Paper Planes – M.I.A.

A terrific tune from English/Tamil rapper M.I.A. to discuss the refugee crisis and immigration in the ELT classroom.

M.I.A. (a play on her own name and reference to the acronym “Missing In Action”) and her family had to flee conflict in Jaffna during the Sri Lankan Civil War and go into hiding from the Sri Lankan army, after her family moved there from her birthplace Hounslow in England when she was just six months old. Her mother then moved the family to Madras for safety reasons, then back to Jaffna but as the war escalated further, they returned to London when M.I.A. was 11 where they were housed as refugees.

(You can find the video here)

Paper Planes – M.I.A.

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
I get one down in a second if you wait  (x2)

Sometimes I think sitting on trains
Every stop I get to I’m clocking that game
Everyone’s a winner we’re making that fame
Bonafide hustler making my name (x2)

All I wanna do is (gunshots)
And (click/money sound)
And take your money (x4)

Pirate skulls and bones
Sticks and stones and weed and bongs
Running when we hit ’em
Lethal poison through their system (x2)

No one on the corner has swag like us
Hit me on my burner prepaid wireless
We pack and deliver like UPS trucks
Already going to hell, just pumping that gas (x2)

All I wanna do is
And take your money (x4)

Third world democracy
Yeah, I got more records than the K.G.B.
So, uh, no funny business

Are you ready all?

Some some some I some I murder
Some I some I let go
Some some some I some I murder
Some I some I let go

All I wanna do is
And take your money (x4)

Lyrics activities and follow-up

Take out all rhyming words, If clauses or verbs for a gap fill exercise.

There is a lot of content in here which will need explaining from the very first line. I suggest asking students what they think it means before revealing the true meaning with a matching exercise or getting them to research some of the lyrics online. The song is said to depict the clichés of immigrants as viewed by xenophobes.

Here are some explanations:

paper planes = visas, often made by immigrants themselves out of paper.

Get high like planes = the journey immigrants make to find a new country in which to live.

Verse 2 = this talks about the successful visa business she is making on a particular train line.

The chorus echoes the sound of gunshots often heard when immigrants flee war-torn areas.

Sticks and stones, weed and bongs = the dangers of stones being thrown by protesters and of drugs according to government systems.

a burner = a throwaway mobile phone (as seen on the series The Wire)

Third world democracy/More records than the KGB = possible reference to the Sinhalese government during the Sri Lankan Civil War and how they had so much information about everyone, or general reference to other nations experiencing conflict.

Here is a link to some fantastic resources about refugees:

That’s it for ELTunes for a few weeks. I’ll see you again on 24th April after I get back from holiday.

Happy Easter!




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