REBEL REBEL Rapper M.I.A. Flips the Bird During the Super Bowl and More Controversial Moments
Rapper M.I.A. caused a great deal of controversy for giving the middle finger to millions of viewers while performing with Madonna and Nicki Minaj during the Super Bowl halftime show. But that’s nothing compared to some of the other pickles the outspoken Sri Lankan musician has found herself in. From publishing a New York Times reporter’s cell phone number to being branded a ‘terrorist sympathizer,’ check out M.I.A.’s 10 most controversial moments.
Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic / Getty Images
Rapper M.I.A. caused a great deal of controversy for giving the middle finger to millions of viewers while performing with Madonna and Nicki Minaj during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. But that’s nothing compared to some of the other pickles the outspoken Sri Lankan musician has found herself in. From publishing a New York Times reporter’s cell phone number to being branded a ‘terrorist sympathizer,’ check out M.I.A.’s ten most controversial moments.
by Marlow Stern
Kevin Mazur, WireImage / Getty images The Middle Finger Seen ’Round The World
During the halftime show of the 46th NFL Super Bowl—seen by 111.3 million viewers—Madonna performed her new single, “Give Me All Your Luvin,” and was joined by M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. Midway through, the rapper not only dropped the word “shit,” but also flipped the bird to the camera. NBC’s censors weren’t fast enough to edit it out, so millions saw it. The NFL later issued an apology, stating: “There was a failure in NBC's delay system … The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing, and we apologize to our fans."
Kevin Winter / Getty Images M.I.A. vs. The New York Times’ Lynn Hirschberg
On May 25, 2010, Lynn Hirschberg wrote
an absolutely brutal profile-takedown of M.I.A. in The New York Times, where she basically portrayed the artist as a sham-revolutionary through sneering implication. Example: “Unity holds no allure for Maya—she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. ‘I kind of want to be an outsider,’ she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. ‘I don’t want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I’m a terrorist.’” This led to M.I.A. blasting The New York Times and tweeting out Hirschberg’s phone number, as well as recordings proving that it was indeed the writer who had ordered the truffle fries. Responding to the tweet, Hirschberg told the New York Observer, “It’s a fairly unethical thing to do, but I don’t think it’s surprising.” The U.S. Government’s Surveillance on M.I.A.
Following the release of her critically acclaimed debut album
Arular in 2005, rapper M.I.A. (real name: Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam) uncovered that the American government was paying regular visits to her official website thanks to the album’s themes of conflict and revolution, illustrated by references to snipers, the Tamil Tigers, and the PLO. The discovery royally pissed off the singer and served as partial motivation for the track “Paper Planes” on her sophomore album, Kala.
Stefan Jeremiah, WireImage / Getty Images M.I.A. Barred from the U.S.
In May 2006, M.I.A. was denied a visa to visit or work in the United States by immigration officials presumably for her politically charged lyrics, despite being an award-winning musician signed to Interscope Records in the States. Because of the incident, the Sri Lankan rapper was forced to cancel some shows in the U.S. and record her sophomore album,
Kala, at different locations all over the world. She took to her MySpace page to vent about the incident, writing: “I was mennu work with [Timbaland] startin' this week ... I'm locked out! They wont let me in! Now I'm strictly making my album outside the borders!!!!” M.I.A. = A Threat to Homeland Security?
After immigration officials denied her a visa to work or visit the U.S., M.I.A. was also briefly placed on a Homeland Security risk list in 2006 due to her support of alleged terrorist groups. The singer was then forced to cancel planned recording sessions in the U.S. with rap mega-producer Timbaland, and record her upcoming album,
Kala, in different places all over the world. Despite—or perhaps because of—the ban, the album came out a masterpiece and is now viewed as M.I.A.’s crowning musical achievement. M.I.A. would also later poke fun at the incident, releasing “Homeland Security Remixes” of her popular single “Paper Planes.”
A Revolutionary and a Trust Fund Baby
While living in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn in late 2006, M.I.A. began dating Ben Bronfman, whose father, Edgar Bronfman, is both the Seagram’s heir and the head of Warner Music. She later got engaged to Ben in 2009, moved to a posh abode in West Hollywood, and gave birth to their son Ikhyd Edgar Arular Bronfman in February 2009.
The Guardian would later write, “How can she still keep it real when she lives in West Hollywood with a trust fund kid?” adding, “But such class-bound objections seem ludicrous when you see Ben and Maya together: their backgrounds are different, but they are both music types—good-looking lefties in nice trainers and cool clothes—and operate in that turn-and-turn-about way of any family with young kids.” Shirlaine Forrest, WireImage / Getty Images M.I.A. vs. the NYPD
On April 8, 2008, while living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, M.I.A. uploaded a
video to YouTube of a pair of white New York City cops roughing up a black suspect outside of her apartment window. M.I.A. would move out of Bed-Stuy shortly after the incident to Brentwood, Calif.
M.I.A.: “Terrorist Sympathizer?”
According to M.I.A., she’s been branded a “terrorist sympathizer” by the Sri Lankan government for her support of the Tamil Tigers, and agents of the government have contacted her fans and threatened to arrest them if they post her music videos on the Internet. Then, on May 4, 2009, Tamil Tigers’ political head B. Nadesan backed M.I.A. in an interview with The Week, saying, “We are proud of her whose support is a great source of strength to Eelam Tamils. The beauty of her humanitarian heart is that she chose to speak for the suffering people fearlessly, knowingly amidst the all-powerful Sri Lankan propaganda machinery that demonizes any one who speaks for the Tamils.” Nadesan was murdered two weeks after the interview was published.
Paul Morigi, WireImage / Getty Images M.I.A. To Obama: Give Back Your Nobel Peace Prize!
On Oct. 9, 2009, the rapper took to her Twitter to vent about President Barack Obama’s surprise win of the Nobel Peace Prize. She
tweeted: “Obama winning the nobel peace PRIZE? he should give it back like john Lennon sent back his MBE.” M.I.A. was of course referring to ex-Beatle Lennon’s 1969 refusal of Knighthood due to Britain’s support for the Vietnam War and the Nigerian Civil War. Banned From YouTube
M.I.A. released her music video for single “Born Free” on April 26, 2010. Directed by Romain Gavras, the nine-minute short film depicted a brutal genocide against a group of red-haired Brits, and was inspired by the unjust killing of Tamil males by the Sri Lankan Army, much of which was captured on mobile phones in Sri Lanka and broadcast on news outlets worldwide. The music video was blocked from YouTube and when it returned was largely obscured and required age verification to see it. M.I.A. deemed the move hypocritical, calling it “ridiculous” considering that YouTube had streamed the aforementioned Sri Lankan killings, while a spokesman for the U.K.
Beatbullying charity found the video “inappropriate” since it could lead to further bullying against red-haired people. Despite the YouTube block, the video has been viewed more than 30 million times on Vimeo.