M.I.A’s “Bad Girls” from her fourth studio album Matangi (2013) is directed by Romain Gavras. The single features themes about drag racing and women empowerment within Middle Eastern culture. Specifically, it is a song about modern Middle Eastern women resisting extreme conservative norms such as toned sexuality and no driving, hence the title, “Bad Girls.” The music video suggests opposition to Saudi Arabia’s ban of women drivers and incorporates Third World Feminism by representing women in traditional Muslim wardrobe but with modern prints. The song also seems to support gender equality by not only focusing on women racing, but both men and women racing together. This implies that men and women don’t have to compete against each other, but rather just enjoy each other’s company in order to peacefully co-exist.
The woman represents M.I.A’s vision of an ultimate “Bad Girl.” The hijab she is wearing respects her culture by remaining the traditional shape, but the polka dots and animal prints symbolize her resistance and will to do what she pleases. Furthermore, the fact that she is about to drive enhances her identity as a modern Muslim woman who can do anything that men can.
Note: it is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
Before automobiles, horses were the traditional method of transportation. The juxtaposition of everyone in cars except for one man on a horse is obvious: males dominate Middle Eastern politics and he represents the male aspect of traditionalism in terms of political regulations. By riding a horse, he symbolizes that he is of the past – he does not drive cars and more importantly, he does not support women driving them. Even though the music video is not suggestive of male dominance, the fact that he is in front of the cars imply that he is racing faster, which could translate to be a cautionary message towards modern politics staying too much in the past.
In most cultures, women with guns are typically not accepted since it is deemed a “masculine” activity. However, because M.I.A is preaching women with an affinity to live how they please without concern for longevity, this image is suiting. The women cocking guns convey their rights to “live fast” for their own pleasure, as opposed to living for others (which could result in a longer life but it would be a life full of choices that are not theirs). This image also emphasizes the chorus phrase, “Get back, get down // Pull me closer if you think you can hang // Hands up, hands tied // Don’t go screaming if I blow you with a bang.”
In these scene, M.I.A flawlessly sits atop a tilted moving car with no care, becoming the ultimate Bad Girl. Her leisurely pose hints that she has no regrets about living dangerously, nor does she have any care about falling off. M.I.A is confident when it comes to this sport. This image becomes the ultimate representative of the line, “Live fast, die young // Bad Girls do it well.” Everything she does dangerously, she does well.