Arular, M.I.A.’s powerful, adventurous debut, turns 10 years old this Sunday. To celebrate the anniversary and that record’s enduring legacy, she spoke to Rolling Stone, looking back on the making of the album, the political and cultural climate of 2005, her rocky relationship with now-superstar producer Diplo, and an unpleasant encounter with Oprah.
A lack of outspokenness has never been M.I.A.’s problem, and she characteristically pulls no punches here. In 2004, some exciting demos — made with a Roland MC-505 borrowed from Elastica’s Justine Frischmann — landed her a deal with XL, and while she was recording her debut, she met Diplo. They released the great mashup mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism together and started dating, and M.I.A. was soon attracting a great deal of critical and popular attention. According to M.I.A., however, Diplo didn’t take her newfound success very well:
By the time that was happening to me, I was with Diplo and he basically just like shat on every good thing that was happening to me, and I just didn’t enjoy it because if I was on a cover of a magazine he’ll be like, “What do you want to do, like be on the dentist waiting room table? Like, is that what a magazine is for? It’s corny. Like, don’t do magazines.” … When I got signed by Interscope, he literally smashed my hotel room and broke all the furniture because he was so angry I got picked up by a major label and it was the corniest thing in the world that could possibly happen. And then Missy Elliott called me for the first time in 2005 to work with me on her record, and I’m sure we had a massive fight about that — the fact that I was talking to anyone who was, like, popular. I wish I enjoyed it because I had this person on my shoulder the whole time saying, “It’s shit, it’s shit, it’s shit. You shouldn’t be on the charts. You shouldn’t be in the magazines and you should not be going to interviews. You should not be doing collaborations with famous people. You should be an underground artist.” So the whole two years I was with him, I just let him dictate. I basically had this man dictate to me how everything in America that I experienced was completely, like, irrelevant and it was nothing. So it was kind of a weird time for me.
If it sounds a bit weird to be hearing that kind of anti-sellout rhetoric from Diplo, of all people — well, yeah, it kinda does. As M.I.A. herself says, “It’s only now when I look back at it in 2015, I can see that he was just jealous and he couldn’t wait to be Taylor Swift’s best friend and date Katy Perry. But at that time I believed him. I just felt like he was right, and he was something of a political, righteous person with some values. I didn’t realize it was just jealousy.” When asked about the current state of their relationship, she said, “I haven’t spoke to him since he kind of threw me under the bus in the New York Times.” But, according to an editor’s note in the Rolling Stone article, M.I.A. and Diplo happily reconnected the day after the interview: Diplo Instagrammed a photo of the two together with the caption “Best friends forever,” and M.I.A. tweeted a similar pic. So maybe they’re getting along again?
But Diplo isn’t the only person M.I.A. had negative things to say about in the interview. She also had some choice words to share about Oprah:
In 2009, Time nominated me for one of the most influential people of the 21st century or something and I met Oprah at that party. And I was like, “Hey, people are gonna fucking die in my country. Like, please pay attention.” And she was like, “You’re shit because you were rude to Lady Gaga and I’m not talking to you. And I’m gonna interview Tom Cruise jumping on my sofa, so fuck off.” … Yeah, she didn’t talk to me. She shut me down. She took that photo of me, but she was just like, “I can’t talk to you because you’re crazy and you’re a terrorist.” And I’m like, “I’m not. I’m a Tamil and there are people dying in my country and you have to like look at it because you’re fucking Oprah and every American told me you’re going to save the world.”
You can read the full interview here.