M.I.A. - "Borders" (Singles Going Steady)

by PopMatters Staff

23 February 2016

M.I.A.'s "Borders" is an ultra-politicized, acid-tongued stomp that takes no prisoners.
 

Pryor Stroud: Corrugated with the same blazing-artillery rhetoric that mobs through the best M.I.A singles, “Borders” is an ultra-politicized, acid-tongued stomp that takes no prisoners, but its anti-institutional reformism is too scattershot to really hit any of the targets it hopes to bullseye: politics, values, identities, criminal justice, egocentrism, history as a whole. It’s sawtoothed and bayonet sharp, with a lyric-hook right-to-southpaw combo featuring Mathangi’s infamous guerrilla-style inflection, but it’s frenzied aim leaves all of these systemic targets—already massive, moving, and nearly impregnable anyway—intact, without scars or dents or even much of a scratch to memorialize the song’s assault. In this way, the insurgent kiss-off opening each chorus—“Guns blow doors to the system / Yeah, fuck ‘em when we say we’re not with them”—resounds more as a revolutionary preamble than a revolution itself: the doors are blown open, the entrenched systemic pathologies are there, vials to be smashed, but no one bothers to enter the room. [6/10]
  

Morgan Y. Evans: M.I.A. continues to be the dazzling and improbable light in freaky pop music, capable of just about anything. Her ability to champion other voices and inject vital current events commentary into this (to quote Marilyn Manson) “Great Big White World” is vital, all while being more casually fashionable and deadly on the mic than the majority of the pack. Her songs always include anthemic memorable elements and her videos often feel like a creative renaissance for the visual artform. “Borders” couldn’t be a more timely reminder of the dangers of sound bite culture that narrows real people into categories and stereotypes. [10/10]

Chad Miller: Took me a while to get into, but there’s actually a lot to love for a song that sounds so simplistic. This excellent production and backing tracks really assist the melody. And while hearing M.I.A. repeat “what’s up with that” might seem a bit taxing, she makes her point brilliantly, setting first world concepts against the reality that refugees are faced with. Lines like “Love wins / What’s up with that” take such a discrete jab at our hypocrisy. The whole song functions as a critique, but M.I.A. never has to come out and say exactly what she thinks. The structure and the lines do all the work for her. She knows sometimes the best way to make a point is to not make one at all. [8/10]

Emmanuel Elone: It has a great message and trap-style beat, but M.I.A.‘s lyrics and voice are terribly annoying. The Auto-Tune is all over this song; she’s suffering from some serious T-Pain syndrome. And, even though I like the moral of the song (basically to help and support immigrants and refugees), the only thing she says is list a bunch of random things (beliefs, families, religion, future) and say “What’s up with that?”, It didn’t sound good at the beginning, and it’s overbearing by the end. Still, M.I.A. does have a knack for making great, Timbaland-style beats as well as discussing topics that most artists aren’t addressing in mainstream music. [5/10]

Steve Horowitz: The song is kind of meh. “What’s up with dat”, indeed, M.I.A., but the video that she directed is incredibly cool. The architecture of refugees creating a gunboat and posed on fences, cramming atop boats and laying so still, powerfully suggests the harm caused by doing nothing about the problems of refugees. The imagery may be heavy handed, but it works better than the song in artistically conveying what borders mean to those outside of them. [7/10]

Chris Ingalls: Admittedly, I’m not familiar with much of M.I.A.‘s music, but this seems to be pretty much in line with what we expect from her. A solid, contemporary beat paired up with an exotic arrangement and instrumentation. Nice message. Brash, lots of swagger. Throw a “fuck ‘em” in the chorus. Drop the mic, move on. I’m digging it. [7/10]

Adolf Alzuphar: This song is loudness at its best. It has both attitude and message and what a great title for a song sung by a singer who has spent her life breaking down borders. Death to all claustrophobic man made walls. [8/10]

SCORE: 7.29

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