British rapper and singer M.I.A. is an exceptional yet controversial artist. Signed to XL Records as a teenager in 2004, the musician (real name Mathangi Arulpragasam) was one of the first UK acts to Garner public attention through the Internet.
M.I.A. is most known for her 2008 hit ‘Paper Planes’, which gained a lot of international fame following its release. However, few know the true origin of her unique stage name.
Born in the UK, M.I.A. is of Sri Lankan descent and, as a child, lived between London and Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. However, as a Tamil, the vocalist was greatly affected and eventually displaced following the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Although Arulpragasam was primarily focused on the visual arts and film while she was in college, as she began her career as a recording artist, she took on the stage name M.I.A. Although the musician’s name might sound hip, when choosing her stage name, the Sri Lankan took inspiration from a tragic family incident that helped to shape her early life.
In 2018, the ‘Galang’ sat down with the newspaper The Guardian to speak about her career and previous cancellation. When asked about her stage name, the singer told an intriguing and personal story about how she acquired her moniker.
Explaining to the journalist Steve Rose, Arulpragasam disclosed, “M.I.A. came to be because of my missing cousin. I wanted to make a film about where he was since he was M.I.A. (Missing in Action) in Sri Lanka. We were the same age, went to the same schools growing up. I was also living in Acton at the time. So I was living in Acton looking for my cousin missing in action.”
Although M.I.A. achieved fame at an extremely early age, industry figures distanced themselves from her as she continued to engage in politics concerning the Tamil Tigers and the corrupt government of Sri Lanka.
You can hear M.I.A.’s breakout hit below.