Opposites, as Paula Abdul once noted, attract. In Abdul's case, the opposite was Skat Cat, a rapping, cigarette-smoking cartoon feline whose straight-up making out with the live-action Paula lent the whole video a vaguely disturbing sexual undertone. In the case of M.I.A., the opposite is apparently Chris Brown — and while there's not anything sexual about it, it's still kind of disturbing.
Last week, the inscrutable Maya Arulpragasam hit the studio for work on her apparent next album, taking on a number of somewhat unlikely contributors, Swizz Beatz and Polow da Don among them. But the most surprising, and off-putting, is Brown. Not that Maya would give a shit what you think. As a matter of fact, that's the first way in which M.I.A. and Chris Brown are opposites.
Probably the best thing about M.I.A. is that she has a consistent history of doing whatever she wants; her albums are always weird to the point of being unlistenable in spots, and a good chunk of her genius is her willingness to risk alienating her listeners with weirdness. She also more or less stays out of the spotlight in her personal life. Her one notable press battle was the Lynn Hirschberg-engineered truffle-fry campaign, and while she didn't exactly react well to it, let's be honest: She kind of got shat on with that whole thing.
Chris Brown, on the other hand, is like a walking drama magnet — and I'm not even talking about how he beat Rihanna. That shit's old hat. What I'm talking about is how he keeps bringing up how he beat Rihanna. Everything he does is like a crass, wheedling plea for redemption. For a weirdly perfect example of that, look no further than his recently released song "M.I.A.," where he croons "She knows I been hittin' her" — and then adds "on the phone," but there is just no other way to interpret that. The song, by the way, is a ballad about how he knows his girl is cheating on him — that's some nice, subtle blame-shifting — and he's going to send his boys out to find her.
Is it just me, or is that a little sinister?
It's even more troubling when you place it in the context of the shitty temper tantrum he threw when Good Morning America wouldn't play nice, because Chris Brown does not want to talk about how he fucked up, he wants to talk about how he's really sorry and everyone look how sorry he is. And he will not rest until the whole world forgives him.
More important, though, than their disparate approaches to personal marketing is the music M.I.A. and Chris Brown each make. M.I.A. makes music that straddles the line between established and experimental, pushing the boundaries of pop music; if her music was a building, it would be an abandoned refinery covered in graffiti. If Chris Brown's music was a building, it would be a McMansion in a subdivision of McMansions: pleasant enough to inhabit, but unremarkable in pretty much every way.
But opposites do attract, and it's true that the results can sometimes be pretty exciting: Put two unstable chemicals together, for example, and their violent and spontaneous bond might result in an explosion. Then again, when you mix together the yin and the yang, all you get is a gray circle — and that's pretty fucking boring.
Jef Otte is the assistant arts & culture editor for Westword and blog editor for Show and Tell. Read more by Otte at his Westword author page.