M.I.A. was born to Sri Lankan parents in London, England, in 1975. She got her start in the arts as a graphic artist and filmmaker before transitioning into music and releasing her first single, "Galang," in 2003. With each subsequent release, M.I.A. further climbed the charts with her danceable yet message-driven music, and in 2009 a song she co-wrote for the film Slumdog Millionaire was nominated for an Oscar. With her fingers in many pies, M.I.A. started her own record label, N.E.E.T., and when not releasing mixtapes and remixes stays busy with her philanthropic work.
M.I.A. was born Mathangi Arulpragasam in London in 1975. Her parents are of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, and when she was six months old, her family moved back to Sri Lanka. Her father led a Tamil independence movement and was always on the move avoiding the Sri Lankan government, finally moving to India and then back to London in 1986.
M.I.A. graduated from art school in the late 1990s and found success as a graphic artist and filmmaker. She moved into the musical realm after filming a documentary of the band Elastica's 2001 tour (having previously done some album artwork for the band). Elastica's lead singer, Justine Frischmann, lent M.I.A. a Roland MC-505 sequencer/drum machine, and she used it to record a demo tape. The demo tape included the single "Galang," which in turn helped her gain a following online before she ever had a record contract. Soon, though, the contract followed, with British label XL Recordings signing her and officially releasing "Galang" (2003), which reached No. 8 on the U.S. dance charts. "Sunshowers" (2004) was the next release, although it failed to chart in the United States.
The Major Releases and Hollywood
A year after "Sunshowers" came out, M.I.A. released Arular (the name her father adopted when he and his family moved back to Sri Lanka), an album she recorded and produced in her London bedroom. Using demos recorded a few years earlier, M.I.A. addressed global conflicts and oppression, gaining the record attention not only with the listening audience (the record reached No. 3 on the U.S dance charts) but with critics as well.
Her second album, Kala, named for her mother, came out in 2007 and was recorded in various locales around the globe. "Paper Planes" became a surprise hit single in the summer of 2008, eventually reaching the top 10 and hitting No. 1 on the U.S. dance charts. "Boyz" also charted solidly, reaching No. 3 on the dance charts. The album itself hit No. 18 and was named the best album of the year by Rolling Stone and Blender.
During this time, M.I.A. began working with the heavy hitters in the music industry, such as Timbaland and Jay-Z, and acclaimed Hollywood directors, such as Spike Jonze and Danny Boyle. M.I.A. filmed a documentary with Jonze, and co-wrote a song ("O…Saya") for Boyle's Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, in the process earning an Oscar nomination for Best Song Written for a Film. The song was also notable in that it appeared on the first record to be released on M.I.A.'s own label, N.E.E.T. Taking on another life, the song was also sampled on T.I. and Jay-Z's "Swagger Like Us," leading M.I.A. to an infamous performance with the duo (plus Kanye West) at the 2008 Grammy Awards while nine months pregnant.
Beyond the Hits
Always one to promote multidimensional projects in the arts, M.I.A. signed bands such as Baltimore musician Blaqstarr and indie rock band Sleigh Bells to N.E.E.T., while also signing visual artist Jaime Martinez. Not leaving herself out, N.E.E.T. released Maya (styled /\/\/\Y/\) in 2010. The album entered the U.K. albums chart at No. 21 and reached No. 9 on the Billboard 200, debuting in the top 10 in Finland, Norway, Greece and Canada. The album also topped Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart.
When M.I.A. isn't releasing studio albums, she keeps busy with remixes, mixtapes and online releases, all of which help keep her in the musical spotlight and highlight her cutting-edge nature.
In May 2012, M.I.A. signed on with Jay-Z's management company Roc Nation, and in April 2013 she came out with her next album, Matangi.
M.I.A. is noted for her philanthropic and activist work across a spectrum of causes, and she has been recognized for her work as a music video director, graphic designer and fashion designer.