M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” Lyrics Meaning

The theme of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” is based on the concept of immigration and highlights the common fears most people have concerning foreigners in their country.

The song begins by portraying the narrator as a passport counterfeiter and an immigrant who either provides the means for people like her to enter other countries, or patronizes her own services by traveling to foreign countries and making a name for herself in the process.

She uses several metaphors to depict the violence that occurs from her own background, possibly her reason for moving in the first place. Basically, she references the general thought that she is in to make money or worse “take the money” of natives.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, M.I.A. explained that “Paper Planes” actually represent the visa itself.

In conclusion, this song is centered on the stereotype attached to immigrants in which most natives see them as threats because they assume they might take over their jobs and make money in their countries. M.I.A. uses a great deal of satire throughout her narration.

Actually the song was inspired by the hurdles M.I.A. herself had to go through in order to get an American work visa.

Facts about “Paper Planes”

Diplo, who co-wrote “Paper Planes” produced it in collaboration with another producer named Switch.

In all, M.I.A. collaborated with 5 other writers (including Diplo) to compose this song. And due to the fact that this song samples the Clash’s 80s song titled “Straight to Hell”, the members of the band are also given writing credits.

It is from her 2008 hit album “Kala” and is to date her most successful single. It twas a top 20 hit in many places, including M.I.A.’s own home nation of the United Kingdom. In the United States, it was even more successful chart-wise. Here, it reached an impressive position of 4 on the all-important Hot 100. Actually “Paper Planes” holds the distinction of being M.I.A.’s only single to reach top 10 status in America.

Since M.I.A. dropped this single in 2008, it has been the recipient of multiple praises, honors and awards. For example, many famous publications (including Rolling Stone) included the song in their lists of the best commercially released songs of its era (the 2000s).

Furthermore, it received a nomination at the 2009 Grammys in the “Record of the Year” department. However, it along with the following songs lost to Robert Plant’s “Please Read the Letter”:

  • Adele’s “Chasing Pavements”
  • Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” 
  • Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida

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