What's Up Wi' Dat: Is M.I.A.'s New Joint "Borders" THE SHIT or Just Shit?

For many, M.I.A.'s rise to prominence on the music scene ten years ago with her first album Arular was the beginning of what many thought would be a bright career. Of course, when she immediately married into the powerful billionaire family the Bronfman's, any credibility as a politically-themed musical activist flew out the window and many wrote her off as a trust-funder whose musical and social interests were merely the hobby of a member of Britain's uber-rich elite.

While that marriage dissolved in 2009, M.I.A. continues to fight the "rich girl/musical hobbyist" tag, all the while continuing to shun convention at every turn while, at the same time, continuing to be a much-coveted special guest artist, culminating in her appearance on Madonna's last Top 10 single "Give Me All Your Lovin'" in 2012. This year, she has already teamed with  ASAP Rocky on "Fine Whine" and with Genera8ion's on "The New International Sound Part II". 

While such lyrics as ""Politics / What’s up with that? / Police shots / What’s up with that? / Identities / What’s up with that? / Your privilege / What’s up with that? / Broke people / What’s up with that? / Boat people / What’s up with that?" M.I.A.'s new single "Borders" may not be the lyrical equivalent of "War! What is it good for?/Absolutely nothin'!/Say it again!" but its heart is definitely in the right place.

The video for the song is even more stark and emotionally stirring (or manipulative, depending on your level of jadedness) as M.I.A. at one point joins boats of actual refugees as she lip syncs to the song. One can't help but be moved by M.I.A.'s desire to speak out on behalf of such refugees, but at what point does it cross over into exploitation? This, of course, begs the question "Is it possible to exploit the displaced for career gain?" and, if so, to what extent? 
Coming off of 2013's Matangi, the least-successful album of her career, M.I.A. has a new album in the can and is obviously looking for any angle with which to attract media traction and regain a foothold in the marketplace. Even so, perhaps M.I.A.'s desire to paint with the broadest strokes possible has diluted her message. I mean, if Edwin Starr had sang "War! What's up with that?" would anyone have listened?

VERDICT: Not great, but not shit.

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