M.I.A. spent the early-Aughts as a creative hybrid — a graphic designer, photographer, videographer and hipster fashionista living in London. When her friend Justine Frischmann, the onetime singer of Elastica, loaned her a Roland MC-505, she began writing clever tracks that mashed globally-aware lyrics with gyrating, inimitable dance beats.
In 2004, these unpolished demos landed the budding artist born Mathangi Arulpragasam a deal with XL Records, and while recording her debut LP, she met Wesley “Diplo” Pentz, an aspiring DJ-producer with whom she’d go on to have a rocky romantic and professional relationship. Together, they released mashup mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism, and a year later, she followed it with the groundbreaking Arular. Seemingly overnight, M.I.A. became both an icon of cool and a target for those who didn’t approve of her outspoken positions on topics like Sri Lanka’s civil war.
On the 10th anniversary of Arular‘s release, M.I.A. opened up about the making of the record, the optimism of the moment, the painful backlash, her squabbles with Diplo and a severe encounter with Oprah Winfrey.
What do you remember about your life leading up to going into making Arular?
It was like, a lot of things coming together really fast. Because I didn’t really try to be a musician all my life. I was just putting one foot in front of the other; just meeting people and finding out things about myself. Half of it was learning about the music and the music industry, because I had no idea about the actual industry.
You were just starting out, basically.
Like, turning demos into real songs. And then, between 2003 and 2005, I sort of met the industry, met Diplo, went to America because of the mixtape. By then I already made an art show, which then went into the music and then made all the artwork, and was making my own website. A lot of it was handmade and self-made.