No, Maya (to hell with the "real" spelling) isn't as bad as its detractors think, and no, it isn't as great as its more vociferous defenders claim either. But since M.I.A. became who she is precisely because she pays attention to what people are talking about, it wasn't too surprising that around Christmas she snuck two new titles out for the faithful: a white-label 12-inch featuring a Pearson Sound remix of Maya highlight "It Takes a Muscle" and a new digital mixtape, Vicki Leekx. She lay mostly low after her idiotic dance with the New York Times, and now that the smoke has cleared, she's ready to do damage control.
Not that "Bad Girls," the Pitchfork-tipped highlight of Vicki Leekx, exactly shrinks back. Shrill bhangra synths, active percussion, "Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well" for a chorus—it's both a taunt and a throwaway. The "refix" of "Muscle" is more like a victory lap, less for M.I.A. than for David Kennedy, the hands-down dance producer of 2010 thanks to his work as Pearson Sound and Ramadanman, who turns her billowing electro-reggae into something steelier, more menacing, and disorientingly psychedelic all at once. Signing him up for this mix is the smartest musical move she's made in a while.
by Brad Paisley
Paisley premiered this song at the recent CMA Awards show, which he also hosted, and in the midst of the showbiz dreck (give it up for Gwyneth Paltrow, star of the surefire stinkeroo Country Strong!), it struck a measured note that cut right through. In that setting, it too seemed like damage control, sort of the reverse of M.I.A., reaffirming old-fashioned values rather than showing some (figurative) hip. It made sense—Paisley has long been the designated country-music darling of liberal rock critics like me, thanks to the expansiveness of songs like "American Saturday Night" and the easy humor of "Alcohol" and "Ticks." Fine, but you don't want to alienate the true fans. But outside the CMAs, "This Is Country Music" seems as much like an outreach or expansion of Paisley's audience as it is a solidifying of the core. As much as he's assuring the faithful, he's also explaining it to the newbs: "You're not supposed to sing the word cancer in a song/And telling folks that Jesus is the answer will rub 'em wrong/It ain't hip to sing about/Tractors, trucks, or little towns/Yeah, that might be true/But this is country music—and we do."