M.I.A.: The Billboard Cover Story

M.I.A. says touring will play a more prominent role in the "/\/\ /\ Y /\" campaign than it has for previous albums. "This time around I'm slightly more prepared," she says. "It just seems more solid. Last time, because I had visa issues, I didn't prepare myself enough, because I was like, 'Oh, I'm never going to get it anyway.' And then suddenly it came around and I was like, 'Shit!' Making all my visuals and animating stuff without sleeping for days-I felt like I was at college trying to get my shit in and the deadline was tomorrow."

She'll debut her new live show at a pair of festivals presented by L.A.-based Hard Events: Hard LA on July 17 and Hard NYC on July 24. "I've been trying to book her for one of my shows since I started doing this," Hard chief Gary Richards says. "She's definitely at the center of what's cool in our universe." Both concerts will also feature performances by two acts signed to N.E.E.T.: young Baltimore MC Rye Rye and New York noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells.

M.I.A. is also scheduled to play England's Big Chill and Underage festivals this summer, while an extensive North American tour is tentatively set to launch in September. According to XL managing director Ben Beardsworth, "Conventional dates in the U.K. will be a big part of driving record sales in the latter part of the year."

M.I.A. has plans to expand N.E.E.T. as well, from a record label into what she describes as "a creative collective" complete with photographers and visual artists. Following Sleigh Bells' "Treats," which was released May 11 in a joint venture between M.I.A.'s label and Q Prime's Mom + Pop Music, N.E.E.T. will issue Rye Rye's debut, "Go! Pop! Bang!," later this year through Interscope. "M.I.A. was there with me every day from when I started recording my album to when I finished," Rye Rye says. "She was pregnant then, but each day she'd come to the studio to lay the direction and add sounds into songs."

If all of that seems like an overflowing workload, M.I.A. doesn't disagree. "It is difficult to juggle everything," she admits, her train approaching the Channel Tunnel. "But luckily we have the Internet, and I can stay connected and on top of it."

"She knows all of this is a massive undertaking, but this is who she's chosen to be," Boddy says. "It's just part of her makeup." The manager laughs. "Who's the hardest-working person in show business? James Brown? Well, Maya might be gunning for his title."