Last week, the New York Times published a provocative profile of M.I.A., in which writer Lynn Hirschberg implied that the rapper did not understand the complex politics of her Sri Lankan homeland and that hyperviolent videos for songs like “Born Free” were “exploitative” and “hollow.” The piece enraged M.I.A., who retaliated on her Twitter account by posting the writer’s phone number. M.I.A. also promised that a proper follow-up would appear this weekend on her N.E.E.T. blog. Last night, she delivered by posting audio snippets of the interview that seem to contradict Hirschberg’s assertions — along with a scathing new song called “Im a Singer.”
One of the passages that M.I.A. took issue with was the following: “‘I kind of want to be an outsider,’ [M.I.A.] said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry.” In that portion, Hirschberg implied that M.I.A.’s musical message was hypocritical — how can a rapper espouse a political message while eating gourmet food like truffle French fries? In the N.E.E.T. blog response, however, the audio reveals that it was Hirschberg — not M.I.A. — who recommended and ordered the fries. (Hirschberg is heard saying that the tab would be paid for by the Times.) M.I.A.’s rebuttal also focuses on a quote about her performing nine months pregnant at the Grammys and how Hirschberg both truncated the quote and took it out of context.
One uptick of the controversy: M.I.A. posted a new song titled “Im a Singer.” In it, M.I.A. raps about being under Army surveillance for her outspoken view of the Sri Lankan civil war. “So you wanna hear about my politics, yeah I can show you things that’ll make you sick,” M.I.A. raps, adding that journalists are spinning her message because “Lies equals power equals politics.” “You can talk shit to me,” she continues. “I’m used to it/ You make me hard with the wounds I have to lick.”
While reporting an upcoming profile on M.I.A. for Rolling Stone, contributing editor Jenny Eliscu met with the rapper around the same time as Hirschberg. M.I.A. told RS, “If I want to be really political, I’d have to sit down and study you know, but I feel like my approach to politics is [that] I never said I’m smart and I read this and I’m making assumptions. But why aren’t I allowed to write about my experience? Why can’t I say, ‘Oh my God, my school got shot by the government? I can’t say that, yet they can do it. But I want to be able to still say it somewhere. There needs to be some sort of an outlet for people like me.”