M.I.A.’s Flat Show Fails to Live Up to the Creativity of Her Work

Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan, May 31

M.I.A. performs at Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan. Photo by Erik Kabik.

M.I.A. performs at Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan. Photo by Erik Kabik.

On the global cultural stage, M.I.A. looms large—a renaissance woman with painting and cinematographic skills, who has melded world beats and political rebellion into her own groundbreaking brand of electro hip-hop. On the actual, literal stage? Not so much.

Stripped of the gripping imagery she deploys in her provocative videos, the rapper’s low-key delivery came off as more lazy than sassily nonchalant. The artist who has publicly opined on everything from Wikileaks to the oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka had few words for her fans, and even when she pulled dozens of them onstage to dance with her for “Y.A.L.A.,” the moment felt forced.

M.I.A. briefly seemed to come to life on the dubstep banger “Double Bubble Trouble,” off 2013’s Matangi, her sing-songy vocals and driving beats building to a satisfying crescendo that had the crowd jumping. (The just-released video for the track, a self-directed, futuristic pastiche that opens with guns being assembled on a 3-D printer, reportedly made her record label queasy.) She kept up the momentum through the hip-shaking “Galang” and “Paper Planes.” Then she abruptly left the stage after performing for less than an hour, with no encores.

She’s still one of the most intriguing creative minds in pop music, but for now, I’ll catch this artist where she first became famous: on the internet. ★★✩✩✩

Photos by Erik Kabik/ Retna/ ErikKabik.com