This isn’t a drop: it’s a deluge.
M.I.A. sat down with NME to take a stand on where music is headed in the coming decade. Most saw her choice words, as choice cuts of beef served up at the table of Lady Gaga. However 1) Pop Stars don’t eat and 2) any avid reader and Pop Culture connoisseur would see that the article is not so much a direct attack on Gaga, as it is a misdirected critique of the mainstream, and industry in general; so that leaves the beef: untouched. M.I.A. is a major artist, an iconic figure from the past decade, commenting on the future of music; the future of music as we know it is Gaga, and so what better case study to reference than the Lady herself? Where the response has gone array is in people’s general lack of perspective on the artists, and the art form. Brass tacks: I read the article and thought I was reading a self-deprecating dialogue between Gaga’s Fame and Monster… some sort of existential exercise in literary catharsis for her new album… I don’t know. M.I.A. and Lady Gaga are a theoretical tandem, they share a Pop iconography. They both represent the future of music from the Sri Lankan hood to the Haus. Point/Counterpoint: for every question NME posed, and every response M.I.A. gave, Gaga has been posed a similar – if not identical – question, and below are her answers: verbatim. Before you pick a side, let this be your guide, a little Pop primer that gives reference points and poses the biggest question of all: “so wait, where is the beef?”
NME: Do musical tribes still exist?
M.I.A.: “There aren’t tribes any more – how can there be when we all live in computers, on social networks? People listen to and access music differently now, so the tribal thing has to be reformatted.”
Lady Gaga: “People believe electronic music is soulless – and it’s not. Do you know why I know it’s not? Because the soul that I feel from my fucking beautiful fans at my show cannot be a lie – it can’t. I’ve never in my life seen the intensity in their faces – I mean they bloodsuck and kill to be together; I mean there’s glitter, and there’s sweat, and there’s dancing, and there’s hairbows, and they believe in it so much and it’s real. In those moments: it’s real; and they bring my music to life.”
My Two Cents: Tribes exist, and both M.I.A. and Gaga are tribal leaders (paws to lil’ monsters). The firewire sparked the bonfire around which the new musical tribes dance; the future of the musical tribe? Gonna be okay.
NME: Do we still need record labels?
M.I.A: “Are they even interested in making money from music anymore? Lady Gaga plugs 15 things in her new video. Dude, she even plugs a burger! That’s probably how they’re making money right now – buying up the burger joint, putting the burger in a music video and making loads of burger money.”
Lady Gaga: “Once you kill a cow, you gotta make a burger.”
Pretense: M.I.A. answers questions like I go through life… by not answering the question, but giving a socio-political tangent that somewhat pertains to the general topic at hand – and name-dropping Lady Gaga.
Two Cents: M.I.A. uses Gaga as an example of what’s wrong with the industry, citing a Gaga video that highlights… what’s wrong with the industry – and elaborates on M.I.A.’s own train of thought. The music industry – the cash cow – is dead, we killed it; so, when life gives you beef: make a burger – bank on it. While there was no clown-themed burger joint to buy and make “loads of burger money,” there were at least nine brands behind the video’s product placement: Diet Coke, Virgin Mobile, Plenty of Fish.com (still doesn’t settle right), Miracle Whip, Wonderbread, Heartbeats by Dre headphones and limited edition Beats laptop, HP Envy, Polaroid, and Chanel. Only three brands paid for placement, that leaves six freeloaders, and a four-times gone bankrupt Gaga with nothing but a head full of Diet Coke cans to trade in for McDouble money.
NME: How do you think you’d have fared on the (American Idol-style singing competition X-Factor) show?
M.I.A.: “I would totally flop. Are you serious?! I’m not a ‘showbiz’ person. I got signed and made an album without playing a show. I scouted four different people to sing ‘Galang’ before I put it out as my own demo.”
Lady Gaga: “It’s interesting that you bring up American Idol because even though it is this incredibly American, pop, antithesis of what Warhol stood for: we had a very Warholian approach to it. We brought Benjamin Cho in, a designer who’s a friend of Matt’s from New York. Daniel Bernard Romaine was the violinist, a hip-hop violinist friend of ours. So even though the show is Hollywood, we brought the heart of New York.”
My Two Cents: They both see “The Man” behind the show, the wizard behind the curtain if you will; they differ in how they defeat that beast, though. You don’t have to be mainstream to be mainstream, you can make the mainstream whatever you already are. Both M.I.A. and Gaga did that: different method, same message – flip the status quo.
NME: Do you think those (celebrity television) programmes and the internet have destroyed the mythology around popstars?
M.I.A.: “I don’t know. Again, there’s Lady Gaga – people say we’re similar, that we both mix all these things in the pot and spit them out differently, but she spits it out exactly the same! None of her music’s reflective of how weird she wants to be or thinks she is. She models herself on Grace Jones and Madonna, but the music sounds like 20-year-old Ibiza music, you know? She’s not progressive, but she’s a good mimic. She sounds more like me than I fucking do! That’s a talent and she’s got a great team behind her, but she’s the industry last’s stab at making itself important – saying, ‘You need our money behind you, the endorsements, the stadiums.’ Respect to her, she’s keeping a hundred thousand people in work, but my belief is: Do It Yourself.”
Lady Gaga: (To answer the question) “The idea of ‘showbiz’ the idea of Michael Jackson ‘showbiz’ and the sentiments of music and and performance; today with the media, and the way that it is, you see absolutely legendary people – taking out their trash. It’s something that we as a society don’t want to see, but we keep buying into it; and I think it’s destroying show business.”
(To answer the answer) “I come from a strict religious background, and I make music about sex, pornography, partying, and money; this is what I am, this is what I do, this is what I mean for you to see. I wouldn’t want people to see me – me – in anyway except my music and stage performances. It’s funny though, because I have found that I arrive upon comparisons more than I make an effort to be like them. I started making music in New York and was called everything: when I was brunette they called me Amy Winehouse, when I was blond they called me Madonna, and then they called me Gwen, and then they called me Christina – people’s music knowledge only goes so far, they need more points of reference. It’s funny though, with the Madonna reference, because I never saw it until people started to say it; and I was like… okay, I can kind of see that. It’s not I want to be like David Bowie, I honor his philosophy; it’s not ‘I want to be Bowie,’ it’s ‘How would Bowie do this?’ I’m just trying to reinvent Pop in a fresh way; I’m not trying to recreate the wheel. Everything’s sort of been done before; however I feel that I can make it feel new and fresh – and still be commercial. Name a bar in New York and I’ve played it. I used to take my demo into clubs, but when they wouldn’t book me I would lie and say that I was Lady Gaga’s manager, and that she was only available to play on Friday nights at 10:30 — the best time slot.”
My Two Cents: Gaga doesn’t “think” Gaga is weird, she’s not actively “trying” to be anything; she just does what she does and leaves perception to the public. M.I.A. and Gaga are similar, like yin and yang: but where M.I.A. is that politically-charged, active, substantial, guerrilla fire; Gaga is that Pop-centric, reactive, stylistic, glam fame. Where M.I.A.’s stage is the battlefield, Gaga’s battlefield is the stage. Now, on the swaggerjacking tip: M.I.A. gets her beats from indigenous tribes from Africa and the Middle East, Gaga gets her vibes from Pop stars… it’s much easier to name Warhol, Bowie, and Queen than it is to name the Zulu, Ashanti (not that Ashanti), and Maasai; case and point: we all swaggerjack – there is no original, just better concealed sources. Grace Jones and Madonna both were more than their music, and their looks were part of the whole persona. Madonna is a fusion of all her New York scenes – in conjunction with her religious roots (strict religion, sex, pornography, partying, money… man that sounds familiar). So, they agree: Gaga’s a mimic, Gaga cites Grace Jones and Madonna as influences, Gaga has a label: where’s the beef? Gaga may sound “more M.I.A. than M.I.A.” on “Chillin” but RiRi’s “Rude Boy” video clocks them both.
NME: What’s more important to you – performing live or making records?
M.I.A.: “Making records is my art, but if you’re an artist, questioning a lot of things, it’s important to have that live space where what you do isn’t gonna be twisted and manipulated.”
Lady Gaga: “I was a songwriter to make money, but I put all my money in my live shows. I’ve gone bankrupt four times, my manager wants to kill me. My friends say I’m dead until I’m on stage – that’s where I come alive.”
My Two Cents: They both make money in the booth, but leave their mark on the stage.
NME: How important are image and visuals to your music?
M.I.A.: “Very. But it’s not like ‘Haus of Gaga’ (laughs). Me blindfolded with naked men feeding me apples and shit.”
Pretense: Performance art means image and visuals are music, vice versa, etc. and Gaga is performance art embodied. But for good measure…
Lady Gaga: “When I’m on stage that’s the narrative of the show. As a fashion stance the clothing evolves. It begins in sort of a warbly, blue state, and it’s kind of spacy. Then I grow bones, and then I grow hair, and then I grow horns, and then I become a sexy full-bodied woman in a world full of war and military. Then I become myself, by the end of the show. It’s sort of this apocalyptic rebirth when I appear in the orbit and I’ve done it again. The show is like the ultimate, epitome, symbol of what that ‘Fame Monster’ is that we perceive in our heads.”
My Two Cents: Both artists create music that transcends sound and builds entire atmospheres, worlds to the point of sight and tangibility; given the modern resources, it’s only natural that both are equally focused on expanding that experience to reality: actual visuals and mixed media.
“The More You Know” Moment: “But, really, Lady Gaga: what is ‘The Haus?'”
Lady Gaga: “It’s my creative team and it was really organic. I was a bit frustrated at the beginning, being so new to the business and going forward with a major label. I called all my coolest art friends and we sat in a room and I said that I wanted to make my face light up. Or that I wanted to make my cane light up. Or that I wanted to make a pair of dope sunglasses. Or that I want to make video glasses, or whatever it was that I wanted to do. It’s a whole amazing creative process that’s completely separate from the label.”
NME: Where’s today’s true music underground?
M.I.A.: “In people’s hard drives and their brains, it just hasn’t been outputted yet. It’s really important to be physical, especially now so many of us have become typists and voyeurs. We need a digital moshpit like we’ve never seen, harder than how people were doing it in the punk era. We need that energy, but digitally. It’s coming.”
Lady Gaga: “I think dance music in America is – or was for a very long time – kind of like, underground, and ‘gay,’ and not on the mainstream, very ‘Oh, that’ll never be played on the Top 40.’ My fans aren’t normal Top 40 radio fans, they’re like crazy punk rock fans – with me tattooed all over them, with wigs, and throwing glitter and hairbows, and fainting all over themselves. So, when my record label heard The Fame Monster they said ‘It’s confusing, it’s too dark, you look gothic, it’s not pop,’ and I said, ‘You don’t know what pop is, because everyone was telling me I wasn’t pop last year, and now look — so don’t tell me what pop is, I know what pop is.'”
My Two Cents: This is a “looking forward and looking back” situation where M.I.A. sets the tone for what needs to happen, and Gaga reflects on what has happened with the underground, and its transition to mainstream. Electronic will always be “underground” within some capacity… but as long as M.I.A. and Gaga tap into it, it will never be “underground” completely.
NME: Who or what is the enemy of music right now?
M.I.A.: “Money is always the enemy of music.”
Lady Gaga: “What’s the one thing I hate? Money. Music has no fucking race, it has no fucking religion, it has no fucking orientation, it has no fucking genre, and it has no fucking economy. Don’t want your money – shit’s ugly.”
My Two Cents: Commerce kills creativity. Then again, maybe NME is the enemy…
NME: Is it still possible for a musician to ‘sell-out’ in 2010?
M.I.A.: “Back in 2003 I was in a bedsit, hand-spraying every 12-inch and just wanting to make art. Everybody gets turned into a product push so fast – these weird fucking ‘hipster’ parties promoting Red Bull or whatever. There’s a difference between saying ‘no’ to everything and ‘yes’ to everything. I’m not fucking Coldplay because I said ‘no’ to certain things. When I did my ‘selling-out’ show for MTV they made me a hundred grand and I built a school with it in Africa.”
Lady Gaga: “On the 24th, The Monster Ball in New York, all the money I made that day in ticket sales and merchandising went to Haiti – not a dollar went to anybody else but Haiti. I was never supposed to do ‘We Are The World.’ So that’s a rumor. We’ve raised over half a million dollars for Haiti during the show and we like to work specifically with charities that are based in Haiti itself. Project MediShare is a Haitian organization that is non-celebrity related group where all monies donated go directly to the streets.”
My Two Cents: The point here isn’t selling out so much as it is what do with sales and success. They both Robin Hood the record labels. It is quite possible to “sell out” though, as was evident with the celebrity showcase of self-importance that was “We Are the World 25.”
NME: Who’s pushing music forward in 2010? Are people taking enough risks?
M.I.A.: “Of course they aren’t! We have, what, a million songwriters? And probably three risk-takers. I like this guy DJ Borgore. He’s coming out of the Tel Aviv which has gotta be weird, and in terms of dubstep he makes the hardest shit.”
Lady Gaga: “I don’t know, I don’t judge other artists; I don’t care what other artists are doing, I really don’t. I care about work, in the world, and I appreciate other people’s music – and I love culture and I love music – but, when it comes to judgement and criticism: that’s something sacred in my Haus of creative people. If we criticize, it’s very specific, and it’s very brief, and it’s only a note to improve our own work. I don’t focus on other people; I am one hundred percent focused on being as innovative, and original, and soulful – I cannot stress that word enough…”
My Two Cents: Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house… or a bubble dress.
NME: Would you ever make a record for a Twilight soundtrack?
M.I.A.: “They asked me. Luckily Jimmy [Iovine, chairman of M.I.A.’s US label, Interscope] had beef with the Twilight people, so he stepped in and told them to fuck off.”
Lady Gaga: “Iovine pushed the button.”
My Two Cents: So maybe she didn’t have a direct Twilight situation, but Jimmy gave Gaga as we know her the green light… he stepped in, where L.A. Reid stepped off (read: dropped Gaga). These two are sisters under the same mister… it’s not beef, it’s sibling rivalry – albeit one-sided, but still.
NME: What do you hope to be doing in 2020?
M.I.A.: “I’m going to be an artist. Whatever I think an artist is in 10 years. I’ll be doing that.”
Lady Gaga: “I’m an artist through and through; if I’m not here with you, I’ll be singing in some bar in New York.”
Watch This Space: M.I.A. and Gaga are two sides of the same Pop Culture coin – very “as above, so below.” When you look at their impact, and listen to their interviews they voice the same views. These are two brilliant artists who are the future of music, and signposts for our generation – the polarization of the two is a clear example of why we are lost. Read, research, and build your own conclusion. Drop the beef and go vegan. After all of this I guess what I mean to say is… I don’t know what I’m trying to say, I’m just blogging.