happens to have dropped a new music video a few days ago. “Bad Girls” was shot in the Moroccan desert with Roman Gavras (the same guy who directed her controversial “Born Free” video), and it’s every bit as bad ass as I hoped it would be.
Like much of M.I.A.’s output, the video is a collection of vaguely political signifiers mashed up with hiphop swagger to make something seductive and stirring, if not entirely coherent. Then again, is it really an artist’s job to provide us with a thesis statement? In the clip, a collection of gun-toting women in colorful hijabs back up M.I.A. as she rap-battles a bunch of men in head scarfs, before climbing into cars for an epic drag race. Considering the recent controversy over Saudia Arabia’s ban on female drivers, it reads as equal parts political commentary and action film iconography.
The song’s refrain of “live fast, die young, bad girls do it well” might be equally at home in a song by American cliche-lover Lana Del Rey, but setting the video in Morocco makes us re-think what it means to be a bad girl in various parts of the world and how various types of “bad girls” might die young. It also plays around with stereotypes the West holds of the Muslim world. And it manages to do all of this in a humorous, visually sumptuous way. Madonna was right to feel threatened by M.I.A.; this video has more character in its first ten seconds than “Give Me All Your Luvin” has in its entire stiff three-plus minutes.