Writer: Kyle Wheelock
Donald Glover has always been a true artist to me, trying to fit him into one box just isn’t reasonable, especially at this part of his career, and with the debut of his new single, “This is America,” it now looks impossible to do.
On May 5th while he was performing a silky smooth R&B track dubbed, “Saturday,” on Saturday Night Live, Donald Glover’s twitter page sent out the link to a new music video that would subsequently blow everyone’s mind. It’s been a few days by this point, and there are already several internet detectives breaking down and analyzing every frame of the video, picking apart all the subtle images that have been coded into just over four minutes of visuals. Hell, the video even got this reaction out of Anthony Fantano over at The Needle Drop who historically has not been the biggest fan of Glover’s music. The man from Derrick Comedy has a lot on his mind and I’m personally here for it.
In 2016, Glover released Awaken, my Love!, an old school blend of R&B, soul, and funk where he touched on social issues perhaps more maturely than he had prior to that album. And don’t get me wrong, I love that album, hell most people do too, but it didn’t have the rapping that blew minds back on 2013’s Because the Internet. If he could combine the best of his last two albums, I’d argue that he would have an indisputable classic on his hands, and, “This is America,” is proof of that. At the time of writing the video already has 20 million views after only a few days of being online, and that number is just going to keep shooting up as the word gets out.
The song on its own admittedly doesn’t do anything mindblowing. Yeah, he’s using the triplet flow that’s dominated hip-hop for almost a decade now, and there are adlibs all over the track from the likes of Young Thug, Quavo, 21 Savage, and Blocboy JB, but lyrically it’s missing something. There’s also the outro about being a black man and the big dog, but again, that’s just the outro. The beat is great however, a fusion of upbeat, tribal sounding drums and choir melodies that transitions into this dark trap beat with a gritty baseline and percussion that’s just all over the place. This all being said, if the song didn’t launch with the video, it wouldn’t have had the same effect we’re seeing now.
From the beginning of the video, you can already tell things seem off. Surrealism has always been a staple of Glover’s work, from the music video for, “Bonfire,” to Atlanta, strange expressions always show up in whatever it is Glover decides to do, and it’s always well executed. The music video for, “This is America,” is a sharp and uncomfortable commentary on several things. Police brutality, black culture in America, social media, it’s all in there, each one overlapping the other. In the foreground you have a goofy looking Glover and several black kids in uniforms dancing around what appears to be a warehouse or a parking garage, but in the background you have rioting, people jumping from ledges, shootings; it’s just all around chaos.
While many have considered this to be a metaphor for society distracting itself from what’s really going on around them, the choreographer behind the video, Sherrie Silver, explains that the dancing is meant to be a light contrast. The dancing children are meant to represent light in a dark world, Silver herself says this in an interview with Pigeons & Planes’ Eric Skelton before going on to add, “Dance is everything to us, no matter how much is going on—even if it’s the middle of a war or poverty or hunger—one thing Africans share is we dance our sorrows away. Not even professionally, it’s just a part of our culture.” With this in mind, the video takes on another perspective of maybe even hope and optimism for the future and the children who will inherit it? It’s open to interpretation, and that’s what’s both amazing and frustrating about art, especially when it’s coming from someone like Donald Glover who’s so multifaceted that he can say or do whatever he wants, whenever and however he wants.
So what all this being said, what does this mean about Donald Glover’s future, specifically as Childish Gambino? About a week ago, some alleged promotional materials leaked online that lead people to believe a new Childish Gambino album was coming in September. While this could all be fake, the bit about a new song premiering ended up becoming true, and Glover being named a headlining act at ACL this year only further gives credibility to this theory. But, another element that I’m gonna reach for is that this is an election year. Granted, not the big and flashy presidential election that we just had in 2016, but still an important one, the 2018 Midterm Elections, where all of congress and a third of the senate will be up for reelection.
Glover has a lot of strong opinions on the government and society, and he’s not afraid to let the world know his thoughts on the state of the world he lives in when he deems it necessary. So, if indeed an album is coming this September, mere months before a major election in a divided country, expect to see Glover expand more on the same themes he touched on in Awaken, my Love!, but maybe this time we’ll see something more bold and direct with the return of rapping Gambino like, “This is America,” which, based off the reception to the music video, would a smash hit with audiences. Until then we’ll just have to wait and see with our fingers crossed and, “This is America,” on loop.