M.I.A has never strayed far from controversy during her ten year career. Here are 15 of her most provocative moments:
Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam chose the acronym for Missing In Action (M.I.A.) in tribute to her cousin, killed in conflict in Sri Lanka. “We were the same age, went to the same schools growing up,” said the Saint Martins’ fine art, film and video student, who wanted to make a film about him with the titular acronym. Instead she settled on the name and a career in music...
M.I.A’s first single ‘Galang’, from debut album Arular, hit no.8 on the Billboard Dance Charts; second single ‘Sunshowers’ - where she namechecked the Palestine Liberation Organization - was unsurprisingly less well received in the US. “Like PLO I don’t surrender,” she spat.
Maya was refused entry into America in 2006, where she was due to record with Timbaland (she’s signed to Interscope in the US). The musician posted “I’ve been locked out!” on her MySpace page at the time. Recording locations for second album Kala took place in India, Jamaica, Australia, Liberia and Trinidad after Homeland Security’s refusal to issue her her work visa.
In an interview with Pitchfork in 2007, M.I.A. called out the publication for sexism, after it had earlier claimed Diplo produced Arular. “If you read the credits, he sent me a loop for ‘Bucky Done Gun’” she said, “I just find it a bit upsetting and kind of insulting that I can’t have any ideas on my own because I’m a female…”
“FUCK NEW YORK TIMES!” tweeted Maya after the US publication named Sri Lanka its no.1 resort in an article called ‘31 Places to Go in 2010’. “HERE IS THE LUSH COASTLINE THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT” she also tweeted, with a link to gruesome pictures of dead freedom fighters, apparently victims of the civil war between the government and Tamil Tigers.
Self-proclaimed biggest rock star on the planet Kanye West calls M.I.A “a genius” in a controversial documentary, MIA, about the rapper’s relationship with her Tamil Tiger father. Also featuring talking heads from Spike Jonze and Julian Assange, the film seems to have gone MIA itself, after director Steve Loveridge walked in July 2013.
Maya performed at the Grammys in 2009 alongside Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and T.I.; a stellar cast I’m sure you’ll agree but nothing unusual there. Except that MIA stole the show with a new arrival almost present, playing the Grammys on her “due date”. Her baby boy arrived the following Wednesday.
Maya struck out for gingers everywhere with the video for ‘Born Free’, or was she being metaphorical in alliance with uncompromising video director Romain Gavras? The incendiary visual statement caused a sensation when it appeared online in 2010: "It's just fake blood and ketchup and people are more offended by that than execution videos," she pointed out.
You’ve been living under a rock if you’re hearing about M.I.A flipping the bird at America during the 2012 Super Bowl for the first time. As Madonna’s guest for her halftime performance of ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’, it’s fair to say her Madge was best displeased, while the NFL sued the West London musician for $16.6 million. They settled out of court last year.
Maya’s activism hasn’t gone unnoticed in academic circles. Since 2012, Brown University, Rhode Island, has run a course called Music & Politics: From Mozart to M.I.A.
M.I.A. has been a vocal supporter of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, who's been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for more than 1,000 days now. She even opened her 2013 Matangi tour with a 10 minute chat on Skype with the Australian, in front of a large crowd at New Yorks’ Terminal 5.
Also in 2013, M.I.A. told Time Magazine that her person of the year was Edward Snowden. As well as M.I.A, artists who signed a statement to support whistleblowers like Snowden, Wikileaks et al in November 2014 included PJ Harvey, Thurston Moore, Moby and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
As well as her activism, M.I.A. also supports a number of charities including Youth Action International. She donated her fee from playing the MTV Movie Awards to build schools in Liberia.
Arulpragasam often donates her fee from live shows to causes. The $250,000 from her 2011 Roskilde Festival appearance in Denmark went to Tamil victims of war crimes and genocide, as part of the Roskilde Festival Charity Society (Roskilde is a non-profit organisation).
Earlier this year, M.I.A. went on Channel 4 News to talk to about the Sri Lankan election and her concerns going forward for the Tamil community. She argued Sri Lankan former president Mahinda Rajapaksa should be tried for war crimes.