“I’m a party fucking animal — if you ain’t, scram,” shouted M.I.A., her hooded face glowing a radioactive green thanks to the brightly lit MATANGI sign that loomed over the stage during the polarizing singer’s album-release party in a Bushwick warehouse last night.
The line, lifted from her thus-titled fourth album’s “Bring in the Noize,” resonated with the couple-hundred industry folk who made it into the latest of Soho House’s Satellite Night fetes, partnered tonight with SPIN to showcase GHET0 G0TH1K’s Venus X and $hanye, DJ Riton, and Party Squad, alongside the queen of the hour. The five hours of open bar certainly didn’t hurt, either — by the time Maya’s opening Ommm mantra buzzed through the speakers, the crowd had mobbed the stage with comically dangerous force, their drink-hands wobblier and high-heeled pumps stabbier than they’d been a few hours before.
It’s easy to use “Paper Planes” and its immense, chart-topping success as a tangible tipping point for M.I.A.: It’s the moment when the indie pop-star’s World Town aesthetic — and her career, of course — began either booming or pandering, depending on your perspective. She has two entirely different sets of modern-day fans as a result: those who are quick to point out that they’ve been loyal “since way before ‘Paper Planes,’ for real” (as a random bro in the crowd loudly put it), and those who pledge their fandom to her almost exclusively because of that song.
It’s a wild dichotomy to see play out live. Tonight, those who couldn’t see the singer (who was often dwarfed by tall people in hats and a sea of enraptured iPhones) could certainly hear that she was as fiercely engaging as ever. (Definitely more animated than during her burqa-supplemented shows a few years ago, at least.) But the crowd faded in and out. “Galang” and “XR2″ triggered ya ya ayyyyyyyyyy callbacks from longtime supporters thrilled to hear anything from her back catalog, while Matangi highlight “Bad Girls” and (of course) “Paper Planes” featured an onslaught of hand-guns and body rolls from others. A woman nearby improvised faux-mudras as she seductively waved her hands around her head; it’s fascinating to watch an artist whose method of mass representation of the South Asian diaspora both violently rejects and actively seeks out this sort of branded cultural assimilation.
Amid the cultural clatter, the Matangi material shined through. Based on its percussive catchiness alone, “Bring in the Noize” is energetic dance-floor perfection live — Maya’s usual sass was practically a whisper beneath the bombardment of synths and aggressive, enveloping bass booms. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing when the only dance that makes sense to accompany that onslaught is an unabashed, flailing, hardstyle-esque stomp.) “Y.A.L.A.” fared just as well, even if the room had already started to empty mid-set by the end of ye olde “Paper Planes.”
But onstage, Maya barely noticed — she’s always been resilient like that, and Matangi is a boldly stamped proclamation that she’ll continue to be so. You see, the record’s namesake comes not only from the tantric goddess of music and words, but all things left over and discarded that represent a bold transgression of social norms. Tonight, the singer’s label reps, sponsors, and VIPs looked on as she rapped her lyrical protests. It’s hard not to feel like she was making some sort of statement in spite of them.