M.I.A.: Back In Action (2010 Cover Story)

M.I.A.: Back In Action (2010 Cover Story)Interview by Nate Denver; Photography by Alex Prager; Click Here For Additional Credits.

Are you conscious of trying to make art to live up to your reputation, or do you start clean every time?
It really depends on what you're going through at the time. The last album I was making was really chaotic. I was traveling all the time and was just mad, angry, pissed off. I threw the hard drive out the window with "Paper Planes" on it and was like, "Fuck this song." Luckily, it didn't smash. But the world has changed since I worked on the last album. I started with writing an intro for it, the intro was, "Connected to the Google/connected to the government." That was like 10 months ago, and every day I felt more and more like I was tuned into whatever was going on.

 

That's what my album's about. Making it so uncomfortably weird and wrong that people begin to exercise their critical-thinking muscles.

 

What was it that was going on?
Google is the most powerful corporation in the world, and why do you think that is? It's 'cause they log the most data and they collect the most information and that's the thing that everyone's gonna want and that's the thing that no one's gonna have. That's what it's about and it's important to tell people in the street or poor people to arm themselves with knowledge 'cause that shit's a commodity.

But hasn't knowledge always been the most important currency? Information is more accessible now than ever.
Yeah, but America's not raising its generations saying, "Knowledge is currency." Corporations are raising themselves saying, "Knowledge is currency, and we're gonna collect it all." And the people are not being told that. Do you get that from watching My Super Sweet 16 or reality TV, that they're trying to tell the masses that it's about knowledge? No.

But there's always been self-indulgence. On the other side, I've never seen so many educational shows—those are popular, but they're not sensational so they're not covered the same way. I think both have evolved.
Maybe. When I read papers in America and I read newspapers anywhere else, I definitely see a big difference in the way shit is covered.

Papers I've read in England are different, they're more like what I expect from the Wall Street Journal.
That's kinda what I'm talking about, just the quality of it. So many corporations are merging, I don't even know who's telling the truth anymore. If TIME is bought by CNN, am I gonna get a different opinion in TIME than from CNN? I don't think so. Corporations mold politics, and if the agenda of a corporation is to make money, then surely the information that we're gonna get is edited so it makes you think a certain thing at the end of the day.

But that's also an argument for why the Internet is great—you can go to another news source and get another perspective.
But you have to tell people to do that. Critical thinking, that's called. That's what my album's about. Making it so uncomfortably weird and wrong that people begin to exercise their critical-thinking muscles. Apparently, America is the place that has the lowest critical-thinking percentage in schools or whatever.

What's that based on?
A journalist I spoke to who wrote an article about it said something like 11% of schools in America practice critical thinking, and the rest just want it simple, plain, in-your-face. And you believe what you read. You eat up what you get taught. You can Google the words "Sri Lanka" and it doesn't come up that all these people have been murdered or bombed, it's pages of: "Come to Sri Lanka on vacation, there are beautiful beaches." You're not gonna get the truth 'til you hit like page 56, you know what I mean? When Ikhyd goes on the Internet and taps in some words, he's gonna get exactly what they want him to get.

Don't we have a responsibility to be smarter and go to the 56th page and get the real information?
That's true, but that's my and your responsibility to pass the information on that it's not easy anymore. When I came out in 2005, I felt like the Internet was a place where interesting new ideas and people could find new ways to coexist and ideas could be shared. But now corporations have gotten a hold of it and governments have gotten a hold of it. Everything we started, they've learned it, and now they use it for themselves.

So far, I think we're staying a few steps ahead of those corporations.
Yeah, to me that's one of the most important things, to always stay creative on the Internet and not get bogged down by it. Every day someone is saying, "Oh my god, she has a tiger on her T-shirt, that must make her a Tamil Tiger." You have to constantly dumb shit down. You have to constantly liberate yourself.

Tags: m.i.a., complex-cover-stories
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