Study Guide

Paper Planes Introduction

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Paper Planes Introduction

In a Nutshell

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

LabelXL Recordings (UK), Interscope Records (US)
Writer(s)"Paper Planes" (lyrics & new music): M.I.A. (Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam), Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz); "Straight to Hell" (Clash sample): Joe Strummer, Mick Jones
Producer(s)Diplo, Switch
Musician(s)The Clash (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonen, Nicky "Topper" Headon), Diplo (production), Switch (production)
Learn to play

Music Video

Influences on M.I.A.

The Clash
The Pixies
Missy Elliott

Influenced by M.I.A.

Jamaican Dancehall
Indie Rock
Hip Hop
Baile Funk

Paper Planes Resources


The Clash, Combat Rock (1982)
Despite mixed reviews, the album does include the song "Straight to Hell," a slow and heavy meditation on the plight of Third World immigrants; a sample from "Straight to Hell" forms the backbone of "Paper Planes."

M.I.A., Arular (2005)
M.I.A.'s typically eclectic debut album was widely hailed by critics but didn't fare too well with customers in the U.S., who were slow to buy the genre-busting album.

M.I.A., Kala (2007)
M.I.A.'s sophomore effort included the radio-friendly hit "Paper Planes." The entire album is well worth a listen.


Grammy Performance
Nine months pregnant, M.I.A. performed the hook of "Swagga Like Us" alongside rappers Jay-Z, T.I., Lil Wayne, and Kanye West at the 2009 Grammy Awards.

Kala Album Cover
M.I.A. was a visual artist and designer before she became a recording artist. She still creates her own cover art for her albums; this is the eclectic cover for Kala, the album that includes "Paper Planes." Her visual style is as frenetic as her music.

Movies & TV

Pineapple Express (2008)
This oddball stoner comedy was, strangely, the secret of M.I.A.'s success. Prominent use of "Paper Planes" in the movie's theatrical trailer helped her crack the pop charts for the first time.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Director Danny Boyle's fast-moving and fanciful love story, set in the slums of Mumbai, India, won a Best Picture Oscar in 2009. The film and soundtrack feature M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" prominently.


M.I.A. on MySpace
The place to hang out with M.I.A. and thousands of her closest friends. M.I.A.'s blog postings here are occasionally well worth the price of admission (as in the case of her barely coherent, profanity-laced rant against MTV's censorship of the gunshot sounds in "Paper Planes").

Video & Audio

M.I.A., "Paper Planes" Music Video
The video offers up a powerful interpretation of the song's lyrics; watch it yourself and tell us what you think those paper planes represent.

The Clash, "Straight to Hell"
Recognize those opening notes?

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