Paper Planes

Album: Kala (2007)
Charted: 19 4


  • In this song, M.I.A. plays up the stereotype of a menacing illegal immigrant, forging documents and threatening violence. It was inspired by her efforts to enter America on a visa (she is a British citizen of Sri Lankan descent), which resulted in a months-long bureaucratic morass, something she attributed to her dark skin and exotic real name: Mathangi Arulpragasam.
  • M.I.A. composed this song with the DJ/producer Diplo (Wesley Pentz), who was little known at the time. "Paper Planes" was the first hit song he worked on; a few years later he was on the charts with a number of productions, including Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" and his Tiesto collaboration, "C'Mon (Catch 'Em By Surprise)." M.I.A. and Diplo were a couple from roughly 2003-2008.
  • Musically, the song is built on a sample of the 1982 Clash song "Straight To Hell," which also deals with immigration and xenophobia. The sample was Diplo's idea.
  • M.I.A. came up with the lyrics all at once one morning. She was living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York at the time, which could be a rough area (name-checked by Billy Joel in "You May Be Right": "I've been stranded in the combat zone, I walked through Bedford Stuy alone"). Speaking with Fader magazine, M.I.A. said: "I was thinking about living there, waking up every morning - it's such an African neighborhood. I was going to get patties at my local and just thinking that really the worst thing that anyone can say is some s--t like: 'What I wanna do is come and get your money.' People don't really feel like immigrants or refugees contribute to culture in any way. That they're just leeches that suck from whatever. So in the song I say 'All I wanna do is [sound of gun shooting and reloading, cash register opening] and take your money.' I did it in sound effects. It's up to you how you want to interpret. America is so obsessed with money, I'm sure they'll get it."
  • Both Mike D and Adrock from the Beastie Boys plus DMX made cameo appearances in the video. It was originally going to be shot on the Ecuador border but they were forced to switch to New York due to M.I.A.'s time restraints. Director Bernard Gourley shot the clip in a Caribbean community in Brooklyn. According to VH1's Pop-Up Video, M.I.A.'s manager refused to let her wear a Metallica T-shirt for some of the scenes, so she locked herself in her apartment for two hours until he relented.
  • The gunshot sounds on this track imply a robbery, but M.I.A. claimed they have a deeper meaning: critiquing the military-industrial complex that sells guns to Third-World countries and reaps the profits.
  • This rose into the Top 10 of the US Hot 100 in August 2008 after being featured in the trailer for the stoner comedy film Pineapple Express, staring James Franco and Seth Rogen as buddies who get unwittingly involved in drugs and murder. The song was also featured in the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Logan - Troy, MT
  • In sensitive times, it was inevitable that the sound of gunshots would be censored in some venues. This was the case when M.I.A. performed the song on the David Letterman Show in September 2007, when the shots were replaced with popping noises. MTV also aired a version without the sound of the gun cocking. "I felt like I was getting bullied on national television," M.I.A. wrote in a MySpace post.
  • This was the third single released from Kala. The first two didn't get much love, but "Paper Planes" gradually gained traction when it was released in February 2008, and by the summer it was a hit. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
  • "Paper Planes" was also the lead track on the 2008 EP Paper Planes - Homeland Security Remixes, which featured various additional re-mixes of the song.
  • This song was sampled on the Jay-Z, T.I., Kanye West and Lil Wayne collaboration "Swagga Like Us ," released in 2008 on Jay's album The Blueprint. M.I.A., in the late stages of pregnancy, joined the foursome at the Grammy Awards in 2009 to perform the song.
  • Kala was chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as their best album of 2007. It was named after M.I.A's mother, who influenced much of the lyrics. She told the Philadelphia Weekly: "My first album [Arular] was about my father's revolutionary ideals, about him turning to my mom and asking, 'Do you want me to stay here and take care of you and three kids, or do you want me to save lives and take care of thousands of people?' This one is about my mom and her struggle - how do you work, feed your children, nurture and love them and give them the power of information? The numerous wars being fought right now run parallel to the destruction that plagues the home. The lack of structure, role models and time for family is a tragedy."

Comments: 16

  • Jessica from Bangor, MeThis is definetly one of my favorite songs. whenever i hear it i can`t help but want to just start singing along with it. I agree with Steel, From Portland.
  • Dennis from Pg, BcThe use of the Clash for your song is an excellent mix.I hope you use more in the future such as "I fought the law"or "White Man in Hammersmith Palais",pay particular attention to the line"If Adolf Hitler were here today we'd send him to Marseilles anyway.It is great some people recognize the true talent that made up the clash.I applaud you for the fact you did not think of the message atleast you got it.The Clash are easily the best band that ever was.
  • Saro from Coal Hell, Centralia ;d, PaThe lyrics are sattire. They aren't meant to be taken seriously. Read the description. It's meant to be a joke. It's directed at the thought of immigrants only being in the US for money and crime.
  • Rahul from Chennai, Indiaa-w-e-s-o-m-e song........ was addicted to it for weeks...whew..
  • Taylor from Mountain View , CaThis song is in Slumdog Millionare, in y=the scene where Jamaal and Salim are on the train.
  • Louise from Newcastle, --I hope she's being ironic in some way with the lyrics. The tune is addictive, though.
  • Steel from Portland, OrAlright, to everyone who's talking about her just stealing other peoples music, DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HIP HOP? the music has always been, and will always be sample based. that's where hip hop came from, mixing two records and rapping over it. almost every hip hop song is made from a sample of another song, it's not stealing get over yourself.
  • Helen from Nottingham, United Kingdom@ chae. Chances are she does know who the Clash are, she is a Londoner who is deeply political and has picked them out amoung her musical influences. How could she use a song she doesn't even know?
    It a really good song, and there is social commentary as it's about peoples negative view of immigration, its sarcasm.
  • Christina from Olathe, KsThis song is about hustlin
  • Lenny from Rolla, Mo@shana: seriously?! i don't like this song because M.I.A "portrays [her message] so well?" Have you read the lyrics? Let's break it down: Verse 1 - I smoke pot, DHS sucks so i'll make a joke about visas
    Verse 2 - Let's make money hustling, Hook - All i wanna do is pop guns and make money (OVER AND OVER!) Verse 3 - We smoke and sell GOOD pot, Verse 4 - We sell a LOT of pot, More Hook, Bridge - I'm M.I.A. I rap and I can have you killed, More Hook.

    and that's your song. feel free to point out the biting social commentary. oh isn't in there. it's just another rap song about weed and being on the corner.

    to say then, that Americans who don't like this song don't like it because we think that she's calling us out or something...c'mon.

    i don't like this song because the lyrics are lame and played and M.I.A.'s so called "singing" voice is hella-annoying.

    you want more proof? check out how much higher this song charted in the States than in the UK. we weren't offended by the song, we embraced it, just as we embrace a lot of crappy pop music, unfortunately.
  • Dan from Las Vegas, NvFunny how people who are not from the U.S. think they know so much about it. Excellent song though.
  • Kateri from Albany, Nyi love this song!
  • Shana from Casablanca, MoroccoFirst, i don't think that she's rapping
    Second, Chaechae, you're only saying that because she picked on the obssession that America has with money, and just so you know, many other singers used someone else's beat...Sean Kingston - Beautiful Girl, and many more
    And third, this song is amazing,it truly is..
    She's a revolted yound woman, who has a problem with the system and portrays it so well through this song...
    You can't really value this song simply because you're on the other side of the world!!
  • Morgan from Hanover, MdThis was the perfect song for the Pinnaple Express trailor
  • Chae from Chicago, IlShe does not even know who the clash are!!!!! she used an awesome song she doesnt even know to her benefit and made a crapy one out of it. she is not awesome and she easily could have made her own beat instead of using someone elses. she is goin to talk about america and money when she is coming here to franchise her to us, using someone elses beat.
    love chaechae
  • Allox from Qld, AustraliaAwesome song. She's such a cool rapper.
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