“Paper Planes” may never have broken through to become an international pop hit if it weren”t for this fairly lame pot-smoking reference in its first verse.
You are watching: Fly like paper get high like planes
Almost certainly due to this lyric, the song got picked up to serve as the musical backdrop for the theatrical trailer to Pineapple Express, a 2008 comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogan as an inept pot dealer and his favorite customer.
Immediately after that trailer”s debut, the song hit the pop charts, fueled by a sudden upsurge of iTunes downloads.
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
M.I.A., a British citizen whose non-stage name is Maya Arulpragasam, was prevented from recording the album Kala (upon which “Paper Planes” appears) in the United States because she couldn”t get a legal work visa to enter the country throughout much of 2007.
It”s unclear exactly what M.I.A. did to end up on the wrong side of America”s customs/immigration/Homeland Security bureaucracy. Much speculation at the time focused on her father”s past political activism with the Tamil Tigers, a radical Sri Lankan separatist group that has endorsed terrorist acts.
In any case, M.I.A. eventually regained clearance to enter the country; she”d go on to make her primary residence in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
Sometimes I think sitting on trains
M.I.A. almost certainly had an urban subway in mind when she wrote this line, but Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle used the song to underscore a scene in which the film”s young stars literally ride on top of a train, hustling other passengers as they travel through the Indian countryside.
“Paper Planes” became an unlikely hit single largely due to its usage on the silver screen. The song was released as a single early in 2008, but failed to crack the Billboard charts until it appeared in the trailer for the stoner comedy Pineapple Express.
The song was then used—twice, in two different mixes—in Slumdog Millionaire, which ultimately won eight Academy Awards and helped “Paper Planes” crack the Billboard top ten.
I”m clocking that game
Where we come from, that”s slang for dealing crack.
We”re not sure whether “clocking that game” has exactly the same connotation in South London (or in Sri Lanka) as it does here in the states, but this is clearly a celebration of some kind of shady hustle.
All I wanna do is
The use of realistic gunshot sound effects in the chorus of “Paper Planes”—especially when juxtaposed against the sweet sounds of singing children—became a magnet for controversy.
When the video for “Paper Planes” premiered on MTV in late 2007, the gunshots were censored, replaced in the mix—against M.I.A.”s wishes—by what the artist herself unhappily and somewhat incoherently called “this f—-d up mess with double-tracked bulls–t mess” (source).
M.I.A., livid at the unexpected alteration of her work, blew up in a post on her MySpace page before eventually convincing her label and MTV to restore the original sound. Something similar happened when M.I.A. performed the song live on the David Letterman show; she reacted with visible surprise when her gunshots came out of the set”s speakers sounding like nothing more than some kind of funky electronic banging.
All I wanna do is
The song”s chorus features a choir of schoolchildren from Brixton, England sweetly singing the rather disconcerting lyric, “All I wanna do is
M.I.A.”s choice to use a youth choir specifically from Brixton was surely no accident. Brixton, a working-class suburb located just south of London, played a leading role in late-20th-century Britain”s struggles over race, immigration, and urban decay. (Brixton has the same symbolic importance in the UK as, say, Watts or Newark has in the U.S.)
In the 1950s, Brixton became a mostly-Black enclave as thousands of immigrants poured into the area, especially from British West Indian colonies like Jamaica and Trinidad. By the late 1970s, the city had become the scene of ferocious tension between Black residents and white authorities. In 1981, heavy-handed police efforts to crack down on street crime on Brixton”s main street, Railton Road, touched off widespread rioting. Hundreds of people were injured and dozens of buildings were burned.
Railton Road became known as “The Frontline,” as if Brixton were at war with the rest of the country. Rioting erupted in Brixton again in both 1985 and 1995; today, the city remains the heart of London”s Afro-Caribbean immigrant community and ground zero in Britain”s struggle to reinvent itself as a multiracial society.
Even before the first Brixton riots occurred in 1981, the city”s widespread racial tension, poverty, and social discontentment were evident enough to inspire the Clash to record “The Guns of Brixton,” which borrowed a reggae beat and the iconography of the cult-favorite film The Harder They Come from Brixton”s predominantly Jamaican culture. The song”s grim message, recorded in 1979, sounded prophetic when the riots erupted just two years later:
When they kick out your front doorHow you gonna come?With your hands on your head?Or on the trigger of your gun?When the law break inHow you gonna go?Shot down on the pavement?Or waiting in death row?You can crush usYou can bruise usBut you”ll have to answer toWoe, Guns of Brixton.
The Clash, as flag-bearers for a certain engaged left-wing political sensibility within the British punk movement, became revered icons for many progressive musicians…like M.I.A., who uses a looped sample from another Clash song, “Straight to Hell,” to provide the musical backbone for “Paper Planes.”