May 27, 2010

M.I.A. in the Times

UPDATE: Maya responds; more info at Daily Swarm.

Another: Nylon has an excerpt of their forthcoming interview with M.I.A. Highbrow: Mike Barthel validates her artistic merit (despite her bitter Twitter) very nicely. Lowbrow: there’s a video to go with those photos (but at least it’s only a fraction of the length of her last pointless video.)

Lynn Hirschberg profiled M.I.A. (née Maya Arulpragasam) for the New York Times Magazine this week. To be perfectly honest, it’s not all that interesting; you could easily get away with reading the first and last bits without missing much (in fact, to facilitate the skimming process, I’ve culled a few choice quotes, below). However, I appreciate that Hirschberg picks at the seams of Maya’s authenticity—the piece is rather unsympathetic to her (purportedly) superficial politics and unremarkable artistic gifts, spinning M.I.A. as a cloying cultural mash-up—without straying far from the empirical vignettes that constitute Maya’s sweet new life as a 34-year-old (!) mom in L.A.

In other words, Maya has mastered the art of knowingness with the sort of pop prescience commonly ascribed to the likes of Madonna or Lady Gaga. Although Hirschberg plays the Madonna card rather early, she withholds the inevitable Gaga comparison until the end of the article—a little late, in my opinion, though it’s probably in the best interest of reader and writer alike to ignore Gaga’s long shadow for as long as possible. However, to Hirschberg’s credit, I completely agree with her assessment of the video for “Born Free”: “exploitative and hollow,” “seemingly designed to be banned on YouTube,”  and “at best, politically naïve.”

That said, I’m still a fan, and I’m looking forward to the new album. If the profile itself is a little labored, Ryan McGinley’s photos for the Times are a romp. Apologies in advance for the decontextualized and admittedly pointed quotes.


I’m tone deaf and not very musical, but I like dancing, if that counts.



Maya is postmodern: she can’t really make music or art that well, but she’s better than anyone at putting crazy ideas into motion. She knows how to manipulate, how to withhold, how to get what she wants.



If I was a terrorist, I wouldn’t be wearing American clothing.



Maya is a mixture of black American culture, Sri Lankan culture, art, fashion. We mix it up well here [in England] and sell it back.

–Richard Russell of XL Recordings.


Maya has ideas that can’t be physically done. She wants this sound or that sound — the tracks already exist in her head. In the end, she has a plan for everything.



Pop stars should be pretty.

–Romain Gavras (who directed the video for “Born Free”).


I’d like to turn censorship into fashion.



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  1. 1 Tweets that mention M.I.A. in the Times -- said at 4:34 am on May 30th, 2010:

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