I still haven’t decided whether or not I like M.I.A.’s newest single, “Goals”. On one hand, the production seems undermixed and M.I.A.’s vocals not as well blended as they could be. The lyrics (and especially M.I.A.’s fillers at the end of many of the lines) are awkward and almost child-like. The cadences don’t seem to fit quite well and her voice wavers weakly over the beat. But then…there’s something about the attitude of the song, an underlying unsettling feeling that keeps me on edge the entire time as a listener. And I actually quite like M.I.A.’s (and her AIM producer, Branko’s) ability to create a song that sounds sort of futuristic and grungy-post apocalyptic, even if the whole thing is odd.
It’s precisely this dichotomy of opinion about “Goals” that confuses me–its undermixing contributes to its overall sonic aesthetic of empty nihilistic futurism, which I like? The simplistic beat structure and the tone of the cymbal and kick hit front and center in the track, sometimes clashing with other sounds and too loud in comparison to the quirky filler sounds throughout. M.I.A’s voice also falls flat and seems to lack the support necessary to ground her in the song. This may be because too many other sounds are at the same frequency, competing to be heard instead of buoying the vocal track as it should. That being said, the spacey synth at the back and lower frequencies is a great base for the song and placed quite well (though this may be because it’s one of the few sounds not in the middle of the mix). However, even if I don’t like the clashing wall of sound that is “Goals”, I can’t argue that I hate it completely because by under producing in this way, the unused frequencies become eery empty spaces in the track that create a feeling of tinny, echoey, metallic isolation. And by not blending M.I.A.’s vocals into the mix properly and sort of popping odd lyrical ends to certain lines, the unblended reverb of her voice creates a sense that she is completely alone and inorganic in her own soundscape. The sound feels at once empty but also firmly contained. Doesn’t it sound like she’s in a metal box (or you’re hearing her through a speaker in a metal box)??
I also can’t decide whether or not what M.I.A. is saying is much more than I think it is. By themselves, the lyrics seem like a collection of catchy one-liners that don’t make sense once all lined up one after the other (I could say this about her other songs as well, though). However, the oddly apathetic delivery of her performance despite the (sort of) inspirational tone of her lyricism reminds me of something electronic or dystopian. As if she’s some sort of twitter-bot alive and well post-humans in the year 2204 replaying a bunch of random computer-generated drivel, an inorganic recreation of ambiguous human interactions of the distant past circa 2017. Thus the title, “Goals” (think job GOALS, body GOALS, hair GOALS, etc.). And then that makes me think…why do her lyrics seem so much representative of modernity now, despite their inanity? It’s perhaps too dangerously and apathetically relatable.
If I think of “Goals” like this, not as a pop song but more an artistic experiment in sound and futurism, I feel unsettled but in a good way and then I start thinking. Am I giving this song too much credit for what it is or is M.I.A. actually really saying something with this song, unwittingly or no? I might not listen to this song on repeat but I’ll think about it for a few more minutes, which makes it worthwhile in the end.
Sidenote: The music video is a really interesting part of this song–a collection of GIF-ed images of M.I.A.’s shows. It adds to the overall feel of the track, so I’d suggest watching it while listening.