Ok, so it took me a while to get around to reading Lynn Hirschberg’s rabbelrousing story on M.I.A. The drama is well under way. In case you’ve somehow missed the action, here’s a brief summary of the events.
Last week, Lynn Hirschberg published a sizable story on the British/Sri Lankan artist (who also happens to be a militant activist of sorts). Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam did not take well to the story, tweeted Hirschberg’s personal cell phone number, and released a new song called “Haters.”
Now, M.I.A. is not an artist I know much about. My exposure to her is pretty much limited to what I hear in bodegas and blasted out of passing cars. But the unfolding drama is still intriguing to me.
First of all, I love that this whole mess is getting the article a lot of press. It proves that music journalism is far from boring or extinct. It’s alive and it’s ready to kick some ass. I don’t often do it, but in my opinion, writing a truly negative review of an artist is often much more thrilling (and oddly fulfilling) than writing anything positive. But the thing about Hirschberg’s article is that… well… it’s not really blatantly negative or incendiary. Hirschberg doesn’t go for the throat. Instead, she gradually dissects and picks apart M.I.A., piece by piece, and this style of writing is so much more challenging.
Throughout the lengthy article, Hirschberg includes numerous asides about M.I.A.’s character that come off more as slyly passive aggressive than biting. She touches on M.I.A.’s predilection for truffle-flavored french fries, bright yellow bras, and the gold bling. And then she slips this in there:
The album (“I’m thinking of naming the record Nano, because nano bombs are the hip thing”) is still dominated by political lyrics, but the music is more melodic.
A subtle jab couched in a neutral description.
Or she goes to an outside source to bring the heat:
“… In the end, Maya is postmodern: she can’t really make music or art that well, but she’s better than anyone at putting crazy ideas into motion. She knows how to manipulate, how to withhold, how to get what she wants.”
(a quote from M.I.A.’s former boyfriend and producer, Diplo).
And when that doesn’t suffice, she weaves in words from M.I.A. herself:
“I was bored,” Maya recalled. “And I saw the machine. I’m tone deaf and not very musical, but I like dancing, if that counts. I’ve got rhythm.”
Moves like these might be viewed as a sign of cowardice, but then again, you could also call that integrity and creativity.