BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of her show at the Tower on Friday April, 25th in support of her latest album, Matangi, we got Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (aka M.I.A.) on the horn from her home in London — and given that she undoubtedly is on the NSA’s watch/listen list given her father’s well-publicized Tamil Tiger affiliation combined with the fact that any U.S. citizen who calls a foreigner on the NSA watch list is then also added to The List, well, that’s a pretty high price to pay for plugging a friggin’ rapper/EDM artist’s Tower Theater show. But we’ve never been coy about what side we are on in the Snowden & The Fourth Amendment Of The Constitution Of The United States of America vs The NSA Big Brother Industrial Complex debate. Now we have some skin in the game. DISCUSSED: Edward Snowden, NSA, the illusion of privacy in 21st Century corporate/imperialist/police states, how Philadelphia played a central role in her development as an artist and rise to international celebrity and how it feels to get thrown under the bus in the media by ex-boyfriend/Philly homeboy Diplo. TRIED TO DISCUSS: The jaw-dropping absurdity of the NFL suing her for $16 million for flipping the bird during Superbowl halftime festivities and somehow damaging the good Christian kid-friendly brand of a ginormous corporation that has made BILLIONs of dollars selling stylized violence — and not simulated cinematic violence, but REAL violence — not to mention the gruesome spectacle of the infliction of traumatic brain injury on live television to the American family every Sunday…but her publicist cut us off and asked that we talk about the tour. “You know what I would have said, Jonathan,” said Maya as we exchanged farewells.
PHAWKER: Back in 2010, your song “The Message” warned about the government’s mass surveillance of our digital communications. Back then you were roundly mocked as being paranoid, but that’s now become a proven fact in the wake of Edward Snowden revelations. What are your thoughts on what Edward Snowden did? Do you think of him, as the media insists on framing it, as a hero or a traitor? Or is that a silly question?
MIA: I think it’s a silly question. I’m not really sure what the solution is, but it’s not Edward Snowden being a traitor or not because it affects everybody everywhere. It’s happening on such a larger scale that involves people from every walk of life. To label people who stand up against — not stand up against, but stand up for the people — to label them as either a traitor or non-traitor, it’s really —
PHAWKER: I’m playing devil’s advocate and maybe that’s getting lost in translation. That’s the dumbed down frame that the American media uses to frame this issue. Let me be clear where I’m really coming from — I think what he did is probably the bravest, most patriotic thing any American has done since Martin Luther King walked the Earth.
MIA: Yes, of course. They’ve made these two distinct categories for the American people –traitor, non-traitor– which is the lowest common denominator of the group, and the most scariest because nobody wants to be a traitor — especially an American against the American government. So, I can see where that’s going to hit hard, but at the same time, it kills the amazing texture and fabric of American identity that’s been built over many, many generations. That includes people that have actually sacrificed their lives to protect freedom of speech, the right to privacy and the right to pursue happiness. That’s what he’s stood up for and for that they are making him out to be an enemy of the state.
PHAWKER: I think it’s safe to assume that you are on a watchlist — because of your father’s association with the Tamil Tigers and your own outspokeness about American imperialism — and that somebody at the NSA is actually listening to your conversations.
MIA: Without a doubt.
PHAWKER: So, by calling you, and you living overseas, I would say that there is a fairly high chance that —
MIA: You would also be on there. Yes. This conversation is already being recorded. So, if you need a back up…
PHAWKER: [laughs] I could probably get a higher quality recording of our conversation from the NSA. All kidding aside, that is really the case. You’re in a foreign country, and you’re on the list — the NSA is by President Obama’s own definition within their legal rights to wiretap me from here on out. So where do you see all this heading. Is there any undoing this? How do we roll this back? How do we get back to the place where there’s some integrity to our own privacy? That we can trust our own sense of privacy?
MIA: I don’t know. I can only speak as a creative person, and can only speak to how it affects creativity. I think, obviously, when you take away people’s space and private time, you force people into a different kind of existence — one that’s really oppressive. I know the feeling. In Sri Lanka, every 50 yards there is another checkpoint, so you basically have 50 yards to function in and then you’re stuck again. Then you have to go through the bureaucratic blah blah blah. And it’s the same feeling of when you’re walking down the street — you’re a terrorist until proven otherwise. You’re like a terrorist before anything else. If you’re constantly pushed around like that and made to feel like that, then society will become like that. It’s kind of like raising children — if you keep telling them they are no good at math and then, surprise, they wind up being no good at math. If you keep telling people they are terrorist don’t be surprised when they eventually start acting like one. Then when you factor in the scale they are doing it on in the U.S., which is a lot more scarier than CCTV, I think it’s just going to shift people’s psyches. Once you’ve become criminalized for something you haven’t done, it opens the door for things we don’t even know about yet. In a generation down the line, we can possibly find out what that is and what it can do, there’s two ways it can go — that is everyone goes crazy or they just turn into these obedient zombies. We need to remind the people that are doing this about the basic values of freedom of thought, of speech and assembly that the American Constitution established.
PHAWKER: You’re living in London right now?
MIA: Yeah. I am.
PHAWKER: Where is public opinion on this — because the same thing is going on in London — you mentioned the CCTV, what we call security cameras in the US. Last time I checked, England is the most publicly surveilled country in the world. Public opinion this this country seems to have changed in the year since the Snowden revelations. It went from only 30% of people thought that it was wrong for the NSA to listen to everyone’s conversations and digital communications, to now 60% are opposed to it. The numbers keep moving in that direction, and that’s after a very long and intensive PR offensive by the American government to demonize him and whitewash the invasiveness of their spying on their own people. Where is public opinion in the UK on this matter?
MIA: I’m actually shooting a video tomorrow kind of dealing with these issues. For a track called “Double Bubble Trouble.” And it’s just the kind of things we are talking about. Several artists here are quite vocal about it, but I think me having my life affected by it, suffering the consequences of going up against it or talking about or even just caring about it — it’s the next step for me to explore it in the video. But it’s confusing — it’s explored in a state of confusion, and it’s a bigger question of technology. And on the other hand, this is why I think it’s hard work out the answer for America because — on the one hand — that’s the export out of American right now — technology. It’s that culture, and if you say you’re against it, then you lose on an economic level. It has to be promoted, but at the same time, it’s being killed — the public perception of what the technology means — it’s regressing. In England — I don’t know what the take on it is because it’s sort of American-led, and of course every government is going to take the option of monitoring their population. I hate to say it, but the Americans are the leaders of it because the American people are the select ones who can actually stand up against it and lead the way. People don’t know that they need to voice their opinion on it, and then the rest of the world follows, because it’s the way everything is set up when it comes to technology — the way it works. America leads and the world follows.
PHAWKER: I was told not to bring up the fact that the NFL suing you for $16 million, but I’d like to read into the record Phawker’s legal opinion on this matter — you can respond or not respond to this or not…
MIA: Yeah, I’m not going to respond.
PHAWKER: I’m sorry?
MIA: You don’t even have to ask. I said I’m not going to respond.
PHAWKER: Well, I figured but I just want to say this though — that it’s just ludicrous that a corporation that has made billions and billions of dollars delivering real time violence, more specifically the serial infliction of traumatic brain injury, to the American family’s living room every Sunday would sue you for defiling their wholesome, family-friendly brand by flipping the bird…
PHAWKER: Christ, corporate PR is the enemy of the truth.
MIA: Jonathan, you know what I’m going to say
PHAWKER: [laughs] I wasn’t even trying to —
MIA: You know what I’m going to say.
PHAWKER: I wasn’t even trying to goad you into some kind of response. I just wanted to say — let’s just move on. Let me just ask you a last question about Philadelphia, since you’re coming to town. Do you feel any sense of connection here? I know early on, when you were first blowing up, Philly played a key role —
MIA: I do. I do. Philly is that sort of like place — I don’t know — there is a connection. That connection is sort of like — obviously I made Piracy Funds Terrorism there and having the audience be so supportive. They saw me very early on so it’s kind of like family. Obviously, things got messed up, and I kind of got thrown under the bus by [ex-boyfriend and creative collaborator Diplo] and I hope he’s really happy with his rewards and celebritydom. But having said that, Philly always seems like that rebelling cousin — the thing that New York used to be in the 90’s or 80’s. I feel like people of Philly might still remember how to be outsider, and still remember not living for money or that Wall Street mentality. I’m always sort of romantic about Philly.