Electro Feminisms: M.I.A and Diplo, Taking Credit

Emily McAvan
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One of the things that’s really persistent in electronic music is the idea of female artists as proteges, molded, shaped by a man behind the scenes. As Joanna Russ detailed in How to Suppress Women’s Writing, women’s contributions to culture are actively suppressed. A man must have written that book, or those lyrics, or song. That “makes sense,” to a culture that values men’s creativity over women’s.

One thing that’s come across my radar repeatedly is an ongoing suppression of rapper/producer/etc M.I.A’s contributions as an artist. In particular, her former boyfriend and very occasional producer Diplo—notably, one of her few white producers—is often cited as the architect behind her sound.

The image of M.I.A as a Diplo protege goes back quite some time. In 2007, at the release of her album Kala, M.I.A had this very telling conversation with Pitchfork.

M.I.A.: Yesterday I read like five magazines in the airplane—it was a nine hour flight— and three out of five magazines said “Diplo: the mastermind behind M.I.A.’s politics!” And I was wondering, does that stem from [Pitchfork]? Because I find it really bonkers.
Pitchfork: Well, it’s hard to say where it originated. We certainly have made reference to Diplo playing a part on your records, but it seems like everyone plays that up.
M.I.A.: If you read the credits, he sent me a loop for “Bucky Done Gun,” and I made a song in London, and it became “Bucky Done Gun.” But that was the only song he was actually involved in on Arular. So the whole time I’ve had immigration problems and not been able to get in the country, what I am or what I do has got a life of its own, and is becoming less and less to do with me. And I just find it a bit upsetting and kind of insulting that I can’t have any ideas on my own because I’m a female or that people from undeveloped countries can’t have ideas of their own unless it’s backed up by someone who’s blond-haired and blue-eyed. After the first time it’s cool, the second time it’s cool, but after like the third, fourth, fifth time, maybe it’s an issue that we need to talk about, maybe that’s something important, you know.

So this is a narrative being promoted by the press. More recently, Diplo has not done much to discourage this image, saying in a recent interview:

“She got famous off ‘Paper Planes,’ ” he says. “She had already thrown in the towel when that record came out. Before that, she was like, ‘I’m retiring. I’m going to marry this guy, f–k it.’ Then ‘Paper Planes’ blew up and she was like, ‘Oh sh-t. I gotta take advantage of this. I’m actually an artist now.

She’s actually an artist now? M.I.A had made two official albums, one before she met him, and the second with one album track and one bonus track with Diplo, but now she’s an artist because his one song was a hit. The idea would be ludicrous if it wasn’t so common.

In contrast, M.I.A’s friend and former flatmate ex-Elastica singer Justine Frischmann’s influences on her career show a very different narrative—the two have worked together on films and art, Frischmann lent M.I.A the Roland 505 drum machine/sequencer on which she programmed much of her debut album, and the two collaborated on “Galang.” This is not to say that Frischmann should take credit—far from it—just to say that both Frischmann and Diplo had sustained creative relationships with M.I.A but one of them is oft-cited as a major influence and the other isn’t. Of course, the truth is that neither can take much credit for M.I.A’s body of work.

Artistic collaboration can be a nebulous process, but the one thing that’s very obvious from looking at M.I.A’s career as a whole is how very distinctive it is, how much control she exercises as an artist, a writer and producer. You know an M.I.A track when you hear it, and it’s not because of Diplo or any other man.

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

I think its interesting that

I think its interesting that yeah, this the narrative that the media promotes which really obfuscates her autonomy and authorship but at the same time with an album like Kala, if you look at the lyrics vis-a-vis the music, I feel she went on a very questionable cultural/musical touristic road which it would be cool to delve into more. 'Cos in my mind she seems to have done the same with the music/artistry of people from underdeveloped countries.

As an aside, every comment I ever hear Diplo make about M.I.A is sooooo negative and I cant help feel its a touch of bad breakup/sour grapes. They have continued to work together since they broke up but they both seem to just slam each other in the media.


Also of note Blackberry didn't ask M.I.A. to be in the campaign for the new BB apps - they asked "the man" Diplo. She's losing more than industry credit --- she's losing out on money from all sorts of deals that the White blue eyed man is being offered. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N08Cyg_-o0

a few thoughts...

M.I.A. as a major label artist (which she has been since Arular), is in fact a small piece of a huge team which produces her sound. No performer in this situation can take "full credit" for their sound.

In the first Pitchfork quote it seems clear to me that M.I.A. is pissed that Diplo has been given credit in the press as some sort of "mastermind", which is indeed ridiculous. Especially a "mastermind" of her "politics". But he did influence how her sound evolved, from her initial TR-505 mashups to now. You just need to see how "Galang" evolved from a mash-up of "What Happened to that Boy" by Baby & Clipse on the Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape, to Diplo's mix of the same track (in its "Galangaton" guise) on the same mixtape, to the final Galang on Arular produced by Cavemen. The final two sound startlingly alike, though M.I.A.'s original vocal passages as largely the same.

As she says, Diplo did produce only "Bucky Done Gun" on Arular but the remainder of the tracks are produced by hired producers payed for by the label such as Cavemen and Richard X. However there is no doubt that M.I.A. wrote the original sketches for these tracks, though they appeared largely as mash-ups on her Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape.

And it does seem clear that the whole M.I.A./Diplo argument is hugely clouded by their breakup, and it is really impossible for anyone else to know exactly who should take credit for what.

Finally, I think your main point, that women must face this persistent belief that there is some man creatively controlling them from the background is indeed a widespread problem, and probably the most irritating problem a woman in the music industry (particularly electronic) must face. But I think the example of M.I.A. and Diplo is not an ideal one, from their complicated history personally and M.I.A.'s position as a mainstream big-label artist. Indie artists (male or female) write & produce their own tracks (as M.I.A. once did), but it is unrealistic to believe that big label performers (male or female) can take full credit for their sound.

Sorry for the huge comment :)

p.s. An interesting sidenote, Diplo is partially behind Beyonce's "Run the World", which takes huge chunks of Diplo's Major Lazer project's "Pon the Floor".


Dana, 'Piracy Funds Terrorism' was made AFTER Arular was finished. Diplo had nothing whatsoever to do with Galang, it was released before Maya even met him.

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