M.I.A.: Missing in Action

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Perhaps the only shocking moment of this year’s Bonnaroo music festival came when singer M.I.A. announced her early retirement from the music business. You might think the usual thieves, pimps, and shallow money trenches were to blame, but it turns out the routine grind of celebrity (or her budding bun in the oven) was the real culprit. We caught up with M.I.A. at Coachella before the total dissatisfaction set in earlier this year.

XLR8R: If you could have Fatboy Slim’s laser show, would you?

M.I.A.: It’s just a dude on some decks! I could paint a picture and post it up [laughs]. He’s had years and years to develop all those lasers and shit. I’ve only had three, and my time is ticking because I want out.

So… no?

I don’t want to be “the thing” anymore. I don’t want to be my art. When you’re a female, it’s harder to not be seen like that. You become the face of it, and then you become the art, not your art. And I think there’s nothing more revolutionary than to go, “Look, I could have been Gwen Stefani, but I ain’t… fuck you.”

What would you rather do instead?

I think if I put my energy into someone else’s good, it won’t just be about me. I’m starting a label [N.E.E.T.]; I can still produce songs. African Boy is here, and Rye Rye is here–I’d love to do shit through them. I just don’t want to be the focus.

Is it a matter of just being sick of making music altogether?

Well, I make music because I’ve always been making shit. When I was making pictures, I felt like there was something lacking in them; there needed to be sound. So I was trying to work something out, like, how do you make a picture with sound and film and a t-shirt and all these other things? It’s a vibe, and the medium has always been secondary to that. Making pita bread can be just as creative as making a song… I wanna stay enthusiastic about life. As soon as I feel like I’ve been sucked into a format or a formula, I wanna leave. And too many people know me in the music industry, and too many people have already started pinning shit on me. “And next year you can come back to Coachella and do a bigger show, and we’ll get you a better headlining spot.”

Let’s talk about terrorism (kidding…).

[groans] In all seriousness, I’ve been doing music for three years, and I don’t even know about that shit anymore! It’s time for the next group of people having the mind to go, “Right, these are the things that need to be said about the world.” But at the moment, everyone thinks what needs to be said is, “Do more drugs and fuck more girls.” So I’m letting everyone have their time with that. I still wanna make a dance song that’s like… [sings] “I go to clubs and I shake my head, shake my head, and I shake my head. At Subway I shake my head, at fucking… McDonald’s I shake my head.” I don’t know. Right now, I’m having a shake-my-head moment.