"When GQ asks me for a 7,000-word piece on M.I.A., I agree quickly," writes Gary Shteyngart in GQ's July issue. "The next day I wake up with buyer's remorse. Did they say 7,000 words?"
But Shteyngart follows through. He, like many in the media, is fascinated by the experimental dance-pop artist, and it's no wonder. M.I.A. is provocative: her latest music video is a brutal allegory about minority oppression. She's unconventional: her forthcoming album, which can't be identified by Google crawlers, is titled "///Y/." And if that weren't intriguing enough, she recently got into a brawl with the New York Times over truffle-flavored french fries.
Nevertheless, Shteyngart struggles with how to encapsulate M.I.A. His eventual solution? Explore her psychology. He gets her to talk about a range of topics, surfacing some surprising observations. The Wire most appreciates the discovery that she wants to be Dave Chappelle's next-door neighbor in Ohio:
Her attention deficit disorder is endearing. She's razor smart while somehow managing to be warm, standoffish, and suspicious. She wants to be in charge, controlling the interview, challenging her critics, crushing the United Nations once and for all. I get the sense she's not completely aware of her own psychology, which may be an aid to her artistic work, where it all just comes pouring out like an uncapped volcano in the Philippines...
When she talks about her past, one thinks partly that she's making it up as she goes along, not just because the stuff is so fantastical but because she's such an effortless story-teller, explaining complicated events with small details, like the time her mom locked her in a room at her grandmother's house in Sri Lanka to keep her from filming a potentially dangerous protest, or the gruesomeness of life on a Liberian rubber plantation she recently visited. "I'm sad I come from a country like this," she says of Sri Lanka, "full of racism and hatred." Although maybe L.A. and New York aren't quite the ticket either. "I'm ready to go to Ohio," she says, sort of kidding. "I would love to move next door to Dave Chappelle. That's my dream. If I stick around America, that's what I'm doing."
(The July issue isn't online yet but hits news stands today)