M.I.A. is not your average pop star. She is not trying to fit into any default category or become popular by any means necessary – which is probably also why you'll never hear her serenade her one true love or any of that warm, fuzzy stuff. Her speciality lies in addressing social and political movements, key moments that lack humanity; when she finds them, she doesn't hold back from asking what the hell went wrong.
We sat down with Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam (how beautiful is M.I.A.'s real name?) during the #mbcollective Fashion Story in London. The Sri Lanka-born singer is the face of a new global fashion week campaign recently announced by MercedesBenz.
At the Fashion Story campaign launch, we asked the 41-year old where she gets her strength and why she's softened over the years.
You've turned more mellow on your new album. How did that change come about? Would you say that you've changed as a person?
It is softer because I thought that the most revolutionary thing to do in these times, just before Trump got elected, was to make an inclusive "love everybody" album. Because it was going to be divided, either way. And when the world is becoming more divided, I want to make something nice and cute. So I wouldn't say that I've mellowed out, but mellowness is the concept. I just realised one day that, wow, everybody’s angry. But at some point everyone has to reform allies.
You mean "kill them with kindness"?
[Laughs] Yes, I've never tried that before.
Art, music, fashion – you do it all. How do you decide which channel you want to use for which project?
My growth is about what you feel and what you want to say. And then you choose the medium that just sort of comes to you. It’s a bit like alchemy, and all you have to do is be open for what it is. That could then be film or lyrics that I write or painting images. It's really all of that.
What does fashion mean to you?
It's like breathing, it's a part of me. And it will be, no matter whether I'm in the public eye or not.
Has your style changed since you emerged and became famous?
No, never. I'm still wearing hoodies. I try to step it up and be a bit more sophisticated but I'm still quite tomboyish.
Do you have an outfit that makes you feel strong, like a power suit of sorts?
I have a Versace suit that I put on and I always feel very good in it. Jackets in general make me feel very strong and comfortable.
In your videos and your public appearances, you seem to be comfortable in your own skin and your body. But a lot of young girls are pressured into certain stereotypes or "ideal" body types through social media. Have you ever had to deal with pressure in that sense?
I straddle two generations of thinking. One is to be extremely skinny and starve yourself. My musical mentors were indie artists. And indie people just sort of did heroin and they were skinny, just air basically. And I never fit in because I never had that "cool body shape". I've just always been what I am. I was the exception to the rule. But they still hung out with me.
And now, because it’s the main mode of thinking for everybody in America and because of social media, we're all getting that influx of information from one place. And that place has made it really cool to be curvy. But now suddenly, girls are getting injections and fake butts to look like that.
So I guess the ultimate thing you can do is to know yourself. You know when your body is healthy, when you feel good, what shape you are.
So that has never gotten to you?
It's nothing more than a trend depending on what's considered beautiful in the moment. But your body type is so much more. It's about your DNA, it's your heritage, your family, it's where you're from.
Is there anything you are afraid of?
Never fear. No fear.