What is Ed Sheeran’s ‘South of the Border’ really about?

Those who know Ed’s work know that he didn’t just “feel like” singing this.

Eva Rinaldi/Flickr

Originally published on Medium.com Laura Sanders – click the link to read with embedded social media posts.

Nov 7 · 6 min read

‘South of the Border’ sees a spicy-hot collab between the British artist and two of America’s sexy senoritas – Camila Cabello & Cardi B. The song is climbing the charts alongside other tracks from his latest album – No. 6 Collaborations Project (2019).

And for good reason — this song is incredibly catchy. But in true Ed Sheeran style, it goes deeper than that.

It’s about diaspora, government policy, societal boundaries and sexual politics; and Sheeran chose the perfect women to help with this one.

Both Cabello and Cardi B have latino heritage, and so it makes sense that they can speak from this experience.

Cabello (born to Cuban and Mexican parents) has regularly incorporated Spanish into her lyrics, and Cardi B — the South-Bronx rapper of Dominican and Trinidadian heritage — is known for her unapologetic sounding off on politics.

To make sense of why Ed Sheeran — a newly wedded, white British man, decides to sing about a desire for a latino woman, you’ll need to know more about his two female accomplices and US foreign policy.Music video for ‘South of the Border’ released 3rd October 2019


Summary

The trio tell the story of a mutual desire felt between a white caucasian man and a latino woman.

Both Camila and Cardi portray the latino lover mirroring back this largely sexual desire, as Cabello sings;

“He got that, mm, green eyes, givin’ me signs
That he really wants to know my name, hey
I saw you lookin’ from across the way
And suddenly, I’m glad I came, ay!”

Camila Cabello and Ed Sheeran in Nashville writing Camila’s verses.

Whilst Cabello’s character seems to want a casual encounter, Cardi B’s sings about a more substantial relationship with the man, but only if he can fund her expensive taste;

“You want the lips and the curves, need the whips and the furs
And the diamonds I prefer, and my closet his and hers”

This seems to reflect aspects of Cardi B’s personal life, she made her money as a stripper before her music career. It’s an occupation she speaks candidly about, how it empowered her to fund her education and kickstart her career as a rapper.

However, Cardi has repeatedly spoken out about people who don’t take her interest in politics and history seriously because of her past.


“South of the border”

The term “south of the border” generally refers to Mexico, which links the US to South America by land. But it can also refer to Latin America more widely, as Buenos Aires is mentioned in this song. The Gulf of Mexico, which is the area of ocean between the two Americas, is a popular migrant route for those trying to illegally cross into the US.

And so it’s likely that this is the water they’re referring to in the chorus;

“Jump in that water, be free.

Come south of the border with me.”

Google Maps

“South of the border” may also be a colloquialism for the sexual act of ‘going down’ on someone. It would also symbolise crossing social boundaries by sleeping with someone from a different (non-white) background.


US politics

The lyrics also reflect the wider relationship between the US and Latin America — which is growing in hostility under the Trump administration. Let’s not forget the 1960 Cuban Missile Crisis either.

Whilst the US government raises its concerns about immigrants, to the extent where the record for the longest government shutdown was beaten earlier this year due to Trump’s demands for “the wall”, this song is about going the opposite way — “south” of the border into Latin America.This Is Now The Longest Government Shutdown in US HistoryIt has passed the previous record, which took place under Bill Clintontime.com

In this case, the song is about diaspora — reclaiming Latin America as home and roots, which thousands abandon in hope of a better life in the US. This could be the source of the lust Cabello’s character has for the white man, representing The West.


Gender politics — Cardi B is all about the female empowerment…

“I think that Ed got a lil’ jungle fever”

This line is rapped by Cardi B who regularly sounds off about her political stances.

During the election campaign of 2016, the rapper publicly endorsed Bernie Sanders largely over her concern for Trump’s policy on immigration.

‘Jungle fever’ emphasises the short-term arrangement between the two lovers in the song (a fever being a temporary illness and one which can cloud your judgement. An extremely high fever can even cause hallucination).

The fever may also reflect the temperamental relationship between the two Americas — blowing hot and cold, and the use of the word “jungle” seems to set the two women in this song back to their native Otherness.

This reflects the experience of women in America with afro-latino/hispanic heritage who may still feel downtrodden and marginalised.

But as Cardi is the one using this word, a postcolonial analysis would suggest she is reclaiming this identity for herself to empower herself.

“People like Donald Trump, they’re always going to make us feel like we’re less. But it’s okay, because a bitch like me knows the truth. It don’t matter if the government and the Republicans try to make us feel like we’re not, cos we is. I know the truth.” — Cardi B talking to Fuse

Go explorin’, somethin’ foreign,
Bust it open, rainforest, it be pourin’, yeah
Kiss me like you need me, rub me like a genie
Pull up to my spot in Lamborghini
’Cause you gotta see me, never leave me
You got a girl that could finally do it all
Drop a album, drop a baby, but I never drop the ball, uh

— Cardi B, ‘South of the Border’

Cabello was told by the producer of the Grammys that she was the “first Latina” to open the Grammys.


“I won’t stop until the angels sing”

This is the final line of the chorus. In several religions, angels are often sighted when death is imminent.

However, it’s more likely that this is a reference to la Petite mort.

La Petit mort — french for “the little death”. This describes the experience of some women who faint or lose consciousness temporarily after an intense orgasm. It’s described as feeling like a short death.

Again, this reinforces the notion of a casual encounter through purely physical attraction between the man and woman in the song.

It shows a lack of commitment to each other and using one another to satisfy their needs.

Perhaps this hit is there to remind us to understand these bilingual numbers on a deeper level.

The song is entertaining, but what is it also saying?

Perhaps we should end our casual encounters through passively listening and think about the socio-cultural messages within them?

Cardi admitted to The Guardian:

“No man wants to accept they could be getting used for money,

“But it’s OK for them to let us know that they use us? It’s in their lyrics, in the way they act.”

“They always talk about what they want to do to women — they want to have sex with them, they want oral sex, then ‘fuck you, bitch’. Well, this is what women want to do to men: buy me a bag and go about your day.”

“I don’t want to influence women to do something — I want you to feel that empowerment, like you could do that,”

Looking again to US foreign policy towards Latin America, you could see how lust over love symbolises the US’s lack of commitment and regard for those “south of the border”.

Both singers are regularly involved in charity work for the benefit of South Americans:Cabello is an ambassador for Save the Children.


But is it all so political?

The symbolism is all there, but are we to assume that this is all politics?

Is it so beyond Ed Sheeran to want to jump aboard the recent trend in bilingual hits? (lest we forget Despacito, Havana..?).

I’ll let you decide.

Comment below!

#southoftheborderThe latest Tweets on #southoftheborder. Read what people are saying and join the conversation.twitter.com

Laura Sanders

WRITTEN BY

Laura Sanders

Freelance multimedia journalist, mojo & radio presenter / datajournalism dabbler / 🌏 travel enthusiast & canine lover 🐶// 📩contactlaurasanders@gmail.com

Published by Laura Sanders

Freelance multimedia journalist, presenter & producer |

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