So the long-rumored NYT Sunday magazine feature on M.I.A. has finally arrived, penned by Lynn Hirschberg and a small masterpiece of subtle jabs and “‘[Rabble-rousing thing],’ Maya said, while [bourgeois thing]” constructions, with lots of she’s-not-really-a-musician talk (often bolstered by M.I.A. herself), further discouraging words from Diplo, and one seismic, history-scrambling assertion. Here’s a small sampling thereof:
Although her publicist had a wheelchair ready and a midwife on call, Maya, who has a deep and instinctive affinity for the provocative, knew that this Grammy moment was not to be missed. It had everything: artistic credibility, high drama, a massive audience. The baby would just have to wait. The combination of being nearly naked, hugely pregnant, singing incendiary lyrics and having the eyes of the world upon her was too much to resist.
As it happened, Maya, who is 34, gave birth in a private room in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “Ben’s family insisted,” she told me a year later, when we met in March for drinks at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in nearby Beverly Hills. Before the Grammys, Maya and Bronfman moved to Los Angeles from New York, buying a house in very white, very wealthy Brentwood, an isolated and bucolic section of the city with a minimal history of trauma and violent uprisings. “L.A. is a lovely place to have a baby,” Maya said.
Unity holds no allure for Maya — she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. “I kind of want to be an outsider,” she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry.
Maya’s tirade, typical in the way it moved from the political to the personal and back again, was interrupted by a waiter, who offered her a variety of rolls. She chose the olive bread.
It’s hard to know if she believes everything she says or if she knows that a loud noise will always attract a crowd.
However incoherent the reason, the chorus of “Paper Planes” is contagious.
As the photographer and his wife ushered us into the living room at the rear of the house, they wished Maya a happy Sri Lankan New Year. “I had no idea it was today,” she said, as she settled into a sofa and clicked open her laptop.
“Nike is the uniform for kids all over the world,” Maya said for no apparent reason.
The oddity of using a garment linked to mercenaries to convey a very different message seemed to elude Maya.
“She met me, and we started a relationship. Maya was into the whole terrorism gimmick at the time. It was all underground back then. In the beginning, she was trying to be different. She understood that no one was doing what she was doing.”
That last is a quote from Diplo, who is generally aggro throughout, but the “terrorism gimmick” line gets to what’s ultimately the strangest thing about this piece, which is nicely summed up here:
She named her first album “Arular,” after her father. Even though her father was not a Tiger, she also used tigers on her Web site and her album artwork and she favored tiger-striped clothing. This was not an accident. By the time her first album came out, the Tamil cause was mostly synonymous with the cause of the Tamil Tigers. Maya, committed to the cause, allied herself with the group despite its consistent use of terror tactics, which included systematic massacres of Sinhalese villagers.
M.I.A.’s father’s history has been a major source of contention and controversy re: Maya’s political beliefs from the onset (here’s just a sample of our own Zach Baron’s numerous, lively discussions on the matter), but at the very least this piece’s repeated references to Maya’s father NOT being a Tamil Tiger are the strongest on record, reversing a vital component of what fans and detractors alike at the very least think they know about him, and therefore her. Right or wrong, his affiliation with the Tamil Tigers had been an understood — and not at all minor — part of her biography from Piracy Funds Terrorism onward. For to be officially, definitively declared false now, more than five years later, is, to put it mildly, a slightly bigger deal than, say, her preference for olive bread.