7 of M.I.A.’s most iconic outfits
The internet’s first popstar was an indie sleaze icon in Versace tracksuits, graphic tees and day-glo leggings.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images
There has never been a popstar like M.I.A. Born in London to Sri Lankan Tamil parents, M.I.A. and her family moved to Sri Lanka during the musician’s infancy, just years before the onset of the country’s 1983 civil war. The rapper’s childhood was coloured by war and displacement and, when she was just 11, her family returned to London as refugees. These formative experiences inform much of M.I.A.’s musical oeuvre, which merges artistry and activism in a way that no figure in mainstream pop has before… or since. Take “Paper Planes,” for example, a Billboard chart-topping single that satirized American xenophobia. Or the unforgettable video for “Bad Girls” produced in solidarity with the Saudi Women to Drive Movement.
Both sonically and sartorially, M.I.A. remixes the sounds and aesthetics of the Global South, creating a diverse, dense and, ultimately, singular style that revels in its Otherness. Think M.I.A. in the “Galang” music video, wearing track jackets, faded graphic tees and neon leggings: the “uniform” of the refugee. Or clad in a digital print burqa on the red carpet. With her uncompromisingly maximalist style, M.I.A. was also one of the indie sleaze era’s foremost fashion icons – Nu-Rave day-glo, Henry Holland, et al. Here, to celebrate the pop icon’s birthday, we look back at some of her most iconic outfits of all time.
In the “Galang” music video, 2005
M.I.A. was one of the Internet’s first popstars. In the early 00s, the rapper rose to underground prominence after the proliferation of her early singles on college radio airwaves, on runway soundtracks and, namely, on online file-sharing servers. In the video for one of these early singles, “Galang”, M.I.A. dances in a series of track jackets, hoodies and neon leggings: the “uniform” of the refugee.
In the “Paper Planes” music video, 2008
In 2008, M.I.A. broke through the musical underground with the instantly-iconic “Paper Planes.” The danceable, Afro-inspired hip hop track provided a winking satire of American xenophobia — and topped the Billboard charts. In the single’s music video, M.I.A. plays an undercover dealer, selling chains and watches while wearing a series of patterned tracksuits, tees and leggings.
At the Grammys, 2009
M.I.A. pulled up to the 2009 Grammys — where she was nominated for Record of the Year — nine months pregnant and wearing a Henry Holland mini that emphasized her baby bump. “I’ve never felt, as a woman in music, that I’ve had to get my body out but on that day I was like, “I’m going to do it!’ Nine months pregnant… it’s when I’ve been proudest of my shape,” she reminisced to Stylist in 2019.
At the Scream Awards, 2010
In 2010, the artist stepped out on the red carpet in one of her most controversial looks of all time: a burqa printed with the cover art from M.I.A.’s XXXO EP. Despite criticism, including claims of cultural appropriation, the rapper has never publicly spoken on the intention behind the outfit. However, considering cultural context and M.I.A.’s modus operandi, it’s easy to glean that the musician was wearing the religious garb in protest of France’s impending ban on face coverings.
At the Superbowl, 2012
Remember when M.I.A. flipped America the bird? In 2012, the rapper joined Madonna and Nicki Minaj — dressed as a trifecta of gladiators — on the Superbowl half-time stage to perform MDNA single “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” During her featured verse, singing “I don’t give a shit,” the rapper flipped off the camera — and nearly 114 million viewers. The iconic move shocked the nation and embroiled the rapper in a major lawsuit with the NFL.
At Versace Haute Couture, 2013
M.I.A.’s uncompromisingly maximalist style has earned her a number of fans within the fashion industry. Henry Holland, Marc Jacobs and, most notably, Donatella Versace. In 2013, the designer tapped the musician to design a capsule collection in collaboration with the label’s diffusion line, Versus. Here, M.I.A. attends Versace’s AW13 Haute Couture show wearing an outfit emblazoned with the house’s signature baroque print, a pattern she’d worn previously in the “Paper Planes” music video.
In the “Bad Girls” music video, 2013
In 2013, M.I.A. followed up Kala with Matangi, and the success of “Paper Planes” with another viral smash single, “Bad Girls.” Shot in Morocco and produced in solidarity with the Saudi Women to Drive Movement, the track’s music video features a crew of kitted-out Arab women drifting through the desert in bimmers and sedans. Throughout, M.I.A. performs in a series of opulent looks including a holographic bustier, an iridescent track jacket and a sequined two-piece. Iconic.