M.I.A. talks ‘Matangi,’ divinity, spontaneity and holograms

M.I.A. performs at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby PA on April 25, at the House of Blues in Boston on May 5 and at the Knockdown Center in Queens on May 8 and 9. (Credit: Universal)
M.I.A. performs at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby PA on April 25, at the House of Blues in Boston on May 5 and at the Knockdown Center in Queens on May 8 and 9. (Credit: Universal)

Earlier this month M.I.A. and Janelle Monae sang and danced with holograms of each other while each singer performed on an opposite coast of America. Although M.I.A. says she enjoyed the experience, it’s unlikely you’ll see her do much more of this sort of thing soon.

“You have to have these mirrors and carefully positioned equipment, and at the moment my shows are a bit unpredictable,” says M.I.A. “I’d want to have something pre-choreographed and worked out and I never have that type of show. I couldn’t bring the crowd up onstage if I had it.”

METRO: Does incorporating high theatrics into your shows mean you have to compromise spontaneity?

M.I.A.: I like being the artist that can be like that, where it’s not so precious. I think we’re living in a time where of course there’s pressure for me to become a theatrical production like “Glee” or something and for my show to become a well-organized, choreographed thing like a pop show. It’s like, “the pressure’s on, bitches.” Everybody’s sort of supposed to become that thing. At least that’s what’s considered good entertainment. So if you’re bringing something to the table that’s more about the energy and the vibe of what’s going on that night, then it’s difficult, but I might try to figure that out and see about that.

With “Matingi,” you liken yourself to the Hindu goddess who gives the album its title. Could this idea of finding god within yourself be a trend in the collective consciousness of artists? Kanye West certainly explores it on the “Yeezus” album.

I didn’t really come at it like that because the journey to do with me is using exactly the same set of codes, but telling a different story with it. It’s not a newly-constructed set of codes. It’s exactly the same one as the first album and the second one, and the third one and the fourth one, whereas with Kanye, the album before he says he’s Jesus is about complete excess and being a king and royalty and money and wealth and having fur coats and flying a private jet, so the next one is a totally different concept. But mine is more of a progression because it’s like you’re still working on the concept of the name of M.I.A. and what that stands for and people representing untouchables and people that live in a certain demographic, and you’re still talking about fighting for things. The deity is still somebody who looks and sounds like a woman who goes out there and fights for truth and justice, speaking out and freedom of expression, all of these things which have always been a theme in my work, so I think that’s why it’s different, because mine’s like a progression of the same thing and even the concept of Matangi is not like “you’re either good or bad” or it’s not even a case of “you’re going to be punished or not punished” or any of these sort of conflicting things. It’s more like opening and expanding your knowledge. And it’s about knowledge, it’s about information and it’s about that concept of that existing in an era where information is such a central theme on the front page of the news and I think that’s connecting those things, which is interesting, to take a story which is 5,000 years old and bring it to the forefront of today and then connect it with things that happen today. It’s not really “I am a God” it’s kind of saying, “This thing is weird,” and I found her only because the goddess is called the same name, but the things she represents were important things 5,000 years ago, but they’re also still important today. It’s exactly the things that we are all about today, like the fact that she carries a parrot who tweets and it represents human speech and consciousness and how repetitive it can become and the value of life. You know, we tweet certain concepts, and don’t retweet certain concepts. All of these things are connected to that goddess, so she seemed quite appropriate, and fun at the same time.

How did you come to know of Matangi. Was it something you grew up with in your culture?

It wasn’t really something that I felt that connected to. … I sort of fell upon it.
Everything sort of works like that. It’s about your experience and it’s about what you’re doing in the day, and the things that concern me in my life and I’m just directing my first video for “Double Bubble Trouble,” and even that process is exactly the same; you walk down the street, you see something and shoot it, and it goes in the video. It’s not like you’ve got a destination that you get to in your imagination that you’re presenting. I present the journey, so if my journey happens to be true, I try things that inspire me to do something at that moment, then they go in. That’s what makes it fun.

This is kind of a weird question, but I was listening to the song, “Lights” on the “Matangi” album and part of the melody reminded me of this song called “Words” by the 1980s band Missing Persons, which didn’t necessarily strike me as a band you’d be borrowing from. But then I pulled out the album that has the song on it, “Spring Session M,” and the cover even looks a bit like the cover of “Matangi.” Is this just coincidence?

What’s the name of the band?

Missing Persons.

Oh, that’s really cool, because that’s like ‘missing in action,’ like M.I.A. See, all kinds of weird stuff happens in my life like that, but those are the things that are really cool and interesting, and trigger the thoughts that come out. They’re all little seeds and weird coincidences.

So I’m not supposed to ask you too much about the NFL ordeal where they’re suing over the middle finger on national television, is that because you’re tired of talking about it or because of the legal implications?

It’s a legal thing and nothing’s really been sorted out so I don’t really know what to say.

Moving on then, I always wondered about “Paper Planes,” was that just a different version of the Clash song “Straight to Hell” that I had never heard before?

No, it was reproduced instead of a straight sample.

Do you still fly like paper, get high like planes?

Do you mean with my lifestyle now?

Yeah, sure.

Nothing much has changed, I should say, but it just means different things now. It’s a broader statement now. Before it was not so broad. Or maybe it was, actually, about flying.


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