Music Features

M.I.A. and MBE: When Rap's Bad Girl Joins the Order of the British Empire

The controversial British rapper rose to fame in the shadows of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Does this accolade go against what she stands for?

This week, Maya Arulpragasam—the British rapper best known as M.I.A.—received her MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) from Prince William.

The MBE is awarded to Brits who have made major contributions to the arts, welfare organizations, and public service; previous recipients include Adele, Jackie Chan, and Ringo Starr. Though it's a coveted accolade, M.I.A. feels like a slightly ironic choice for the award.

The ribbon given to M.I.A. was sewn by her mother, Kala Pragasam, a refugee from Sri Lanka who began working for the Queen in 1986. At the time, jobs like making those ribbons was one of the few positions women who didn't speak English could hold (M.I.A. described it as the "classiest minimum wage job ever").

Despite the familial ties, M.I.A. accepting an MBE seems to conflict with her outspoken stances on world politics. After the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009, she criticized the BBC for downplaying the number of casualties. Her infamous 2010 video for "Born Free" graphically depicted a genocide of red-haired people, inspired by the real-life extrajudicial killing of Tamil males by the Sri Lankan Army. In 2012, she got into a Twitter argument with TV news personality Anderson Cooper after his blog inaccurately suggested she supported terrorism; the blog was hardly the first instance she was accused of being pro-terrorism, and it certainly wasn't the last. Throughout her career, she's had numerous spats with a number news outlets.

M.I.A. - Born Free

Although the British Empire is now extinct, the Order of the British Empire has been criticized for the connections their name implies. In 1969, as part of his peace protests, John Lennon famously returned his MBE (30 years later, M.I.A. cited Lennon and suggested Obama should've done the same with his Nobel Peace Prize). In the 20th century, the British Empire was responsible for countless deaths due to famine, concentration camps, massacres, and more. Direct ties between that cruelty and the modern day Most Excellent Order of the British Empire are difficult to parse, but arguably, there's still a relation between them.

Even the record label M.I.A. founded, N.E.E.T., pulls its name from an acronym often used to describe impoverished people in Britain—"Not in Education, Employment, or Training"—a symbolic nod to her destitute, refugee roots. Just a month ago, she tweeted what seemed to be her own analysis of how England functions: "I will think only rich pretty people deserve to live...This is England now. F--k u you peasents. [sic]" Doesn't accepting an MBE clash with her opposition to class disparity? Does participating in these antiquated (and arguably arbitrary) traditions strip M.I.A. of her ruthless edge?

California's latest music festival, All My Friends Music Festival (AMF), recently took place at the newly opened ROW DTLA.

This past weekend was its inaugural showing showcasing a wide array of talent such as RL Grime, Gucci Mane, Jamie XX, M.I.A., Jhene Aiko, Destructo, and many more!

Destructo also known as Gary Richards put this festival together with acts across hip-hop, R&B, and dance music. Richards and the team took this festival to another level by including progressive acts like Anna Lunoe, Jubilee, and Ravyn Lenae, showing that AMF is a festival for everyone which drew crowds in the tens of thousands.

If there is something we have learned from Richards and the team, it's fans will follow you anywhere to have a good time. All My Friends is a festival that should be on your summer bucket list. Below are some of the best pictures from the festival.


RL Grime Ripping Up The Stage!

Elissa Morrissey

A festival feature

RL Grime had the crowd going crazy, cranking out hot music for the fun-filled festival.


RELEASE RADAR | New Video From Adrian Daniel

Plus Releases From Miranda Glory and X.ARI

Brand new tunes to rock out as July passes right along.

RELEASE RADAR is here to give you the breakdown of your top singles, albums, and videos to check out as you head into your weekend. Get ready to jam out with some of our favorite up-and-coming artists, plus celebrate new stuff from those you already know and love.

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Rising Star

PROFILE | Madame Gandhi’s feminist hustle

The former M.I.A. drummer takes on the music industry

Andrew Karpan

"I don't support capitalism because it's exploitative but I do support business which is the exchange of value between two parties."

Kiran Gandhi had to make a choice. Shortly after graduating with a M.B.A from Harvard, she was running the London Marathon, an event she had spent the past year training for. Her period had started the night before. As she later told Alli Maloney in a New York Times profile, the thought of having to run 26 miles wearing a tampon did not appeal. So, she didn't. The image of her running soon went viral and, suddenly, Gandhi was a spokesperson for menstrual stigma, an issue that was an immense symbolic and practical concern for millions of people around the world. Gandhi had intended on having a career behind the scenes in the music industry, working for behind the scenes for a multinational like Spotify or Interscope but suddenly she discovered she was now an outsider, made into a protester by her demand for systemic change. What would she do next?

When I spoke to her, Gandhi had just played three shows in the past two days as Madame Gandhi, a music project that she has branded "electro-feminism." She tells me she is exhausted, we are meeting early in the morning and people haven't even eaten brunch yet. But she has another show, in another city, later this evening, so now will do. She is wearing a large, decorated hoodie, scattered with tattoo-like images and sweatpants. This is not unlike her onstage attire, described by Vogue as a "bold orange waffled two-piece tracksuit with gold-accented sunglasses." Onstage, she is also flanked by a troupe of backup dancers, who all wear a bright monochromatic yellow that Gandhi calls her "power color."

(Andrew Karpan)

Madame Gandhi self-released its first EP last year, shortly before the election. Titled Voices, the record's political bombast included everything from a fist-pumping pro-Hillary anthem (titled "Her") to a chillingly catchy anti-patriarchy drum-and-bass polemic titled "The Future is Female." The title was appropriated from the slogan of a '70s New York lesbian separatist bookstore that went viral a few years ago when Otherwild begun selling it on t-shirts which have been worn by St. Vincent and namechecked by Hillary Clinton. The show is exuberant and, I'm sure, equally exhausting: she drums, she sings, she raps. Her team flanks her, carefully choreographed, but this is, undoubtedly, her show.

"I can barely sing but we all have to be brave in our own voice," she tells me. She speaks in the register of inspirational rap songs, each story organized around a small moral for self-improvement. In college, she was the classic Lisa Simpson version of an overachiever: majoring in mathematics, political science; a minor in women studies. Shortly after graduating, while working at Interscope, she saw an opportunity to work for one of the most high-profile and controversial artists on their register, M.I.A.. "She was about to put out this record, Matangi , and I remember thinking, damn that would be an extraordinary project to be a part of." Confident in her drumming abilities, she sent a video to M.I.A.'s team, showing how Gandhi could augment her live show. The Anglo-Sri Lankan rapper invited her on tour.

Talking to Gandhi, I am impressed by the ceaselessness of her businesslike, daily rigorousness that plans every event for maximum impact, her syntax floating into the majestic plural. "Anytime you want a job, want to date somebody, work with someone: instead of asking what can I take, ask what can I contribute," she tells me, a Kennedy-esque nugget of wisdom. Her approach to music is similarly businesslike; "I have my own show checklist," she tells me, it begins with making sure she got paid and ends with adding fans to a database. She has given a TEDx Talk on something called "atomic living." I wondered what her thoughts were on capitalism.

"I don't support capitalism because it's exploitative but I do support business which is the exchange of value between two parties." She is not, she tells me, in favor of burning it all down. I bring up a band I saw following her set-time at a festival, the D.C. band Priests, among those who crafted their voice in the register of betrayal at the hands of neoliberal elites, i.e. "Barack Obama killed something in me/And I'm gonna get him for it," from their early track "And Breeding." Kiran Gandhi, on the other hand, has been to the White House numerously, in the Obama years, and begins "The Future is Female" by rapping: "I heard Amy Poehler speak at the White House/her words hit me hard like a light bulb."

She isn't angry, she tells me, even now, even six months into the Trump Administration. She tells me that she tends not to listen to aggressive music. She is wary, even, of conscious rap, which she described as definitively unsexy. She wants to be more Beyoncé than M.I.A., a mythos that extends to both artist's professional dealings. "When you're on a label, you have to rally people behind you," she told me, when I brought up M.I.A.'s notorious issues with the music industry. "Of course, the music video gets a fraction of the views that it could have got had the label been working it."

Currently, Madame Gandhi is unsigned. In an interview with FADER, she bemoaned what she termed the industry's 'feminization' of artists, forcing their talent to be dependent on their labels' control of the purse strings. "So many music labels come in and exploit communities of color because they understand that so much music is made in such vulnerable parts of the world, in poverty," she told me.

She brings up the common criticisms leveled against pop singers like Rihanna and, on her last album, Taylor Swift: they don't write their own material. It's criticisms like this that have made Gandhi wary of collaborating with music industry insiders. "The second that women collaborate with other people, all of our credit is stripped from us. We seem to go to the bottom of the totem pole of who is responsible for the magic." More saliently, she argues for a reconsideration of song artistry: "Of course they write their songs. To actually take your emotions and thoughts and rally it to a team of people to help them bring it to life is so difficult."

The other day, she told me, she was watching home videos of her family playing tennis and observed her younger self demanding to know why "hitting like a girl" was an insult. Later, at Harvard, she felt disconcerted at how efficient the system was quieting rebellious voices or even expression, at how easy it was for her male peers to take credit for work she had done. She described her decision to leave the business world as a self-selecting out, departing an organization that she felt like she could not personally or morally relate to. She regrets, sometimes, not doing it earlier.

(Madame Gandhi)

She believes, additionally and very earnestly, that the system, as it were, can be reformed, can meaningfully incorporate change from outside. "I grew up inside it, my life is so tied to it," she confesses. Gandhi is the daughter of an investment banker who once headed Morgan Stanley's operations in India and currently sits on the faculty at the Harvard Business School, a place that she admitted to me is "the breeding ground of all the patriarchy and the capitalism that we have."

Gandhi's narrative, in a way, inverts the traditional story of privilege's infinite corruptibility. She brought up an endorsement deal she recently signed, with Adidas. She will wear their outfits for a campaign later this year but will use their platform to talk about issues like menstrual stigma and trans rights. She was endorsing a product but calling the shots, putting her name on something millions of people would see. "I think working with brands, as long as it's symbiotic, it's wonderful," she told me, "Any brand that wants to endorse a free-bleeding feminist musician is pretty fucking badass." We can't escape the mechanisms of privilege and industry but Gandhi seems to suggest a way to live inside of them, ears open to the voices outside.

At her shows, she reads from The Feminist Utopia Project, a collection of essays that its editor sent her shortly after the image of her at the London Marathon went viral. It appealed to her because "we have all these feminist conversations about what we're mad about, no one's writing about what the solution looks like."

The future is, after all, female. You can buy the shirt here.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood.

Voices is out now. Check it out.

Follow Madame Gandhi on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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M.I.A. was her usual glorious self when she appeared on Conan Wednesday.

The British-Sri Lankan singer performed her new single Y.A.L.A. from her album Mantangi—and Popdust has the video.

Clad in a flowing red robe and shades, the 38-year-old shimmied, shaked and flailed around in a cloud of dry ice in front of a gold and jewel encrusted clock/wheel contraption…

Pretty standard M.I.A. all in all.

Check it out.

From time to time, this web site will take time out from its mission of covering the latest music videos and leaks to engage with the politics of the day. This is one of those times.

Of all the shocking revelations about sexting politician Anthony Weiner in his former sexting partner Sydney Leathers's tell-all for xoJane, perhaps the most shocking is Weiner's taste in music. In Leathers' sexerpts of the flirtatious conversations, the mayor hopeful seems to take delight in demonstrating his superior musical knowledge for his online paramour.

Take a look at this clunky reference:

Dangr33: so I missed the tall black heels?

Sydney: Unfortunately :(

Dangr33: did you let a boy take off your party dress? (h/t elvis costello)

As many have noted, Anthony Weiner may be the first person to use proper Twitter citations while sexting. But why? There's something odd about this need to spell out the reference, as if Weiner wasn't quite sure that Leathers would "get" it. Does Anthony Weiner think "Alison" is an obscure song? The song's on every single Elvis Costello greatest hits album! Possibly the age difference is coming into play: Anthony Weiner's not quite sure if the kids these days know who Elvis Costello is, so he needs to hedge his bets a little bit.

Weiner's second musical reference is even more awkward:

Dangr33: you sure do run hot and cold. is that like a thing? been mia. not the over rated sri lankan rapper.

But this one, clearly, is just Weiner showing off. He want Leathers to know that, despite being an older guy, he knows who M.I.A. is, and not only that—he also knows she's from Sri Lanka. But don't get him wrong: He thinks she kind of sucks. This is quite possibly the world's first negging-via-inept-musical-reference

So there you have it: Elvis Costello good, M.I.A. bad, straight from the sexter-in-chief himself.