In September 2004, Diplo still had to explain who M.I.A. was — no one had heard her music yet, and he described her as a dancehall artist of Sri Lankan descent. In September 2005, M.I.A. headlined in Boston for the first time, with a packed-to-the-gills show at the Paradise. Five years later, she's back in town to play two shows at Royale — and once again she's got something to prove. Inexplicably, MAYA
has been attacked as a dud — instead of hailed as a provocation. The Phoenix's Daniel Brockman spoke to M.I.A. about the album's reception and more; the complete transcript of their conversation follows.
Your new album,Maya, is really diverse, sonically — way more so, even, than your previous two albums, with the way it mixes a kind of industrial vibe and pop hooks and an almost lo-fi feel. And I was curious how much of that diversity was a reaction, if at all, to the success of "Paper Planes."
I think it's really difficult to be so consicous of it — but I think that this is my American album. My last one was a traveling, woe-is-me kind of thing, and my first one was a bedroom album. I guess everyone I knew at a certain point had moved to L.A. — Switch was there, Diplo was there, Blaqstarr. So I found myself there and — I dunno, it felt like a really mixture that way, where I was, who I was recording with.
Yeah — it's interesting because this album, recorded in your house, was also kind of a bedroom album, in a sense, kind of likeArular.
I think that it's probably more personal than the first stuff I did. That stuff was more — I dunno, the first thing I made was really for me, but in a different way, things I wanted to get off my chest and out there. Arular was more about rediscovering music, and figuring out how to use my voice, and finding out that I even had a voice! Whereas this album is more about, okay, I have a voice, but at the end of the day, it's really difficult to be heard. Even though people are like "Okay, we hear you, we hear you, you've got this hit song", they didn't really hear me. And I think that was interesting to me. It left me with wanting to spend more time with figuring out who I was. I felt like the only person who could help me was me. And there's no point going to other people for help, being like "Hey, there's this shit going on." And I think it's like, you have to find the strength within yourself to, like, become something else. And that's what I needed help with — but it wasn't necessarily becoming a pop star that I needed help with.
If you felt that people didn't really hear you, what would you say it was that you wanted people to hear that they weren't hearing?
I dunno. Watching what's happening with this album is really... interesting. Because people almost want to say, you know, "This is just like the worst album!' or "This is total shit". And people see it like it's a failure. To me, it's interesting to look at the album and think "Hmm, this is what people think is a failure". Like people will always judge this here by this other thing over there. And that's really interesting.