This week marks the ten-year anniversary of MIA's Arular, an album which quite literally changed pop music and presaged the way the internet would create an avenue for marginalized genres across the globe to thrive outside their communities. Of course, part of this is due to MIA's collaboration with Diplo, who only helped out on a couple Arular songs but whose DJ style on her Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape set up audiences to understand the dissolution of genre boundaries to come.
And, famously, MIA (aka Maya Arulpragasam) and Diplo dated at the time, a relationship that would end in excellent music but, eventually, very public sniping through the years, particularly in the unmitigated disaster that was Lynn Hirschberg's proto-clickbaity Times profile. In a new interview with Rolling Stone looking back at Arular, Arulpragasam is quite frank about what led to her disdain for her former lover, and it's unfortunately predictable: controlling boyfriend, jealous boyfriend, shit-talking boyfriend. As Arulpragasam tells it, while her career rose, Diplo did his best to tamp down her spirit: "he basically just like shat on every good thing that was happening to me," she says. It goes on:
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. It was only afterwards, when I went into the second record and I went into it without him, I got to enjoy that by myself. But on the end of that I ran into another man, so the window of me actually being alone, single and a female and being empowered and enjoying what I created was very, very small.
Arulpragasam has a succinct and, to any of us who've ever had a boyfriend who works in the same field, no-duh analysis for why Diplo was acting this way: "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." Ha damn son, hit where it hurts! But also, it is worth noting that Diplo was in a Blackberry commercial, an Alexander Wang ad, and is currently doing a cross-promo thing with K-Swiss so, you know, irony if true. (Perhaps the most egregious element here is that he essentially dropped his formerly groundbreaking DJ style in lieu of playing trap hits for 4-Loko'd out frat boys, though I do like his Jack Ü project with the too-often-caricatured, excellent DJ/producer Skrillex.) Oh, she addresses that, too:
...And the more you open up the world, the forces that close it, it'll come up stronger. This is why talking about Diplo is kind of important in relationship to this album, because he's associated to a concept which is global and then what he became is completely the opposite in 10 years. It's been hard to stick to your ground on a concept which is actually: "The world's better when it's global. The world is better when everybody can fucking like get each other and understand each other and have dialogue. If you don't like something, you need a fucking page and a platform to say you don't like it.
Rolling Stone published a note that the day after this interview occurred, MIA and Diplo "happily reconnected" by Instagramming an old photo of them together, which Diplo Tweeted with the caption "Best friends forever." (It's worth noting, though, that in the pic, MIA had Diplo in a headlock, ha.)
So, that's the tea. But what about the history of this groundbreaking album, which really did shake up everything and redefine how we thought about what pop music could be? "I think having a worldly cluster of sounds at that time brought way more people into the clubs. And it wasn't a controlled, homogenized — like, a forced "industry," monetized, money-making thing. It was actually organic."
She also goes on to discuss her first-ever show in New York, which she says was at the Knitting Factory, but I remember being at a weird warehouse club way, way over on the Westside, like on 12th. I was there and will never forget it: because MIA changed the way I thought about music, because Cam'ron was supposed to play and never showed, because of that guy wearing the neon AF1s, because of the scary, rickety elevator we had to ride to get up there. It was a FADER party celebrating her cover (with Cam), a brilliant and almost psychic choice by then-editor Knox Robinson (shout out Knox), who chose to feature her on the strength of two songs. MIA performed on the floor with her back-up dancer, Cherry (who would later go on to sing in the awesome dancehall-influenced duo De Tropix), and the crowd stood around her in a little ad hoc circle, as though at a basement show except we were in a warehouse.
At the time, MIA only had two songs—"Galang," "Sunshowers,"—but everyone knew she was special. Piracy Funds Terrorism came, and then Arular, which I reviewed for SPIN and apparently called the best political album of the year. (Even though decade-old writing skews embarrassing, I defer to myself. It was!) In retrospect, we couldn't have known how much it would change the culture, but it did show that entrenched conservativism (political; cultural) is mutable. It's something to think about, to hold onto—MIA laments in the interview the way New York has been scrubbed of its grimier elements, systematically, but as Vanessa Mártir writes in her beautiful essay Gentrified Brooklyn is Not My Brooklyn, "That soil didn't need anyone to save it. That soil is what did the saving." Pull up the people, as it were.
Fuck man, I'm old! Shout to Arular for changing my life!
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