It's war: M.I.A. V the NY TIMES
Published 05/06/2010 | 05:00
The blazing row that has broken out between pop star MIA and a New York Times journalist is a very 21st-century kind of feud. The merde hit the blogosphere when NYT staffer Lynn Hirschberg wrote an in-depth profile of the London-born, Sri Lankan-raised singer -- best known for her Grammy-winning song 'Paper Planes', which was used in the film Slumdog Millionaire -- ahead of the release next month of her new album, titled Maya.
The piece, while meticulously researched, contained some gloriously catty put-downs concerning the contradictions between, on the one hand, MIA's well-heeled celebrity lifestyle in LA and, on the other, her radical political beliefs, especially her vocal support for the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
The impression one gets of M.I.A. from Hirschberg's piece is of a vain, self-regarding diva who has a shallow and simplistic understanding of a complex political situation, which she is opportunistically using to bolster her celebrity and to give her an edgy street cred that she has not earned -- and that is at odds with her pampered life of bling.
M.I.A. -- real name Maya Arulpragasam -- was so miffed by what she regards as a stitch-up by Hirschberg that she posted a clip on her website of her own tape recording of the interview, which she claims proves that her words were distorted.
Not content with setting the record straight, M.I.A. then gave out Hirsch-berg's personal mobile phone number on Twitter, and asked her followers to contact it, pretending it was her own number.
It read: "CALL ME IF YOU WANNA TALK TO ME ABOUT THE N Y T TRUTH ISSUE, I'll b taking calls all day bitches ;)"
Cue a deluge of calls to Hirschberg's phone by M.I.A's disciples. Vexed, the journalist responded by talking to a reporter in the New York Observer. "It's a fairly unethical thing to do, but I don't think it's surprising. She's a provocateur, and provocateurs want to be provocative.
"The messages have mostly been from people trying to hook up with M.I.A. If she wants to get together with John at Bard next week, I have his number," she added sardonically.
Hirschberg began her contentious article by discussing M.I.A.'s appearance at last year's Grammy Awards, when the then heavily pregnant star performed 'Paper Planes' alongside some of the most famous rappers in the US (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and TI), each of whom had recorded their own versions of the hit song, which had chimed with their collective hip-hop outlaw schtick.
First, Hirschberg comments on M.I.A.'s choice of dress for the performance -- "a black skin-tight body-stocking dress, transparent ex-cept for polka-dot patches that strategically covered her belly, breasts and derrière". Then, she notes how M.I.A. started to have contractions on stage, midway through the song, and could have given birth at any moment.
"Although her publicist had a wheelchair ready and a midwife on call, Maya, who has a deep and instinctive affinity for the provocative, knew that this Grammy moment was not to be missed," wrote Hirschberg. "It had everything: artistic credibility, high drama, a massive audience. The baby would just have to wait. The combination of being nearly naked, hugely pregnant, singing incendiary lyrics and having the eyes of the world upon her was too much to resist."
Then Hirschberg contrasts M.I.A.'s portrayal of herself as a revolutionary gal from the ghetto with the reality of a moneyed pop princess whose partner, Ben, is the son of one of America's most successful music moguls -- Edgar Bronfman Jr, who is also the heir to the Seagrams corporation.
"Before the Grammys, Maya and Bronfman moved to Los Angeles from New York, buying a house in very white, very wealthy Brentwood, an isolated and bucolic section of the city with a minimal history of trauma and violent uprisings."
Hirschberg also makes the point that M.I.A., who grew up in poverty in one of the least salubrious parts of London, gave birth in a private ward of the high-class Cedars-Sinai hospital in LA -- the suggestion being that M.I.A. can talk the talk but not walk the walk. But what sparked M.I.A. to post her clip of the interview on her web-page was the way that she supposedly delivered her incendiary political opinions while ruminating on her choice of "truffle-flavoured French fries" over lunch in the opulent surroundings of the Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel. In M.I.A.'s clip, it's Hirschberg who is heard discussing the menu options.
The question that arises from the affair is this: who exactly was Hirschberg expecting to meet? M.I.A. was always going to be more Madonna than Mandela.
"It's as if Hirschberg cannot accept that one can be privileged and politically active, wealthy and sympathetic to the poor," responded one reader of the New York Observer. "Just because one is rich doesn't mean they are a contradiction. She worked hard and has a right to live in Brentwood if she wants."
"It seems Ms Hirschberg is holding musicians to a ridiculously high standard and forgetting that they're simply performers," wrote another. "M.I.A. is a pop star, where did she expect her to live? Johnny Depp has a private island -- does that mean he can't do charity work or play a poor person in a movie?"
Others were appalled by M.I.A.'s Tweet. "Okay, I love M.I.A.'s sound, her look, her art, the whole deal . . . But posting someone's phone number on Twitter? What, is she a 12-year-old mean bully who is scrapping with some other girl at her junior high?"
I suspect this barney is not over yet. In the meantime, M.I.A.'s record label, XL, must be rubbing its hands at all the publicity in the run-up to the release of new album in July. Truffle-flavoured French fries all round!