M.I.A. sees her new album, KALA, out next month. And she visited MTV earlier this week. And we nabbed an interview!
On Monday, I had a chance to grab a quickie ten-minute chat with M.I.A., the international rapper/singer/hot mama and just all-around supercool music artist, who combines crazy beats, political messages and irresistible goofy/jerky/fierce dance moves as she cranks out music that’s as colorful as an acid-trippy rainbow. Her work has been described as having elements of “grime, hip-hop, ragga, dancehall, electro and baile funk.” And it’s always energetic and loopy fun stuff.
She burst onto the public awareness in 2005 with her debut album Arular (hot on the heels of one of the best bootleg mixtapes ever, Piracy Funds Terrorism) and suddenly was on the lips of every savvy musicphile on the planet. She dated her collaborator Diplo, then split and she’s performed all over the place, been in magazines and basically become a representative of a contemporary, strong unique, genre-busting female artist.
Born in London and raised in Sri Lanka, she faced visa issues while working on her second album, Kala (due on August 21st), and wasn’t able to enter the U.S. until recently. Her family history is turbulent, having grown up in war zones and London projects. You can read more on all of this in press clips on her site, or on Wikipedia.
But the main deal is that she’s had two videos released recently—for “Bird Flu” and “Boyz,” both shot in far-flung locales (India and Jamaica) and both utilizing the residents of those place as their stars. She describes this process in our superbrief chat, as well as discussing gay boys, her love life, being a female in the music biz, and how she stealthily tricked the men in homophobic Jamaica into dancing and singing about “Boyz.” (Watch the video after the jump!)
“Please excuse me,” she laughed when we sat down. She’d just gotten her make up done for an MTV photo shoot. “I just had these big eyelashes put on and I can barely see you!” She speaks in a dry but lilting London accent, and she was rocking these crazy colorfully patterned tights, heels, and a big purple “Darfur” T-shirt cinched at the waist with a wide belt. She’s gorgeous! And chatty—and super nice. And here she is…
Looking fresh on the set of the "Boyz" shoot in Jamaica. Holla!
Read the full-on,lengthy Q&A after the jump!
M.I.A. funks it up in the MTV offices. Loving those tights, Maya!
When Logo launched a couple of years ago, I was interviewing people at Wigstock, and when asked what new artist they loved, all the drag queens and club kids and DJs and music fans all said “M.I.A.! M.I.A.! M.I.A.!” Have you noticed that you’ve got so many queer fans?
Yeah… [laughs] Every time “10 Dollar” comes on there’s always more and more screams from guys. I don’t know; they’ve been really supportive. When I did the Siren Festival this weekend and I walked through the VIP bit, and it was all of the gay guys who were cheering, maybe because I had sequins on. It was really cute… But I think it’s because… Well, I don’t know. Maybe because this new song is called “Boyz”? I don’t know… [laughs]
I really like the single, and I’m eager to hear the entire new album, Kala. How will this new album be different? What will people hear that will surprise them?
Well, I did most of the production and stuff with Switch on this album, but I wanted to be able to produce by myself and stuff. Whereas on Arular, I was in my bedroom for six months writing the album, and then I went out to different producers and got beats and just worked on it. It was really instant and easy. On this one, because I was having all the visa issues and stuff, I’d record all the drums in India, and then I’d be in Trinidad and record a different layer, and then I’d go somewhere else. So every song is recorded in layers, and each layer is a different country, and then I cut it into songs. It was like making a big layered marble cake. And then I separated it out into songs and stuff.
And mentality-wise, at the time I wrote Arular, I was just going through what I think everybody was going through, culturally… We were going through the war stuff; every channel you’d put on, every newspaper you’d read, it was like, so aggressive and you were bombarded with “evil,” “good,” “bad,” “terror,” and this and that. And I felt that my life wasn’t an environment that I owned anymore, you know? And I think it’s now not all so obvious; it’s all really more about undercurrents of stuff. At the time I wrote Arular, I felt that I was having aggressive political statements made at me, and we were getting told how to be a certain way, so I made my album like that. I used the same sort of thing and speech that was in the atmosphere…
And on this album I was having female issues. I split up and came out of a relationship, where the person said, “The worst thing about you is that you make music…” Which was just like, “Wow. This is like a blessing and a curse; The fact that I make this [music], this is how I express myself.” And so I was trying to figure it out, and I felt that I had to keep going and do what I do because, for example, my mum didn’t have that opportunity. My mum was born and bred to be a wife, and she didn’t have any desires or ambitions, and just had to be subservient, so she surrendered to this man that she was going to take care of. She was going to be the wife and be the mother and all these sort of things. And she never got that fulfilled. She sacrificed her life to be that thing, and she never got to achieve it.
Then I was in a situation where somebody was asking me to give up everything, and I just knew that I wasn’t going to get what I want at the end of the day anyway, even if I gave up everything and surrendered my life to love, it wasn’t going to work out. So I was in a really weird predicament, and I think making a new record in that situation, when you’re like “Wow—I feel really hurt and really bad…” I was really torn between having to make choices for females, and in terms of being independent and being strong and being able to have a dream and have opportunities and pursue those opportunities and do good by it. Or I could become, I don’t know… Lauryn Hill, where you pop out four babies and five years, do you know what I mean?
Meaning you vanish, and we don’t get to see or hear your work?
Well, it’s really hard being a woman in music, and that’s what I was thinking about the whole time. This shit is really fucking hard, and that’s what I had to make a choice about; this album was a turning point. It’s like, you either stand up for something and believe in something, and you do it day-in and day-out and you stand by that shit. Or you become this superstar pop star, then you’re gonna have all the other sort of problems that comes with being a pop female in that industry. And that was a turning point for me, and I took the turn that went somewhere in the middle.
And the relationship you’re talking about, was that with Diplo?
Ummmmmm…. [laughs reluctantly]
Okay. So from the new album, we’ve got the single “Boyz,” and its video, which is great with all of the dancing.
Yes, I just had to go and get that out of my system, and also just have some fun.
In that video and also in the “Bird Flu” video you go into these remote places—in Jamaica or India—where people don’t usually shoot music videos, and you’re engaging the communities there and they’re taking part in the video. Is that a crazy ordeal to put together?
Yes. With the “Bird Flu” video, the first thing we did was to put together a team, which was me and my brother—because when you’re a chick making shit happen in India, that’s a big problem. You don’t have a mouth; they’re not used to it. So you kind of have to have somebody who’s male, who looks like you, standing next to you like a Siamese twin that’s attached at the hip, and they have to be your mouth. So me and my brother would go, and I’d say something, and he’d repeat it and it would get done. It was really funny, but it slowed the shit down… So it was me and my brother and my friend Carri Cassette Playa (she’s a designer from London), and another friend Steven Loveridge. Us four were in this apartment which had no air con, and we were just dying, and the only thing we decided to invest loads of money into was buying bottled water, because we couldn’t take any risks. We were only four people. And then, we went out and started doing little bits and getting our feet dirty…
Like, contacting people?
Yeah, and in like, two weeks, we had sort of like a shape to what we were doing. And then, it took us like, three weeks to organize and get the crew and camera and concept down. The idea initially—this was so funny, you’ll love this—was that we’d make this big Bollywood video with a hundred dancers. So we sat in this room, and my friend Steve—he’s gay—so I put him in charge of having to audition all of these dancers, which was funny as shit.
In just some random village in India?
Yeah! So we sat in this room with like a thousand kids and one by one they’d just come and start doing their dances, and they were doing all of these N*SYNC and Britney moves that they see on TV, because they’re just catching up to that. So everyone was freaking out and sometimes they’d jump off the wall and do backflips and swing on the rafters and stuff. And the house was about to fall down, because it was made out of mud and leaves and shit! But we didn’t get anywhere with that, so we then just decided, “F*ck it! We’ll just go to the village and do what’s there.” And that’s what the video is. And it was really fun.
Watch the video for “Boyz”!!!!
And “Boyz” you shot in Jamaica, which features some completely sick, awesome dancing. But Jamaica is an intolerant place when it comes to homophobia, and people get hunted down there just for being gay. Did you or your crew notice any evidence of that when you were there?
I just thought it was interesting—or subversive—to go to Jamaica and get 100 boys in the video… First of all, I want to be the only chick in the video, and I want to treat men the way they treat us. So, there’s no girls in the video; it’s just 100 guys. And it’s interesting that they are dancing and singing along to “How many, how many boys there?” and singing about boys. So… You know what I mean? So we were kind of subverting things and making them say something or accept something that they wouldn’t otherwise. So I felt like I’d achieved something with that. They don’t know that. [Laughs.] If you print it, they’re gonna find out!
They’re gonna come after you!
[Laughs.] They’ll be like “whaaaaaat???” But I think that was kind of funny… I was telling my friend, “No one else could get 100 Jamaican boys to be dancing and saying ‘How many boys there?’ you know?” They just wouldn’t do that. So, yeah… I’ve done it!
With some pals on the set of "Boyz." How many, how many…
M.I.A. plays tonight in Brooklyn at Studio B. Check her full-on tour schedule on her MySpace page. She’s in San Francisco, L.A., Chicago and Baltimore the next few weeks! Go dance with her!