10. M.I.A. - Paper Planes

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Artwork by Adam Sarpalius

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As 2009, and the decade come to a close, PMA will be looking back at our favorite songs of the last ten years. We will update a list with 75 empty slots until we reach that song that changed everything. You can keep track of this list by keeping an eye on this page. We make these lists in hopes that you guys will chime in the comments and share your favorite musical moments of the noughties.

Bang Bang Bang. Reload. Cha-Ching. Lather, rinse repeat. Life imitated art with this gutsy little tune – first it blew up on Kala, M.I.A.’s acclaimed sophomore release. Reload, Cha-Ching. Next, it reappeared as the backing music in the Pineapple Express trailer, perfectly summing up the lazy exuberance of the film. Reload, Cha-Ching. Then it shows up in surprise blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire, where the lyrics shone in a new light, seemingly written for the movie’s formative train sequence. Reload, Cha-Ching, etc.

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“Paper Planes,” is a cat, seeming to find life after life, always landing on its feet. It’s a chameleon, seeming to meld into its surroundings, outline barely visible against the canvas it stands in front of. Drawing the song’s signature intro directly from The Clash’s “Straight To Hell,” master producers Diplo and Switch cobble together existing melodies, synthesized snaps, and choppy sound effects to craft a tune that is as catchy as it is nonchalant. The beat is laid back, using syncopation rather than speed to drive the song forward. M.I.A. barely seems to care about her verses – they’re sung half-voiced, imprecisely. It’s a casual arrogance, but it’s not misplaced. “Paper Planes” could have been a banger at double the speed (see: “Swagger Like Us”) but someone had a moment of inspiration in the booth: if we slow this shit down, we can make it sound easy.