I met Maya in 1998 at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. She joined the film degree program late, with no interview. She just blagged her way in on the phone and turned up halfway through the term.
We all dressed in dark colors and talked serious art theory. Maya wore skintight pink jeans and stilettos, she had pink lipstick and fingernails, and she couldn’t spell. Her accent was South London, but her grammar was always kind of off and she wasn’t very articulate, didn’t talk much in class (and 90 percent of the degree was talking because we didn’t have much equipment)
She wasn’t a stand-out student.
MIA is having none of it. “I am not a conspiracy theorist,” she says.
“Yes, you are,” I say.
The great pop contrarian also known as Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam huffs. “What I said about the internet is what’s happening now. It’s on the front of your own newspaper. It’s not a conspiracy theory, is it – unless your paper is supporting a conspiracy theory? Conspiracy theory is too much of a small pond for me to swim in.” I feel suitably admonished.
It’s been three years since MIA released her last studio album, Maya. Its first track was The Message, a 57-second discordant rap suggesting that social media companies were working hand-in-hand with the world’s governments to spy on us (“Connected to the Google, connected to the government,” she chanted repeatedly). A lot of people accused her of being politically naive. Now, following the Guardian’s revelations about the spying capacity of America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ, it looks as if she was stating the obvious. Does she feel vindicated? “I do. I love it.” She grins.