Ever since her breakthrough into the mainstream, M.I.A. has always had something to say about modern politics, whether it was minimal references and a collaboration with Julian Assange on her last album Matangi or the outright information politics theme of the preceding album Maya. Even if her recent material has seen a dip in these themes, it comes as no surprise that the Syrian refugee crisis enters her sights and her songbook in the form of her latest single Borders, given the current political climate.
The song’s main hook, consisting of one or two words spoken by M.I.A.—usually along the lines of borders, politics and privilege—followed up with the statement “what’s up with that?” is exceedingly simple, and makes for an extremely repetitive package. The sung section that follows it up does break the monotony, but overall it has a mixed effect on the song. It forces listeners to ask themselves these politically charged questions, rather than presenting them as a personally delivered message, but also makes for a song that becomes progressively harder to listen to due to the aforementioned monotony. Thankfully, its production is its saving grace; the song’s beat, equal parts stuttering hip-hop and dreamy world music inspired pop, feels fresh and interesting, and will most likely be what brings you back to the song after the first listen.
While the song’s message—or lack thereof—comes out loud and clear, it’s ultimately a package that only truly shines when paired with its combative music video about the refugee crisis. Its questionable style of lyricism and amazing production make it a conflicting song in more ways than one, and ultimately it doesn’t stand tall as anything more than a song that’s pleasant to listen to while it niggles at your political core.