|Single by M.I.A.|
|from the album Kala|
|Released||11 February 2008|
|M.I.A. singles chronology|
"Paper Planes" is a song by British rapper M.I.A. from her second studio album, Kala (2007). The song was written by M.I.A. and Diplo. The song's backing track is a replayed sample of the 1982 song "Straight to Hell" by The Clash, and the members of The Clash are credited as co-writers of the song. The chorus of "Paper Planes" was widely speculated to be based on the chorus to the 1992 song "Rump Shaker" by Wreckx-N-Effect, although that song's writers are not credited. It was produced by Diplo with additional production by Switch. "Paper Planes" was released for download in August 2007 and as the album's third single by XL Recordings and Interscope Records on 11 February 2008.
"Paper Planes" is a downtempo rap ballad, with a folk style melody considered less dance-influenced than the other songs on the album. The single's accompanying music video, filmed in New York City, showed M.I.A. walking and dancing with friends along the streets of the city, selling sandwiches to local people and paper planes flying overhead. The song received wide acclaim upon release, with contemporary critics complimenting its music direction and the subversive, unconventional subject matter of the piece, citing its chorus and its lyrical humour in the promotion of globalization. The song won the Indie Award for Favourite International Single at the 2009 Canadian Independent Music Awards and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) recognized the song as one of the most performed ones of 2008 at the ASCAP Pop Music Awards. It was also nominated for Record of the Year at the 51st Grammy Awards in 2009.
"Paper Planes" peaked in the Top 20 in Belgium, Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. M.I.A.'s first Top 20 single in the UK and her next Top 10 charting song in Canada following "Boyz" (2007), it reached the Top 10 of seven Billboard charts and peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. The single reached two positions higher than "Boyz" to top the Billboard Hot Dance Singles Sales chart. The song became XL Recordings' best selling single, is certified triple-platinum by the Music Canada (CRIA) in Canada and the Recording Industry Association of America in the US, where it is ranked the fifty-ninth most downloaded song in the digital era, and is certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand in New Zealand. The song has sold four million copies in the US.
"Paper Planes" is regarded as one of the best songs of its decade, and has appeared in several lists of the greatest songs in popular music. Several artists have covered the composition or released their own remixes, with rappers T.I. and Jay-Z sampling it in "Swagga Like Us". The song has regularly featured on M.I.A.'s concert tours since 2007.
- 1 Background
- 2 Composition
- 3 Release and live performances
- 4 Critical reception
- 5 Awards and accolades
- 6 Covers and use in media
- 7 Chart performance
- 8 Music video
- 9 Controversy
- 10 Track listings and formats
- 11 Personnel
- 12 Charts and certifications
- 13 References
- 14 External links
"Paper Planes" was written and produced by M.I.A. and Diplo with additional production by Switch. It was recorded at the artist's home in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and in London where it includes kids from Brixton singing on the chorus; the song was one of the last written for Kala, recorded soon after she regained entry to the US. The track stems slightly from M.I.A.'s family history and from M.I.A.'s own frustration at American government visits to her official website following the release of her debut album Arular in 2005, a refusal to grant her a work visa to record her second album in the US in 2006 despite several previous travels to the country before and after her debut album's release, coupled with her brief presence on the US Homeland Security Risk List in 2006 due to her politically charged lyrics. M.I.A. has openly discussed the origin of the song, saying "I was thinking about living [in Bed-Stuy], 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 [to someone these days] is some shit 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."
Asked about its relation to paper planes and the lyric – "I fly like paper, get high like planes/ if you catch me at the border I got visas in my name/ if you come around here I make ‘em all day" – "We make our own visas [...] A paper plane is the visa itself."
She added that she felt that listeners could interpret the gunshots and cash register ringing in the song's chorus as coming from any gun-toter, telling an interviewer "You can either apply it on a street level and go, oh, you’re talking about somebody robbing you and saying I’m going to take your money. But, really, it could be a much bigger idea: someone's selling you guns and making money. Selling weapons and the companies that manufacture guns – that's probably the biggest moneymaker in the world." Acknowledging that her heavily politicized lyrics in all of her compositions were "a bit of a jump for people", she told Carolyn E. Davis of MTV in April 2005 that not talking about her experiences in her songs would disqualify her as an artist, noting that "the other point I was making referencing the violence I had seen in Sri Lanka is, if we're going to invest so much money in creating wars around the world, that's quite a given thing. If you've seen somebody get shot and if you've seen a bomb go off, then you've given me total access to talk about it – because you've made that a part of my life. I didn't ask for nobody to bomb my school, but if they did, I would have the right to talk about it. And if people are uncomfortable, then they should think twice before they go off and hit random buildings." M.I.A has expressed surprise at the song's wide commercial success, telling Rolling Stone in October 2008, "I always took pride in being a little underground – it really is a very unlikely record to cross over." She also commented that it was intended to parody fear of immigrants: "It's about people driving cabs all day...appearing really threatening to society. But not being so. Because, by the time you've finished working a 20-hour shift, you're so tired you (just) want to get home to the family."
"Paper Planes" is a worldbeat rap ballad and alternative dance song. Chris Power of BBC Collective terms the song as inventing a new genre – "gangsta shoegaze". "Paper Planes" follows the "nu world" music style that M.I.A. categorizes Kala as presenting. According to the digital music sheet published at musicnotes.com, the song is written in the key of D major, with a beat of 86 beats per minute. M.I.A.'s vocal range in the song spans one octave in the western music scale, from the lower note of F♯3 to the higher note of F♯4. Written in common time, the song is in verse-chorus form with a bridge before the fourth and final chorus with the distorted guitar riff that provides accompaniment to the composition playing out the piece's coda. M.I.A. chose to do the song's famous chorus in sound effects rather than in full spoken word and recorded children singing the words. "Paper Planes" incorporates elements of folk music and consists of "collapsing euphoric" synths and a "glock-popping" rhythm.
Fraser McAlpine of BBC Radio 1 compared the vocals favorably to those of "Boyz", describing them as "icy and distant" in the verse, giving way to a playground chant. M.I.A. has said that the song was written and recorded quickly in the morning and in one go, without the singer having brushed her teeth, which contributed to the vocals being "a bit weird". She also said that this is something she aims for in her vocal style when recording in the studio. She joked to Spin in December 2008 that the song "could be a rip-off of "Like a Virgin" but you'd never know because I'm that out of tune", adding that recording the song downtempo and departing from the denser compositions on the rest of the album was a risk she was willing to take. Eric Grandy of The Stranger described the chorus' gunshots as "rock and roll swindle, anti-colonial cash register liberation", and integral to the song's meaning. The song, which epitomizes the lyrical content of Kala, satirizes US immigration's perception of visa-seeking foreigners and immigrants from the Third World.
M.I.A. revealed that the track was written as she and her American collaborator Diplo were breaking up in their three-year relationship and that the latter came up with the idea to sample the track "Straight to Hell" by London band The Clash on the song. A video of both recording the track surfaced online. Ben Thomson of The Guardian, citing Jon Hassell and cultural theorist Hillel Schwartz's observations about the political implications of African folk music's genesis and sampling music in the urban west, comments on sampling in the context of the song and its aims, stating "sampling is what imperialists did when they colonised 'undeveloped' lands, calling theft 'development'. Sampling is [also] what ghettoised colonies do in revolt against property laws wired around them." According to Thomson, "Paper Planes" gives the post-colonial folk/hip-hop rapprochement a human face, who also said "the fact that this goal was achieved with the help of a sample from Straight to Hell by the Clash – who'd aimed for the same ideological bull's-eye decades before but not quite hit it – was truly the spicing on the samosa." Identifying with the ethos of The Clash, but not the "corporate, jock-rock that passes for punk today" M.I.A. told the Montreal Mirror of her motivations regarding the song "I do feel like a loner doing this, and I think punk is born out of a certain spirit that relates to that[...]You have to feel like nobody on the planet understands you, and you have to have teenage angst, basically, even after you grow up" saying her views towards contemporary punk mirrored those towards contemporary hip hop and the mainstream American scene, objecting not to the depiction of women but more the treatment and reception of female artists.
Release and live performances
The song was made available for digital download upon the release of Kala on 8 August 2007. On 11 February 2008, the song "Paper Planes", the third single from the album, and the Paper Planes – Homeland Security Remixes EP were released digitally in the UK, and in America the next day. The single was released via 7digital on 11 February and on iTunes on 12 February. The Paper Planes – Homeland Security Remixes EP, featuring various mixes of "Paper Planes", was released physically as a CD single three weeks later. The 7digital EP includes Blaqstarr's remix of "Paper Planes", with rap contributions from tourmates Rye Rye and Afrikan Boy. This remix was previously uploaded to M.I.A.'s MySpace account. The "Paper Planes (featuring Bun B and Rich Boy – Diplo's Street Remix)", which had circulated on the internet beforehand appears on the EP; in addition, the EP contains remixes of the song by DFA Records and Scottie B, and a remix of opening Kala track "Bamboo Banga" by DJ Eli. On iTunes, the track list differs slightly, with the "Bamboo Banga" remix replaced with a remix of "Paper Planes" by Ad-Rock. A new physical single version of "Paper Planes" was released in the UK on 13 October 2008.
In July M.I.A. began the full KALA Tour with dates in the United States before going on to play a number of festivals in Europe and America during which songs from Kala were performed. "Paper Planes" is usually performed as her encore song. After dates in Asia, she returned to America for a series of shows in October and November, before ending the year with concerts in the UK. The tour continued during the first half of 2008 under the banner of the People Vs. Money Tour with further dates in North America, although the planned European leg of the tour was eventually cancelled. Wearing a platinum blond wig, custom-made colour and black liner outfit in front of a glow-in-the-dark art stage installation, the singer/rapper performed "Paper Planes" as her set finale to a packed and energetic Sahara tent crowd at the 2008 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, calling fans onstage mid performance, resulting in a mass stage invasion with gig attendees climbing girders to dance alongside her. This led to a standoff with security. Jenny Eliscu of Rolling Stone described it as "one of this weekend's most buzzed about performances" outdoing her history-making first performance at the festival three years prior. M.I.A responded to Eliscu in an interview that although the success of "Paper Planes" may have led to increased interest in her work contributing to the packed out tent, she did not think "any one song is my perfect moment" and of her 2005 performance at the festival she noted "I don't think I'd ever be able to do something like that again, because it was my moment." She performed her last date at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in June 2008 after "Paper Planes" had seen some chart success, revealing her intentions to retire from the music industry and work on other art projects, start a family, go back to college and make a film. During an interview with Entertainment Weekly in August 2008, she explained that she stopped touring after the show and "didn’t want to make music again, as she was quite happy to leave it all behind", but that her mother's increased belief in her coupled with the increased chart success of "Paper Planes" during her hiatus encouraged her to make another record.
M.I.A. performed "Paper Planes" live on American television for the first time on 13 September 2007 on the CBS talk show Late Show with David Letterman, three weeks after the release of the album. The American rapper Kanye West, who had wanted to collaborate with M.I.A. on his second album in 2005 emailed her during Christmas 2007, telling the singer he listened to the song repeatedly. His interest in the song culminated in the recording of the track "Swagga Like Us". M.I.A. broke her hiatus in October 2008 by performing several songs including "Swagga Like Us" with T.I. and "Paper Planes" with her new label signee Rye Rye and N.E.R.D. at the Diesel XXX party at Pier 3 in Brooklyn, United States where it was revealed that M.I.A. was pregnant with her first child. Following her performance of "Paper Planes" at the 2009 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, she dedicated the song to the photographer Shawn Mortensen who died the previous week. She performed "Paper Planes" and "Swagga Like Us" live at the 51st Grammy Awards ceremony with the musicians West, T.I., Jay-Z and Lil Wayne on her son's expected birth delivery date on 8 February 2009. She appeared on the red carpet wearing a blue and teal patterned, multi-tiered mini-dress designed by Manish Arora, that "both embraced and accentuated her full-bodied shape" and on stage wearing a polka-dot dress ensemble designed by Henry Holland. Reactions to her dresses at the ceremony were mixed. Verena von Pfetten of Yahoo described her performance dress as "show-stoppingly sheer" and included it on the list of "The Grammy's Most Memorable Outfits of All-Time." Tracey Lomrantz and Susan Cernek of Glamour included the dresses in their Best Dressed lists, praising M.I.A. for sticking to her signature style and "having fun" with her maternity wear fashion. Jocelyn Vena of MTV was less enthusiastic, saying of her Arora dress "there's no excuse for wearing a blue-and-green printed dress that made her look like a globe." M.I.A. later tweeted a picture of her 5-month old son wearing a small version of the Holland dress. Modelled after a 1950s performance in the main showroom of Las Vegas' Sands Hotel, the five artists performed to a standing ovation at the ceremony. Shaheem Reid of MTV commented of her performance "M.I.A. is a G! Let's never question her standing in hip-hop." Mike Bruno, writing in Entertainment Weekly, demanded that the singer be given a greater solo at the ceremony in future. Rosie Swash of The Guardian described her performance at the ceremony as "barnstorming", and noted the different ways, following the performance, that Oscar producers suggested M.I.A. could perform "O...Saya" at the 81st Academy Awards ceremony a few days later. Ben Thomson of The Guardian commented "by claiming the right to be on that stage, she's expanding the "us" of the sampled lyric to include all the hard-pressed quarriers of hip-hop's musical raw materials, and women, and people who aren't American – at a stroke. Not bad going for a few minutes' work on a night when you'd planned to have a baby anyway."
The song has received universal acclaim from a wide variety of publications, and has been viewed as a highlight of Kala. In a track-by-track review for Kala, Eric Grandy of The Stranger noted that the song contained more conceptual layers, musical information, and lyrical self-reference than seemingly possible in a three-and-a-half minute pop song, saying it was "the standout track" on an album full of contenders, Kala's "most exciting synthesis of the political and the pop" and its chorus, "a sly, funny acknowledgement of the economics behind M.I.A.'s status as an exoticized sex symbol." This was somewhat echoed by Michael Hubbard of MusicOMH who noted the track's humour and called the song "one of the many standouts" of the album. The Observer 's Emma Warren also marked the song as a highlight, calling it "a career high" and comparing it favorably to an internationalist indie record made by Gorillaz. Similarly, Evan McGarvey of Stylus Magazine called the song "narcotic, gorgeous".
Dan Raper of PopMatters said that "the drug-slinging persona of "Paper Planes" joined tracks such as "Bamboo Banga" in providing plenty of hustle on the album, however it was M.I.A.'s meditation on the "unfortunate influence of rap's portrayal of ‘the game’ on those in the developing world" that "obviously means the most to her." Todd Martens of Billboard described M.I.A. on the song as "a revolutionary leading a class war". Writing for NME, Alex Miller commented that "Paper Planes" was Kala's "only real pop moment [...]" but that it "sabotages any FM potential by crafting its infectious chorus around four crystal clear gunshots". Describing the song as "soft, soaring", he added that the song's The Clash sample was the clearest indication of where M.I.A. sees herself, "as the inheritor of true rebel music in an era of corporate punks". Jon Pareles of Blender joked that "by M.I.A. standards [Paper Planes] is almost a ballad", naming it a highlight of Kala. Bill Lamb of About.com claimed it served as a reaffirmation of popular music, deeming it "one of the most bracing pop hits in recent history" and that the song's patchwork world beat style "expands the boundaries of current hit pop music". Joey Guerra of Houston Chronicle described the song's impact alongside the rest of the album, saying "Even amid so much rocket-fueled noise, standout "Paper Planes" causes its own commotion." Citing her lyric where she declares "Catch me at the border I got visas in my name", he further added that "with music this vital, [America] should immediately extend an open-door policy to the globe-trotting MC's stunning international flow." Fraser McAlpine, writing for BBC Radio 1 compared the artist's vocals favorably to those of "Boyz", describing them as "icy and distant" in the verse, giving way to a "catchy, juvenile playground chant" that made both songs "earworms". McAlpine noted that the power of the song lay in the discordance between the melody of the singing in the verses and the backing, saying "there's something very calm and serene about the music, and the slight mismatch in tone with the melody slaps you around the ears, demanding your attention, and forcing you to listen to the words. And when you do, and realise it's a dead-eyed skit on ruthless business practices, it just multiplies the queasy power of the song". Ben Thomson of The Guardian praised the song's wider cultural significance, ranking the single's release number 50 in the newspaper's list of the 50 key events in the history of world and folk music, for having turned globalisation inside out.
Writing for Clash magazine, Colm Larkin said that the album's penultimate track was a "downtempo masterpiece that's like a torch song for the world's disaffected and poor with its chorus line", adding that with the song, the singer-songwriter remained "one of the best things to happen to 21st century music." In his review of Kala, Mark Pytlik of Pitchforkmedia wrote that the song was "an island tinged nursery rhyme." Writing for GQ, Gary Shteyngart praised M.I.A.'s self-sampling ethos, noting her profound sense of "just how fucked-up and unglamorous it is to grow up at the bottom of both First World and Third World societies." In the line "No one on the corner had swagger like us / Hit me on the burner prepaid wireless" he writes that "it's the prepaid wireless that's genius: the tiny sociological detail of the immigrant buying prepaid minutes as opposed to the monthly plan, the daily calculations amounting to an extra fifty bucks a month sent back to Chiapas, Mexico, or Lomé, Togo, that rings true to those of us who came to the West from more dysfunctional parts of the world." Tom Breihan of the Village Voice praised the song as continuing the "confounding, ambiguous political subtexts" that M.I.A.'s music carried, burying its meaning under layers of implication and forcing thorny and ambiguous questions about violence and advocacy, calling "Paper Planes" "a light and airy and bewitchingly pretty song" that also rode on its sample and chorus. Karim Maksoud of This Is Fake DIY called "Paper Planes" an "immediately listenable" track that "showcases all the coarse fatalism, superficiality and backstabbing acerbity of the modern urban life, both in veracious lyrics, the scratched aesthetic and the lethargic, sedated bassline and backing beat maintained throughout." He concluded that the song emanated M.I.A.'s life experience and background "relentlessly" and presented a "tuneful amalgam of influences and exotic dynamic, one of the most promising for a while."
Awards and accolades
"Paper Planes" and its remixes from the EP have received numerous accolades following its release. The song placed number 17 on the Triple J Hottest 100 of 2007 in Australia, becoming available for download and radio airplay in the country upon the release of Kala that year. "Paper Planes" placed number six on the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll of the top 40 singles of 2007, and was ranked the top single on the same poll of 2008. The song ranked at number 3 on the "10 Best Singles of 2008" list by American magazine Entertainment Weekly and number one on "The 20 Best Songs of 2008" list by American magazine Spin. The song ranked number three on the 2007 Pitchfork Readers Poll list for "Song of the Year". "Paper Planes (featuring Bun B and Rich Boy Remix)" placed at number three on Pitchfork's Top 100 Tracks of 2007, while the publication placed the remix as the third-best song of the 2000s. Blender's Top 144 Songs of 2008 featured "Paper Planes" at number 2, with the "Paper Planes (DFA remix)" at number 63. Les Inrockuptibles positioned "Paper Planes" at number 2 on its End of Year Best of List. Heineken España named "Paper Planes" the Top song of 2007, and placed it number 2 on its list of The 50 Best International Songs of the 2000s. Slant Magazine and Rolling Stone Brasil named "Paper Planes" the best song of 2008.
The song was nominated in the category for Record of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Despite its loss to "more conservative choices", Todd Martens of the Los Angeles Times described the award ceremony as having taken "ultimately a step on the continued road to relevancy" with the nomination, which he termed one of the "Old man Grammy's surprises for the 2009 telecast". "Swagga Like Us", co-written by M.I.A. was nominated in the category for Best Rap Song at the awards. "Paper Planes" won a 2009 PRS Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and the Indie Award for Favorite International Single at the 2009 Canadian Independent Music Awards.
Entertainment Weekly put "Paper Planes" on its end-of-the-decade, "Best-Of" list, saying "Admit it: That gunfire-and-cash-registers hook was stuck in your head for weeks after seeing the Pineapple Express trailer (or, uh, Slum-dog Millionaire) in 2008." "Paper Planes" placed number five on Rolling Stone's 2009 list of the 50 Best Songs of the Decade. Rolling Stone also placed "Paper Planes" at number 236 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in the 2011 updated list. The same year, VH1 placed the song at number 89 on its list of the "100 Greatest Songs of the 00's." "Paper Planes" was ranked number 12 on Stylus Magazine's list of "The Top 100 Singles of the 2000s." Slant ranked the song number 2 on its "Best of the Aughts: Singles", – The Top 100 Singles of 2000s decade. "Paper Planes" was positioned number 4 on Rockdelux's list of the "15 Best Singles of the 2000s." "Paper Planes" was one of the ten "Songs of the Year" on The Guardian's "Readers' Poll 2008." Its release is positioned number 50 on The Guardian's list of the 50 key events in the history of world and folk music, praised for having turned globalisation inside out. The Guardian included "Paper Planes" in its 2009 list "1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear." NME ranked the song number 8 on the publication's 2008 best of the year list. In October 2011, the magazine placed it at number 15 on its list "150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years". The review aggregate website Acclaimed Music listed "Paper Planes" as the best song of the 2000s decade, and the 42nd best song of all time, based upon various decade-end and all-time rankings from mainstream critics. The song was named the 2nd best of the century so far in 2018 by Rolling Stone.
Covers and use in media
The song has been covered, sampled and remixed by various artists as well as being used by a range of media. Canadian band Holy Fuck, an opening act on the People vs. Money Tour, created a remix of "Paper Planes" that leaked online on February 2008. Barbadian singer Rihanna has covered the song in live performances and "Paper Planes" has been performed by Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya as his own rendition "Tengazako". American indie rock band Built to Spill covered "Paper Planes" at their live performances in Italy. English rapper Dizzee Rascal has covered the song at his live performances. Detroit rapper Esham used "Paper Planes" as the basis for his song "Keys to the City". English rapper Lowkey made a remix of the song titled "You Probably Think" and in some live performances raps "All MPs wanna do is ... take your money". Paper Planes has been covered live by London band The Clientele.
The song's line "No one on the corner has swagger like us" was sampled by West in the song "Swagga Like Us", a song by American rappers T.I. and Jay-Z, West and Lil Wayne. In September 2008 American rapper 50 Cent; State Property members Young Chris and Freeway, as well as Jim Jones released their own remixes of the song. Asked about her feelings regarding how, despite being over a year old, the track was still appearing on high-profile mixtapes, she told MTV "I think it's cool when you bring all these rappers and artists like the Clash together... it's cool that they support it. It's so many people that be like, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' It's kind of like 'This is the sh--, and we think it's hot" before adding that having made a track that was organic, creative and not made with marketing be liked and find chart success was satisfying and interesting for the musician, even if charts didn't compute with her.
"Paper Planes" soundtracked the theatrical trailer for the comedy film Pineapple Express starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. A "red-band" trailer for the film Pineapple Express, featuring the song leaked in February 2008, before Sony Pictures had the video removed from YouTube within a few days of its posting. The film's makers had been keen on including the song in the film's main trailer and approached M.I.A.'s U.S. label Interscope Records for permission. She added "Interscope asked me and I was, like, well, since it's just the trailer, that's cool. I didn’t really think twice about it" stating she would have thought more carefully about permitting the song's use if it was in the main film, "scrutinizing what scene they were using it in and stuff like that". Patrick Goldstein's Summer Movie Posse of the Los Angeles Times described its incorporation at the time as "the most impressive use of M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes' ever". "Paper Planes" and the DFA Records remix both appear in Danny Boyle's drama Slumdog Millionaire; the remix also appears in the film Hancock. Boyle, who took the song with him to India and listened to it during the shoot, described it as a crucial one and "a key song" he had in mind for his film from the onset, before its use in the trailer of Pineapple Express, telling Rodrigo Perez of MTV "[...]originally it was featured very early on in the film, but then we moved it to the halfway mark, and then the song was used in ‘Pineapple Express’ [...] What can you do?" "Paper Planes" was used in the trailer for Michael Moore's documentary Capitalism: A Love Story.
Rap rock supergroup Street Sweeper Social Club perform a live cover of "Paper Planes" at their shows and a studio version appears on their 2010 EP The Ghetto Blaster EP. "Paper Planes" is parodied by Funny or Die with a music video released on 27 July 2010. The Los Angeles Dodgers used "Paper Planes" as their victory song during their three-week effort to win the National League West title in the 2008 season in the United States. " Paper Planes" was covered by the alternative rock band This Century for the compilation album Punk Goes Pop 3.
The song is used as entry music by British comedian Shappi Khorsandi.
The song is used in the first episode of season two of The Last Man on Earth in which the sounds of Carol's gunfire are drowned out by the song playing in the motor home.
"Paper Planes" has achieved commercial success by reaching the top ten in the Canada and the United States, appearing in the top ten of six Billboard US charts, the top 20 in Denmark, Belgium, Israel and the United Kingdom and charting in many other countries in Europe, South America and Oceania. The song debuted at number 72 on the Hot Canadian Digital Sales chart and at number 89 on the Canadian Hot 100 in late February 2008 due to strong digital downloads. By late March 2008, the song reached number 3 on the US Hot Singles Sales chart and topped the US Hot Dance Singles Sales chart, becoming M.I.A.'s first single to top the chart after her debut "Galang" reached number 11 and "Boyz" peaked at number 3. After its appearance in the trailer for the film Pineapple Express, the song entered the Pop 100 chart at number 99, and the Bubbling Under Hot 100 at number 14 in the United States. By early May 2008, the song had climbed to number 4 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart, and number 80 on the US Billboard Pop 100, overtaking the peak of 99 achieved on the chart by M.I.A.'s previous single "Boyz". "Paper Planes" debuted on the US Billboard Hot Digital Songs at the same time at number 57, climbing to number 71 on the Pop 100 chart. In Europe, the song debuted on the Belgian Singles Chart, peaking at 18 in June 2008. The song rebounded on the US charts following use in the Pineapple Express trailer the next month, entering the Billboard Hot 100 chart at position 55, with sales of 42,000 downloads. In subsequent weeks, it continued to climb the chart, with download sales totaling 888,000 the following month. In its ninth week on the chart, "Paper Planes" rose from number five to number four on the Hot 100, where it peaked. The song was notable for having received heavy airplay across radio stations of different genres, including Pop, Modern Rock, and Urban Contemporary such as R&B and hip hop-formatted stations. As of August 2009, the song sold over three million units in the United States. "Paper Planes" has been certified triple Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in the U.S. and Music Canada (CRIA) in Canada, becoming the 29th most downloaded song in the digital era in the United States in 2009, and, although not attaining a chart position in New Zealand, has been certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. As of August 2013, "Paper Planes" has sold 4 million digital copies in the United States. "Paper Planes" ranks as of November 2011 as the 59th most downloaded song according to Nielsen SoundScan's running list of the 200 best-selling songs in US digital history.
On 7 September 2008, "Paper Planes" entered the UK Singles Chart at number 69 on downloads alone and by 4 October 2008 peaked at number 19. Following its appearance in the film Slumdog Millionaire, the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart on 15 February 2009 at number 33. The song spent thirty-five weeks on the chart, and reappeared on the singles chart in January 2010 at number 61, a position it retained for one week. By November 2011, "Paper Planes" had sold 3.6 million copies in the US, becoming the seventh best-selling song by a British artist in the digital era. It entered the French Singles Chart for the first time on 18 February 2012 at position 196, before climbing to number 162.
"Paper Planes" remained XL Recordings' best selling single until the 2010 release of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep". M.I.A. left the label in 2011 following the completion of her contract. Eric R. Danton of the Hartford Courant noted that the song's success "speaks to the idea that the best pop music rarely originates with the major label corporate music machine that exists to sell pop music" but rose from underground artists with something to say, offering significant lessons to the music industry in an era of declining music sales and general financial turmoil.
The music video for the song was shot in December 2007 in one day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York. It was directed by Bernard Gourley. The video is M.I.A.'s first filmed in the United States. Initially planned to be shot in a factory on the border of Ecuador, the filming location was changed to accommodate M.I.A.'s time constraints due to touring commitments in the United States. The video was filmed during one day in the city, which she had free on the American leg of her KALA Tour after 4 months of concerts. It was made available on MTV's website on 15 December 2007. The video for "Paper Planes" was uploaded on M.I.A.'s personal "worldtown" YouTube account on 16 December 2007, eventually gaining 43,500,000 views. The video was to have premiered on Total Request Live. The video was uploaded onto M.I.A.'s official YouTube page (via VEVO) on 16 June 2009, amassing 40,000,000 views. "Paper Planes" video debuted on 17 December 2007 on video chart programs where it proved successful. It peaked at number 1 on MuchOnDemand's Daily Ten and number 1 on Total Request Live. It appeared at Number 56 on BET's Notarized: Top 100 Videos of 2008 countdown.
The video begins with several paper planes flying over New York City shot in black and white. In multiple colour scenes that follow, M.I.A. appears dancing and singing in the stairwell of the Nostrand Avenue New York City Subway station in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, and as an immigrant who sells sandwiches from a van bearing a Jolly Roger to several other New Yorkers. Food is exchanged at the stalls for money and various other items. Nigerian rapper Afrikan Boy joins M.I.A. in serving street food on New York City's streets in exchange for buyer's chains, watches, and cash – among those stopping by the cart are Mike D and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, where Mike D.'s Rolex is exchanged for food. M.I.A. can be seen sitting in front of rugs and suitcases at a stall singing to the camera, and counting dollar notes from her takings in the van. A cash till can be seen empty, followed by scenes where the till fills up with money. During the chorus, at the sound of the gunshots, quick shots of street and restaurant signs, people and phone discount signs appear, followed by scenes of M.I.A. selling more sandwiches and opening the till to store more money. During the second verse, the singer can be seen happily shopping for condiments at a local shop, before she is depicted in more scenes of her singing with Afrikan Boy. New Yorkers are filmed and shown walking along streets throughout the video. M.I.A. is seen dancing and walking with friends, including Afrikan Boy and Rye Rye, wearing clothes from her fashion line "Okley Run" and HowManyHowMany T-shirts from her "Boyz" video. During the second chorus, scenes of Blaxploitation film DVDs on a shelf and the rapper driving the van are shown. M.I.A. can be seen wearing a Metallica Ride the Lightning shirt in later parts of the music video. At the end of the video, the scenes turn black and white, with the van driving off on a street, followed by several paper planes in pursuit.
A writer for AFP based in Colombo stated that M.I.A.'s music was not played on Sri Lankan radio or television – which, like music retailers and night clubs there, chose not to stock or play her records due to political pressure from the Sri Lankan government as the Sinhala-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka dragged on. Instead, fans of the artist on the island relied on certain social media websites on the internet to access her work. The success of "Paper Planes" paralleling M.I.A.'s condemnation of government and army atrocities as amounting to "systematic genocide" and ethnic cleansing resulted in death threats being made against her. Touré, writing in The Daily Beast noted that this was in keeping with the government's censorship and regulation of news flowing out of the island, which, along with government restrictions to the northeastern theatre of the war in late 2008 meant "the world had heard little" of the atrocities inflicted by the state against Tamils. An American Sinhalese rapper named DeLon circulated a viral YouTube video in which he rapped over "Paper Planes" and accused M.I.A. of "supporting terrorism" by using images of the tiger and discussing violence in her lyrics, showing graphic images of violence purportedly linked to the LTTE rebel group. After some media ran a story on this, M.I.A responded that her music is the voice of a civilian refugee and that she was not willing to discuss anything with someone looking for self-promotion. Colombo based writer Thomas Fuller of The New York Times wrote an article about M.I.A.'s statements against the Vanni onslaught, stating that her music's ambiguity and her criticism of the government's conduct had "not endeared her to the island's Sinhalese majority". Zach Baron of the Village Voice accused the newspaper of using "chintzy, ad-hominem allegations" on M.I.A.'s work in the piece, imploring the paper to use its "vaunted" access instead to inquire as to why the government would not let aid through to the Vanni. M.I.A. said of the situation in Sri Lanka in 2010 "Every single Tamil person who's alive today, who's seen how the world does nothing, has to find a way to exist that isn't harboring bitterness and hate and revenge." Novelist Gary Shteyngart, writing in GQ, notes that "to her Sinhalese detractors, her music is precisely that form of revenge."
The "Paper Planes" music video was censored by MTV in December 2007, who had also banned the video for M.I.A.'s single "Sunshowers". In this version, M.I.A.'s vocals were doubled, the gun sounds replaced with popping sounds, and the word "weed" replaced with the word "seed". The producers of Pineapple Express asked for the word to be similarly changed before use, a request M.I.A. found "ridiculous, cause the whole movie's about weed." On 16 December 2007, following some fan disapproval of the leaked MTV version, M.I.A. stated in a MySpace entry that MTV's decision to change the sound disappointed and angered her, adding that MTV had "sabotaged" a music video made more safe and mainstream than her regular videos. The song was similarly censored during her live performance on the Late Show with David Letterman to her visible surprise, an action she had not agreed to. The chorus effects during the soundcheck of her Late Show performance were different from what was played live during the taping. At her concert at the Austin City Limits festival a few days after the show, she spoke more of the incident, thanking David Letterman onstage "for letting her into the American mainstream." A writer for New York magazine felt the issue of MTV censoring "Paper Planes" was a non-controversy as the edited clip had been removed from MTV following fan-pressure and replaced, noting "they've been [censoring gun sounds and imagery] since 1997, according to Wikipedia. What does surprise us is that MTV ever considered showing the video at all. We had no idea they still aired music videos, much less ones by talented artists like M.I.A. If anything, it likely airs at odd hours when nobody's watching." Tom Breihan of The Village Voice also noted this to be part of a general trend by networks like MTV and BET and radio towards rap songs such as those by 50 Cent where any references to drugs, sex and violence were removed and replaced, concluding that this was a double standard approach to rap artists' work compared to songs by Green Day and My Chemical Romance. Commenting that "Paper Planes" is a "song that deserves to start a few arguments, and it should go out into the wider world with its argument-starting potential left intact", Breihan noted that although the uncensored version would not inspire rioting in the streets, more listeners opted to download music as mainstream "cultural outlets in which [...] music makes itself heard are increasingly afraid of offending anyone, ever, for any reason".
Track listings and formats
Digital 7digital EP
US CD / Digital US iTunes EP
XL 12" Vinyl EP
Europe iTunes EP
- Songwriting – Mathangi Maya "M.I.A." Arulpragasam, Topper Headon, Mick Jones, Wesley "Diplo" Pentz, Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer
- Production, additional production – Diplo, Switch
- Mixing – Switch
- Artwork – Mathangi Maya "M.I.A." Arulpragasam
Charts and certifications
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- "British single certifications – M.I.A. – Paper Planes". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 20 October 2017. Select singles in the Format field. Select Platinum in the Certification field. Enter Paper Planes in the search field and then press Enter.
- "American single certifications – M.I.A. – Paper Planes". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 12 June 2011. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
- "Charts Plus Year end 2008" (PDF). Charts Plus. Retrieved 2010-07-19.
- "Charts Plus Year end 2009" (PDF). Charts Plus. Retrieved 2010-07-19.
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
- Breihan, Tom (18 December 2007). "M.I.A. and the Double Standard of MTV Censorship". Village Voice. Archived from the original on 14 April 2010.