When it comes to international star, recording artist, director, entrepreneur and designer M.I.A., there is no denying the fact that her sonic and visual style is the equivalent of a gamma ray burst. Slithering to bouncy electro-beats, M.I.A. holds a mirror to the globe, exposing its beauty and repulsiveness. At the same time, she skillfully maintains a firm grip on both the disdain and adoration of mainstream audiences. As with many leaders who stand for what they believe in, controversy surrounds Maya Arulpragasam (M.I.A’s given name) but the singer takes it in stride and allows it to inspire her, which is one reason her art remains refreshing.
M.I.A.’s fourth studio album Matangi dropped five days ago, and amid a storm of engagements, the Wavy One cleared time to talk with Stop Being Famous about life, love, and music.
Stop Being Famous: Tell me about your first love.
M.I.A.: My first love?
M.I.A.: My first love, as in the first time I fell in love, or what I love first right now?
SBF: Your first time in love.
M.I.A.: Oh, the first time I fell in love was this guy that I dated for like, three years when I was sixteen. He was part of this gang called Brick Lane Massive, but he was also at my college – college meaning high school, I guess – sixteen? He was really smart in school, and then I found out he was also really respected in his neighborhood because he was a pretty good gangster. I don’t want to say that, but –
SBF: It’s okay, you said it.
M.I.A.: I had a lot of respect for him because he was a really odd person ’cause – so he would surprise me a lot because he was really clever in school, and he was really shy. No girls really wanted to date him because he wasn’t like, this popular guy. He was just a nice, quiet, shy guy when a lot of other people were really in your face and stuff.
And we started dating and then he took me to Brick Lane. In Brick Lane at that time, there was a massive gang issue in that neighborhood because all of the Bengalis lived in East London and all the Bengalis hated each other, and they fought each other all the time and killed each other.
M.I.A.: His gang was Brick Lane Massive, but then they’d fight different gangs around the neighborhood. So there’s one from Stepney, one from Bethnal Green, one from Shadwell – there were loads of gangs.
The Brick Lane one had three different divisions. They had an older one, the middle one, and the younger one. He was the head of the middle one, which was our age group. The older one was like, twenty to twenty-four, and then the younger one’s were fourteen and under. They all fought, but depending on who started the fight, different age groups wanted to get called in. He sort of was part of the middle one.
I was with him for a long time, then it turned out he wasn’t even Bengali, he was actually Pakistani but grew up with Bengalis all his life. So he was already an oddball, because he was the only Pakistani in like, a hundred-deep gang of Bengalis. He was the leader of the middle layer, and that was really impressive that he had this double life as well. He learned Bengali fluent, learned all their culture, and sort of embraced it. That was really cool.