GQ July 2010
Photography by Miguel Reveriego | Text by Gary Shteyngart
Maya's music has been described as a combination (it's always a combination) of world beat, hip-hop, punk rock, baile funk, techno beat, Jamaican dancehall, whirring sonics (whatever the **** those are), Indian bhangra, blah blah blah… In other words, she sounds like absolutely nothing you've ever heard before. And like everything you thought you'd heard before, too. She also drops finer lyrics than just about anyone with a gold chain knocking against his chest.
M.I.A. is perhaps the preeminent global musical artist of the 2000s, a truly kick-*** singer and New York-Londony fashion icon, not to mention a vocal supporter of Sri Lanka's embattled Tamil minority, of which she's a member. Her father was a key player in the Tamil separatist movement, and his links to the Tamil Tigers would later contribute to Maya's rep as a terrorist sympathizer. She also has a 1-year-old son and a third album on the way. When asked about the new rec*ord, Cassette Playa (real name: Carri Munden) says simply, "It's sick."
Her moods vary from slightly pissed off to go-****-yourself-already, but today she's bubbly and engaged, doing a sexy-tired southern-ingénue walk. From her song "Hombre": My hips do the flicks as I walk, yeah. We work our way through reams of '70s and '80s **** that reminds me of my own immigrant past. (My parents and I emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1979.) Taupe-colored "refugee coats." EZ Spirit. Focus 2000. A Gitano denim coat. We get on the trendy subject of avoiding meat, and Maya says, "What are you gonna do, you know? We don't have the luxury to even think about being vegetarians or meat eaters. We're refugees. We've been dealing with normal ****, like how to stay alive."
I think to myself, The refugee is strong in this one.
When talking about a truly ghastly video of Sri Lankan soldiers laughing while shooting bound, naked Tamil men has been making the rounds on YouTube she said "It shouldn't be about Sri Lanka; it should be about truth. It should be why, when things are changing so fast, journalism's not changing as fast as the world is changing, and no one seems to be independent enough to just be like, 'I'm going to go look into this.' Every little thing just needs to be so whitewashed on the bigger scale. I think it's really interesting to focus in and say, 'Right, we're just going to take ten ****ing cell-phone footages from around the world that didn't become an outrageous piece of proof that stands up in the U.N.,' which makes the U.N. really redundant, you know what I mean?" She pauses. "But all that footage crushes so many things that we stand for. It crushes art. Like, I can't look at any art right now, 'cause I just think it's all bull****." A few beats later: "In the future, I want to move more into art." A little later: "I think [art is] good for my ADD, my music."
The first ten years of Maya's life read like a textbook case of what not to do to a child. I (the writer) was born in Leningrad, the son of Soviet parents who did everything possible to airlift my *** out of the motherland first chance they had. The idea of Maya's father dragging two young children back into the conflagration suggests a man of monstrous self-regard at the level where the political becomes the personal. Her childhood gave Maya an insight into the world that few of her artistic peers would have, but it also left her with an inexhaustible sense of anger and resentment. Of the plight of her people she told me: "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." To her Sinhalese detractors, her music is precisely that form of revenge.
Onstage M.I.A. is nonpareil, a stunning performer. I fly out to the San Diego Street Scene music festival to see her show. Maya has talked about "how the First World is collapsing into the Third World," and San Diego, with its goofy-looking street rickshaws and omnipresent condo foreclosures, feels Third World these days. The festival is hot and stupid. All evening long I've been running into people who resemble the Family of Early Man, but things get noticeably better when M.I.A. hits the stage. Here's a true mélange of humanity: white hippie chicks, some wayward Vietnamese young ladies, a woman wearing tight shorts with the legend girls don't poop on her ***. Maya is rocking it in sunglasses, a tiny woman dominating a big venue, shooting off imaginary air guns as out-of-date dorks in porkpie hats shoot them right back. "Let's pahr-TAY," she shouts, and even though she's tired (this gig was a last-minute thing), she's just the best ****ing dancer out there, and the chances of taking your eyes off her grinding form are nil. When it's time for "Paper Planes," the crowd has a collective seizure; even San Diego's blonde navy-brat girls know every single word, follow every ka-ching, every bang!, every and take your money.
"In Rrrrussia, vee have proverb: Only bad soldiers don't vant to be general" - Sasha Pivovarova ♥
There was an excellent article in Todays Age magazine (Melbourne newspaper). I recommend any M.I.A fan read it-a great article that is not rife with propaganda and gives a clear account of her background and political agenda.