MIA in Complex Magazine


What was your impression of America when you were little?

M.I.A.: The first place I came to was L.A., and I just loved it. From the airplane looking out the window, the landscape just shines—all the lights are twinkling, all the cars are reflecting the sun. It was very Tinseltown. If you’re coming from Sri Lanka and you want to experience the West, that was the extreme end of Western civilization to me—the vastness of L.A. was truly different. I wasn’t impressed with New York, ’cause it’s a bigger version of London. But L.A. was kinda cool.

Has your idea of America changed as you’ve grown up?

M.I.A.: When I first came in the mid-’90s, I was listening to loads of hip-hop, and the gangsta-rap era completely engulfed me. There’s where I spent my time. Those were the clubs I went to, and those were the people I was hanging out with, so I had a weird understanding of it. But now I get to see a bigger picture of America. It’s different.

What’s changed?

M.I.A.: The thing that I enjoyed about it when I came to L.A. was that it was just people doing whatever they liked. It was your life and you could do things and you were in charge. There were barbecues all the time in every park, house parties. Just so much more joy. And now it doesn’t seem like that. And it’s because it’s so expensive there. By the time you’ve got to doing your house, insurance, your car, and paid a bill for your baby, it’s just too hard for you to have any fun, you know?

I don’t think it’s that dismal…

M.I.A.: It’s not that dismal, but if you go to South Central now, there’s not speakers on every side of the corner and people hanging out. Maybe culture has changed, but I also feel like the hustle’s changed. It’s come into this corporate hustle world. That’s the times we’re living in.

When you’re making art—whether it’s visual, music, or fashion—does it all feel the same? ‘Cause your visual stuff looks the way your songs sound to me.

M.I.A.: Yeah. I think so.

Do you have a process, or do you create when you feel like it?

M.I.A.: I’m really into some sort of digital ruckus and that’s kind of what it is in the sound and imagery. I don’t wanna say it’s chaotic, but if we’re being given certain tools, it’s rediscovering and reassembling, I suppose. The bottom line is: Sometimes my work is really uncomfortable and doesn’t sit well, but that’s the point. It’s OK to push it out this far—someone’s gonna be like, “But I like it over here.” But at least the door’s open and you’ve pushed it that far, so the possibility of a range can exist.

Are you conscious of trying to make art to live up to your reputation, or do you start clean every time?

M.I.A.: It really depends on what you’re going through at the time. The last album I was making was really chaotic. I was traveling all the time and was just mad, angry, pissed off. I threw the hard drive out the window with “Paper Planes” on it and was like, “Fuck this song.” Luckily, it didn’t smash. But the world has changed since I worked on the last album. I started with writing an intro for it, the intro was, “Connected to the Google/connected to the government.” That was like 10 months ago, and every day I felt more and more like I was tuned into whatever was going on.

What do you like about hip-hop today?

M.I.A.: I think Kanye is trying to take it into a new realm and he’s sort of putting the artistry back into it and sort of taking it in that direction. I was having a conversation about Jay-Z and Nas and how it was really crazy how they were having this Nas vs. Jay-Z moment 10 years ago and no one really talks about it now.

You clearly haven’t been to complex.com!

M.I.A.: Jay became the biggest representation of rap music who’s still alive, started dating Beyoncé—everything was so much bigger and better withjayz. I hope people don’t think that that wins. The fact that Nas didn’t become all this sort of stuff changes people’s perception about the music and the work he achieved in his lifetime. I don’t wanna say Jay-Z sold out, but I just feel like we have to wait another 10 years to see what happens. Jay-Z’s ambition was to become like Frank Sinatra, a household name all over the planet, and own a casino in Vegas and stuff like that. And I think Nas was really sticking to knowledge. I still think the biggest point about hip-hop is in there somewhere, what happens to those two artists

click here to check out the full interview


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