M.I.A.'s New Video 'Borders' Has Powerful Message About Refugees

November 30th 2015

Taylor Bell

In a powerful new video for her new song, "Borders," British artist and refugee M.I.A. highlights the current plight of refugees across the world — and people are loving it.

The hip-hop star's latest track has received love from both music critics and fans who eye her daring challenge to pop music and how she approaches injustice, particularly the Syrian Refugee crisis and immigration.

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The video, which was directed by M.I.A., features the rapper front and center while hundreds of men in different scenes sail across an ocean in overcrowded boats, climb barbed fences and run single file across deserts. All this takes place in the background, as M.I.A. sings these lyrics:

"Borders, what's up with that?/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?/The realness, what's with that?/The new world, what's up that?"


M.I.A., whose name is Maya Arulpragasam, is a refugee who fled violence in Sri Lanka when she was a child, the Atlantic reports. In 2005 she told The Guardian how this developed her art.

“I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”

Besides calling attention to global social issues, M.I.A. wanted the song to honor her uncle, a migrant who came to London in the 60s, according to a tweet she posted on Friday.

Fans are praising M.I.A. on Twitter:

"Borders" is off M.I.A.'s fifth studio album "Matahdatah." Music critic David Hayter wrote how "'Borders' lays it all on the line in a gorgeous sonic vacuum. From the most vital questions troubling the world’s elite to tangential social assumptions and throw away thoughts about youth culture — Maya is spit balling into the void."

Hayter explained that M.I.A.'s new single is a return to what she does best: keeping things simple. "M.I.A. has created one of the most powerful political singles in recent memory without making a single statement." Hayter said. "This is not a impassioned plea to the West, instead [M.I.A.] asks an array of open ended questions, like a valley girl trying to say something deep on Twitter."


Yes, the song is simple, a collection of poignant questions taking a jab at the world's problems. But according to the former refugee, the state of the world today — with its infinite amount of social injustice — has worsened so much that there is not much to say anymore. In a tweet the rapper explained:

M.I.A. has always been socially conscious, writing songs about the past civil war in Sri Lanka, social issues, politics and her life as a refugee in albums like "Arular" and "Kala." While her 2005 single "Pull Up The People," was a call to society to help people in poverty, her 2007 hit "Paper Planes," was written to mimic the stereotypes that people have about immigrants.

"People don't feel like immigrants or refugees can contribute to culture in any way. That they're just leeches that suck from whatever. So in the song I say, 'All I wanna do [sound of gun shooting and reloading, cash register opening] and take your money," M.I.A. said in an interview with Fader magazine. "I did it in the sound effects. It's up to you how you want to interpret. America is so obsessed with money, I'm sure they'll get it."

Following the November attacks in Paris, there has been a rise in discrimination and prejudice toward refugees, especially in Western countries such as the U.S. Many state leaders have publicly declared their borders closed to refugees out of fear that refugees could open the door for terrorists.

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