NEW YORK (AP) – Though M.I.A. has been hailed by critics since she made her debut in 2005, her fiery lyrics, which speak against corrupt political systems and talk of revolution and violence, have always ensured her a place far outside of music’s mainstream – until recently.
Her song “Paper Planes,” an incendiary song about the frustrations of immigrants, became a hit after its use in the summer stoner comedy “Pineapple Express,” and now, M.I.A. has gone from underground artist to commercial success. Her ranking on music’s “It” list shot up Wednesday when the Recording Academy nominated “Paper Planes” for record of the year.
But in a recent interview, the British-born, Sri Lankan-reared rapper conceded that it’s taken some time getting used to her new position in pop.
“I came out on some sort of political edge, and I was inspired by the politics that were going on at the time,” says M.I.A., who’s expecting her first child in February. “I never thought it would get accepted and I was gonna be like, commercially accepted, or accepted by the masses, because that was the point – people who thought like me were outsiders.”
M.I.A., whose music is an eclectic mix of raps, world beats and whirring sonics, first arrived on the scene with “Arular.” The CD was as much a political statement as a musical one, as she referenced Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, separatists who have been battling the Sinhalese-controlled governments to create a homeland for ethnic minority Tamils. M.I.A.’s father was part of the group.
Partly because of those ties, she was denied a long-term work visa to enter the United States for a time, receiving one in 2007, when she also released “Kala.”
That CD was even more influenced by world affairs after she traveled to places like India and Africa to record it. “Paper Planes,” which is featured in the acclaimed movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” has a dreamy world beat but its lyrics have a darker tone.
“People could say, ‘Oh my God, this song is so violent,’ but at the same time, there was a war in Iraq. I felt like certain people made so much money from selling ammunition and military weapons and stuff, and killed a million people, and it wasn’t even an issue that was raised,” says M.I.A., who splits her time between her New York apartment and Los Angeles, where her fiance, Benjamin Brewer.
“For a song like that be listed in the top 10, it made me really happy,” she adds.
Although she gained worldwide attention for her song, she says she doesn’t consider herself a commercial artist. She credits her success to people becoming more open and accepting to alternative views – and music: “The world is becoming more conscious.”
And she says fans don’t have to worry about her softening her style. But she allows impending motherhood may provide her with new material, and perhaps a new outlook on life.
“I always kind of made music from quite an angry place and I always thought it was more macho,” she says. “(But) I don’t want to be (tough) like a dude. I wanna be a good woman.”