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m.i.a.

The Ten Harshest Parts of Lynn Hirschberg’s M.I.A. Profile

Let us begin by saying we like M.I.A. and we're very much looking forward to her new album, /\/\/\Y/\, out next month. But that doesn't mean we didn't find Lynn Hirschberg's just-posted New York Times Magazine cover profile on M.I.A. — which is a fairly brutal takedown in which the singer comes off not unlike a whiny first-semester college kid — a pretty great read. In the piece, M.I.A. smack-talks Lady Gaga again, whom she's called out before for being style over substance. But is superficially branding oneself as a political radical really any less silly than wearing a shoe for a hat? Lynn Hirschberg does not seem to think so! After the jump, the ten most image-deflating moments.

1. On M.I.A.'s new home in third-world Beverly Hills:


[M.I.A.'s baby] Ikhyd was not, as she had repeatedly announced he would be, born at home in a pool of water ... “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 ... Maya and [fiance Ben] 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.

2. On inequality, over drinks at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel:


" ... 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.

3. Et tu, Diplo? The producer — for whom his former relationship with M.I.A. is obviously still a touchy subject — calls M.I.A.'s politics a put-on:


"She met me, and we started a relationship. Maya was into the whole terrorism gimmick at the time. It was all underground back then. In the beginning, she was trying to be different."

4. Hirschberg calls bullshit on M.I.A.'s politics via quotes from a spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum:


"Maya took a very simplistic explanation of the problems between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese government and the Tamils. It’s very unfair when you condemn one side of this conflict. The Tigers were killing people, and the government was killing people. It was a brutal war, and M.I.A. had a role in putting the Tigers on the map. She doesn’t seem to know the complexity of what these groups do.” [...] “Maya is a talented artist,” Ahilan Kadirgamar told me, echoing the sentiments of others, “but she only made the situation worse. What happened in Sri Lanka was not a genocide. To not be honest about that or the Tigers does more damage than good. When Maya does a polarizing interview, it doesn’t help the cause of justice.”

5. Hirschberg calls bullshit on M.I.A.'s politics via a French fry:


6. On M.I.A.'s dubious reasoning for her denied visa in 2006 (which you might have heard about):

6. On M.I.A.'s dubious reasoning for her denied visa in 2006 (which you might have heard about):


Maya has a complicated relationship with America. When she was recording “Kala,” in 2007, her second album (named after her mother), her request for an artist’s visa was initially denied. (Maya maintains it was because of her song lyrics; the State Department is not obliged to give applicants a reason for denying them entry.)

7. Again, Diplo helps Hirschberg with the dirty work. On M.I.A.'s insinuations that her estranged (?) father had been associated with militant Tamil separatist groups:


8. Remember when her "Born Free" video was banned from YouTube in April? That seems to have been her secret plan all along; she tells Hirschberg she was already designing censorship-themed costumes for her censorship-themed summer tour back in March:

8. Remember when her "Born Free" video was banned from YouTube in April? That seems to have been her secret plan all along; she tells Hirschberg she was already designing censorship-themed costumes for her censorship-themed summer tour back in March:


“They have a jumpsuit that I like,” Maya said. “But instead of using their fabric, I want them to use a fabric that’s made from a document I found.” She took out her laptop and clicked on an official-looking typed letter that had been censored. Black bars erased certain words. “I’d like to turn this page into fabric,” she said. “I know someone who can do that. And then I want to take that fabric and make it into a jumpsuit. I’d like to turn censorship into fashion.”

9. Hirshberg editorializes a little:


“If I was a terrorist, I wouldn’t be wearing American clothing.” She paused. This may have been a joke, but Maya rarely laughs. She speaks carefully, slowly, with a kind of deadpan delivery. Like a trained politician, she stays on message. It’s hard to know if she believes everything she says or if she knows that a loud noise will always attract a crowd.

10. As the story goes on, Hirschberg's irritation becomes even less subtle. She describes a meeting about those tour costumes:


Maya seemed to be going for a combination of sexy and militaristic. She showed the girls her fabric ideas on her computer, and they were amenable. “Nike is the uniform for kids all over the world,” Maya said for no apparent reason. “And African design has been killed by Nike. Africans no longer want to wear their own designs.” The designers said they thought that was terrible. “The best sportswear is on Blackwater operatives,” Maya continued, referring to the agents who were clandestine guns for hire in Iraq. The designers nodded, but they clearly had no idea what she was talking about. “I want to have a uniform like theirs.”

Bonus! Lest Hirschberg's barely concealed annoyance with M.I.A.'s attention-seeking political posturing were lost on you in the profile's first 8,500 words, here is its devastating kicker:


She spotted a tiger costume, complete with whiskered hood, hanging next to an orange sari. “Look at that tiger!” Maya said. “I could wear that at the photo shoot tomorrow!” She paused and considered the implications of dressing up as a tiger. “It’s probably too much,” she said finally. “It might seem like I was making a joke.”

M.I.A.’s Agitprop Pop [NYT]

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images