M.I.A.’s ‘Born Free’ And The Rise Of The WTF? Video

The internet is OMG-ing its collective head off right now over M.I.A.’s ‘Born Free’ video, which features explicit images of ginger people being rounded up and shot, and – even more shocking – old, fat people having sex.

It’s a striking piece of work, and it makes a serious political point. Having arrived in the UK as a refugee from Sri Lanka, M.I.A. knows a thing or two about state-sponsored brutality. ‘Born Free’ forces you to think about discrimination in a new light.

Being less charitable, you could argue that it’s just another example of that evergreen marketing stunt: the “controversial” video that gets “banned” by YouTube.

There are a lot of these about at the moment – self-consciously NSFW videos that seem to be designed with the sole aim of becoming a trending topic on Twitter.

Take Devendra Banhart’s ‘Foolin” promo, which finds the wobbly-voiced freak-folker having his arse whipped (literally) by a gimp-masked black dude, then getting his finger chopped off and smearing the wound over a woman’s mouth (Worst. Dinner Party. Ever).

Then there’s Hot Chip’s ‘I Feel Better’, which features a kind of bald alien Christ vomiting laser beams over a wannabe boy band (that old chestnut), and consequently garnered far more attention than the song itself really deserved.

The rising star of this gross-out sub-genre is director Eric Wareheim, whose most recent video, HEALTH’s ‘We Are Water’, was a cock-stabbin’, blood-spurtin’, limb-severin’ extravaganza.

Then there are the porny clips, of course, such as Yeasayer’s ‘Ambling Alp’ (boobs and cocks flapping about all over the shop), and Girls’ ‘Lust For Life, which delivered monster traffic to music sites thanks to search engine-friendly headlines like this.

Blood, vomit, guns, explosions, cocks. Where is this heading? It’s got to the point where, if The Courteeners crafted a promo in which Liam Fray snorted mephedrone and pummelled an eagle to death with a traffic cone, I’d barely even watch to the end.

Why this sniggering, schoolboy-ish desire to shock? When did indie-rock get so childish?

It’s obvious what’s going on here. It’s the logical end-point of blog culture. Blogs love rude videos because they get more clicks. Bands and labels are happy to supply this need because they want blog coverage. Often it’s the only outlet, since music TV is so tightly formatted (everyone knows that MTV barely play videos any more).

Social media plays a part too. The internet rewards and amplifies our basest instincts. Chuck in a spliff here, a wang there, and your vid’s bound to go viral.

But come on. We’re adults here. This is music; it’s not Keyboard Cat. Its value can’t be gauged in LOLs. There are more fruitful ways to respond to a song than by Liking This on Facebook.

Done right, music video can be a dazzlingly inventive art form. We’re hardly going to push that form forward if we’re too busy giggling over mimsies and blowing gingers to bits.