The London rapper’s ”Paper Planes” is a hit thanks to its use in the Pineapple Express trailer. M.I.A. explains what the track is about — and how its success ruined her retirement plans.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve gotten a ton of critical acclaim over the past few years. Is it satisfying to have finally crossed over commercially?
M.I.A.: Yeah. In the beginning people were like, ”Where the hell does this s— fit?” I don’t really fit in between Rihanna and Beyoncé. People have said that to me at MTV: ”We don’t know how to play your videos.”
You had to cancel a festival performance last year because of visa problems. Is it true ”Paper Planes” was inspired by your experience with the immigration authorities?
I’d just gotten into New York after waiting a long time, and that’s why I wrote it, to have a dig. It’s about people driving cabs all day and living in a s—ty apartment and appearing threatening to society, but not being so.
What’s the significance of the gunshots and the cash-register rings on the track?
You can apply it on a street level and go, Oh, you’re talking about somebody robbing you. But it could be a much bigger idea: Someone’s selling guns and making money. Companies that manufacture guns — that’s probably the biggest moneymaker in the world.
That’s a lot of stuff for a pop song.
It is, but you only have three minutes to put in your theses.
When you performed at Bonnaroo this year, you announced that it was going to be your last show. Were you serious?
I didn’t want to make music again. I was happy to leave it all behind. I was planning my life as a fishing woman on the outskirts of Cambodia. That’s a joke.
What did you really want to do?
I think I would have gone and made a film. I wanted to stay an outsider and prolong the process of getting accepted.
Well, you’ve messed that up.
I know, I know! Seriously, these weeks have been, like, ”S—, now what?”