When you have one foot in the underground and one in the mainstream, it can be a difficult battle trying to maintain your identity and still continue to reach out to new audiences. Few musicians have been able to navigate this minefield better than Sri Lanka-born, England-based MC/producer/artist/fashion designer/label owner Maya Arulpragasam (aka M.I.A.).
It's obvious from M.I.A.'s politically charged lyrics and outspoken views that she is not only challenging the status quo - she's out to smash it.
"The biggest thing coming out of England right now are singers like Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen," says the 30-year-old MC over the phone from New York, prior to a five-hour photo shoot for the Sonar festival. "I think questioning the status quo for them is doing lines of cocaine in the toilet."
Although Arulpragasam is fiercely independent, making some of her own beats, building her own websites, making her own videos and handling all the art work for her albums, tours and merchandise, there are immense pressures on her to start bridging the gap between her faithful underground fan base and her new mainstream following. Even though her genre-bending music explores universal issues of suffering, struggle and revolution, she is still courted by fashion magazines and designers who want to her to model and strut her stuff on the red carpet.
"I fight for creative control every day. I wake up and the first two hours of my day are fighting for that little bit of space to do what I feel is right. It's really weird. It's a fine line. Half the time I don't do shit because I am actually genuinely busy doing crappy little things that make me happy," Arulpragasam says. "I want to make my little pictures, do my little paintings, build my own little website and do my little videos. That actually takes time. I think that works out for me in the long run because it means that I don't have time to sit around and do fashion spreads in magazines, which is a good thing.
"You just have to prioritize and realize what is important. At the end of the day, I have to make music or art because it actually helps me. It is the only therapy that I can afford to do. If I am trying to work shit out to try and help myself figure shit out and you help other people in the process, than that's a good thing. I don't know if I am helping anyone by looking good in a magazine."
While Arulpragasam has been able to live in these two very different worlds successfully, it hasn't come without a price.
"It is really difficult. There are sacrifices you have to be willing to make," she says. "You have to understand you are never going to fucking be U2 and fucking sell out stadiums.
"At the end of the day, bands like The Clash could question the status quo, but it helped that they were white. I think it is really difficult to be the other voice and get away with questioning shit without people getting pissed off. You have to be able to take the fucking punches as well."