How Hirschberg’s Public Battle With M.I.A. Could Help W

Lynn Hirschberg is leaving The New York Times Magazine with a bang. Her last contracted piece for the magazine is a profile of Grammy-nominated rapper M.I.A. that went online this week. And if M.I.A.’s tweet on the matter is any indication, she didn’t like the piece very much at all.

“917.834.3158 CALL ME IF YOU WANNA TALK TO ME ABOUT THE N Y T TRUTH ISSUE, ill b taking calls all day bitches.”

Problem is, that’s not actually M.I.A.’s number — it’s Hirschberg’s, who told The New York Observer that most of the calls she’s been getting are from people who want to hook up with M.I.A. But that doesn’t mean the publication of her number didn’t piss her off.

“It’s a fairly unethical thing to do, but I don’t think it’s surprising,” [Hirschberg said]. “She’s a provocateur, and provocateurs want to be provocative.”

She also said that she found it “infuriating and not surprising.”

Hirschberg, who will soon become the editor at large of W Magazine, made no apologies about the article or its content.

So what could possibly have the artist and the journalist butting heads? M.I.A. seems to have some issues with the facts presented in the story — she later tweeted:


While artfully written, the Hirschberg’s profile seems to take little stabs at various aspects of the performer’s life, career and personality. Below, a few contenders for what might have M.I.A. so angry with Hirschberg:

On her supposed support of the Tamil Tigers:

Throughout her music career, which began in 2004, and especially around the time of the Grammys, Maya has used the spotlight to call attention to Tamil grievances. She named her first album “Arular,” after her father. Even though her father was not a Tiger, she also used tigers on her Web site and her album artwork and she favored tiger-striped clothing. This was not an accident. By the time her first album came out, the Tamil cause was mostly synonymous with the cause of the Tamil Tigers. Maya, committed to the cause, allied herself with the group despite its consistent use of terror tactics, which included systematic massacres of Sinhalese villagers. (In turn, government forces were known to retaliate against Tamil villages and were accused of supporting death squads.)

On her personality:

She speaks carefully, slowly, with a kind of deadpan delivery. Like a trained politician, she stays on message. It’s hard to know if she believes everything she says or if she knows that a loud noise will always attract a crowd.

On preserving “hipster credibility” while still being a mainstream success:

What Maya wants is nearly impossible to achieve: she wants to balance outrageous political statements with a luxe lifestyle; to be supersuccessful yet remain controversial; for style to merge with substance. “If you want to be huge, you have to give up a lot,” Michelle Jubelirer, Maya’s longtime lawyer, told me. “Maya vacillates between wanting to be huge and maintaining her artistic integrity. That’s her dilemma.”

The article is a long read, but whether or not all the facts are on the level remains to be seen. Three things are certain, though: M.I.A. is pissed, Lynn Hirschberg doesn’t know what her latest subject is talking about, and, it’s the perfect piece for Hirschberg to close her tenure at the magazine. Word has it that Stefano Tonchi wants her to focus on bringing these types of celebrity profiles to boost the magazine’s readership — and a buzzy piece like this would do wonders for W’s mainstream appeal.

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