Very lengthy and ultimately unflattering story on pop star M.I.A., which she has apparently retaliated against by posting the writer's contact via Twitter and adding an insult directed at the writer in a song.
May 25, 2010
M.I.A.’s Agitprop Pop
By LYNN HIRSCHBERG
On the Grammy Awards in 2009, Maya Arulpragasam, also known as M.I.A., performed her biggest hit, “Paper Planes,” a rap song that infuses rebellious, defiant lyrics with the sounds of her native Sri Lanka, a riff lifted from the Clash, the bang-bang of a gun and the ka-ching of a cash register. Maya, as she is called, was nine months pregnant (to the day), and while she was onstage rapping about “some some some I some I murder, some I some I let go” — in a black skintight, body-stocking dress, transparent except for polka-dot patches that strategically covered her belly, breasts and derrière — she began to experience contractions. As the pain hit, Maya was performing with the male titans of rap (Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I.) and she later told me that she thought all the free-floating testosterone caused her to go into labor. While American rappers today tend to celebrate sex, wealth and status, Maya, who grew up listening to the politicized rhymes of Public Enemy, takes international dance beats and meshes them with the very un-American voice of the militant rebel. In contrast to, say, Bono or John Lennon, with their peacenik messages, Maya taps into her rage at the persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka to espouse violence: while you’re under the sway of the beat, she’s rapping, “You wanna win a war?/Like P.L.O. I don’t surrender.”
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. And she was riveting, upstaging the four much more famous guys and dominating the stage. “That’s gangsta,” said Queen Latifah, one of the show’s presenters.
Three days later, her son, Ikhyd (pronounced I-kid) Edgar Arular Bronfman, was born. His father is Maya’s fiancé, Ben Bronfman, son of the Warner Music Group chief executive and Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman Jr. In one of many contradictions that seem to provide the narrative for Maya’s life and art, Ikhyd was not, as she had repeatedly announced he would be, born at home in a pool of water. As usual, she wanted to transform her personal life into a political statement. “You gotta embrace the pain, embrace the struggle,” she proclaimed weeks before Ikhyd was born. “And my giving birth is nothing when I think about all the people in Sri Lanka that have to give birth in a concentration camp.”
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. She’s surprisingly petite and ladylike, with beautiful almond-shaped dark brown eyes and full lips that she painted a deep red the day we met. Maya has a unique tomboy-meets-ghetto-fabulous-meets-exotic-princess look that, like her music, manages to combine sexy elements (lingerie peeks out from under her see-through tops) with individual flourishes (she designs elaborate patterns for her nails) and ethnic accents (the bright, rich prints of Africa are her wardrobe staple). Like all style originals, Maya wears her clothes with great confidence — she knows how to edit her presentation for maximum effect. At the Beverly Wilshire, she was wearing high-heeled pumps with leggings under a hip-length, sheer white tunic woven with gold threads and an outsize black jacket that looked as if it might be on loan from her boyfriend. Her only jewelry was a simple diamond engagement ring.
“We went to the Grammys, we had the baby and we bought the house,” Maya said as she studied the menu, deciding on a glass of wine and French fries. “A month later, all this stuff was happening in Sri Lanka” — the Tamil insurgency was being defeated amid reports of thousands of civilian casualties — “and I started speaking up against it. And then, within a month, I found out my house was being bugged, my phones were being tapped and my e-mails were being hacked into. I was getting death threats, like ‘hope your baby dies.’ The biggest Sinhalese community is in Santa Monica, people who are sworn enemies of the Tamils, which is me.” She paused. “I live around the corner from Beverly Hills, and I feel semiprotected by Ben and, if anything happens to me, then Ben’s family will not take it. Jimmy Iovine, who runs Interscope, my record company, said, ‘Pick your battles carefully — don’t put your life at risk,’ but at the end of the day, I don’t see how you can shut up and just enjoy success when other people who don’t have the fame or the luxury to rent security guards are suffering. What the hell do they do? They just die.”
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. Maya’s political fervor stems from her upbringing. Although she was born in London, her family moved back to Sri Lanka when she was 6 months old, to a country torn by fighting between the Tamil Hindu minority and the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. In the ’70s, her father, Arular, helped found the Tamil militant group EROS (Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students), trained with the P.L.O. in Lebanon and spearheaded a movement to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the country. EROS was eventually overwhelmed by a stronger and more vicious militant group, the Tamil Tigers. In their struggle for political control, the Tigers not only went after government troops and Sinhalese civilians but also their own people, including Tamil women and children. “The Tigers ruled the people under them with an iron fist,” Ahilan Kadirgamar at Sri Lanka Democracy Forum told me. “They used mafialike tactics, and they would forcefully recruit child soldiers. Maya’s father was never with the Tigers. He stayed away.”
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