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In 2008, M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" became an unlikely (but soon nearly ubiquitous) global pop hit. The infectious tune started popping up everywhere – from TV ads to several different radio formats to the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire (twice, in two different mixes!). The song, built deftly atop a prominent sample from The Clash's refugee lament "Straight to Hell," offers up an irresistible sonic mashup of hard-edged hip-hop and politically aware post-punk. A triumphant creation of a globalized DJ culture, the song might be heard as a kind of anthem for the disaffected young people of every nation living at the margins of our increasingly interconnected world.
About the Song
The Clash (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonen, Nicky "Topper" Headon), Diplo (production), Switch (production)
XL Recordings (UK), Interscope Records (US)
"Paper Planes" (lyrics & new music): M.I.A. (Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam), Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz); "Straight to Hell" (Clash sample): Joe Strummer, Mick Jones
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" – like The Clash's "Straight to Hell" before it – is first and foremost an immigrant song. Like many others before her in the long history of immigration to the United States, the Sri Lankan-born M.I.A. herself had a decidedly mixed experience in coming to America. (She mostly likes it here, and now makes her permanent home in Brooklyn. But she also had to endure more than a year in which a never-explained problem with the government's border authorities prevented her from re-entering the country.) She once described this song as a way at lashing back against those unfriendly bureaucrats and immigrant-hating nativists. But does the violent lyrical content of "Paper Planes" only play into the hands of the very anti-immigrant sentiment that M.I.A. wants to attack?
On the Charts
"Paper Planes," M.I.A.'s first commercially successful single, peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States late in 2008.
"Paper Planes" was nominated for Record of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards but did not win.
"Swagga Like Us," a hip-hop collaboration starring Jay-Z, T.I., Kanye West, and Lil Wayne and featuring a prominent sample from "Paper Planes," won the 2009 Grammy Award for best rap song by a duo or group. "Swagga Like Us" peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—one spot lower than "Paper Planes."