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 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 , 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 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" was written and produced by M.I.A. and Diplo. Recorded in , and includes kids from singing on the chorus. The song's beat and melody are reworked from the song "" by ; the sample was Diplo's idea. Additional production is by , who mixed the track in .
On 11 February 2008, the was released digitally on . The included 's remix, which features tourmates and and was previously uploaded to M.I.A.'s page. The remix also showcased 's Street Remix featuring and , which had previously circulated on the internet; in addition, the EP contained remixes by and Scottie B, and a remix of the Kala track "Bamboo Banga" by . On 12 February 2008, the EP was made available for digital download on iTunes in the U.S. The tracklist differed slightly, with the "Bamboo Banga" remix replaced with a remix of "Paper Planes" by . A physical release was released on 24 March 2008. The CD single of "Paper Planes" was released later in the year. Its cover art was influenced by the logo of British heavy metal band .
Fraser McAlpine of compared the vocals favorably to those of "Boyz", describing them as "icy and distant" in the , 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 in December 2008 that the song "could be a rip-off of "" but you'd never know because I'm that out of tune", adding that recording the song and departing from the denser compositions on the rest of the album was a risk she was willing to take. Eric Grandy of described the ' gunshots as swindle, anti-colonial cash register liberation, and integral to the song's meaning. The song, which epitomizes the lyrical content of , satirizes US immigration's perception of visa-seeking foreigners and immigrants from the .
tourmates made a remix of "Paper Planes" which was uploaded onto the internet at the time of the remix EP's February 2008 release. The song has been covered by in live performances and as the song "Tengazako" by . have covered "Paper Planes" at their live performances in Italy. has covered the song at his live performances.
The song placed number 17 on the . The and remix placed at number four on 's Top 100 Tracks of 2007,, while Pitchfork Media placed the Diplo Remix as the third-best song of the 2000s. "Paper Planes" placed number six on the 's poll of the top 40 singles of 2007, and placed first the following year. It ranked at number 3 on the "10 Best Singles of 2008" list by American magazine . 's Top 144 Songs of 2008 featured "Paper Planes" at number 2, with the DFA remix at number 63. Rolling Stone Brasil named it the best song of 2008.
put it 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." This song was number five on Rolling Stones 2009 list of the 50 Best Songs of the Decade.
In August 2008, Sri Lankan rapper 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, and showing graphic images of violence connected to the . M.I.A responded, stating that her music is the voice of a civilian refugee and that she is not willing to discuss it with someone that is looking for self-promotion. is Sinhalese (the ethnic majority in Sri Lanka), while MIA is a member of the Tamil minority.
The song was made available for upon the release of on 8 August 2007. On 11 February 2008, the song "Paper Planes", the third single from the album, and the were released digitally in the UK, and in America the next day. The single was released via on 11 February and on iTunes on 12 February. The , featuring various mixes of "Paper Planes", was released physically as a three weeks later. The 7digital includes 's remix of "Paper Planes", with rap contributions from tourmates and . This remix was previously uploaded to M.I.A.'s account. The "Paper Planes (featuring and – 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 and Scottie B, and a remix of opening track "Bamboo Banga" by . On iTunes, the track list differs slightly, with the "Bamboo Banga" remix replaced with a remix of "Paper Planes" by . 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 with dates in the United States before going on to play a number of in Europe and America during which songs from 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 with further dates in North America, although the planned European leg of the tour was eventually cancelled. Wearing a wig, custom-made colour and black liner outfit in front of a art stage installation, the singer/rapper performed "Paper Planes" as her set finale to a packed and energetic Sahara tent crowd at the 2008 , 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. of 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 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 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.
A censored version released by MTV in December 2007 differs from the version uploaded to M.I.A.'s YouTube account. In the censored version, M.I.A.'s vocals are doubled, the gun sounds are replaced with ambiguous popping sounds, and the word weed is removed (ostensibly due to weed being slang for ) and replaced with the word seed. M.I.A. performed the song on the which, to her visible surprise, was similarly censored. Following general fan disapproval of the leaked MTV version of the video, M.I.A. stated in a MySpace blog entry on 16 December 2007 that MTV's decision to change the sound disappointed and angered her; she felt that the video she had recorded for the song was already much more safe and mainstream than her regular videos. She said, "To the bloggers who are lazy enough to follow the MTV link and post up and comment on the sound when that hasn't been compromised...makes me sad...the song is what I wanted to preserve in this case." She also referenced the Late Show performance, stating that what she had originally heard and agreed at a to replace the gunshot sounds was different from what was played at the taping. M.I.A. also spoke about the incident at her concert at the a few days after the show, thanking onstage "for letting her into the American mainstream."