Artwork: by JT
Donald Glover, an artist who once again, earned true respect from his work.
I’ve always thought Donald Glover/ Childish Gambino is a modern-day genius. Comedy, writing, acting, rapping, singing, directing, dancing…you name it. He is always the one with a different perspective, he has always rapped about content that is unique to him. I cannot compare Donald Glover with any other artist out there. He has always been delivering us amazing art, with real philosophical thought, within the midst of the American popular entertainment. He recently dropped a new hit song, This Is America, which started many discussions and inspirations.
‘This is America’s particular arranging style shows strong contrast, in the purpose of storytelling. The choice of the structure made the music stand out immensely. The Afro-folk inspired melody goes into a direct pivot of trap music. Not your traditional choice, but it enhances the plot, and confirms the theme. This song was written with thought, and the video, directed by Hiro Murai, brought the story into an even higher level, wonderfully showcasing beauty and the gruesomeness.
The line that got to me the most was:
“Look how I’m geeking out,
I’m so fitted,
I’m on Gucci,
I’m so pretty,”1
Along with the dance moves, and right after a shooting scene, these lines came out representing the distractions of popular social media. “Look How I’m geeking out”, referring to the uprising nerd culture, the increase fandom and popularity of DC, Marvel, and Anime, Gaming and such. “I’m so fitted”, the work out and body obsession culture. “I’m on Gucci”, a reference in the big brand world, obsession in clothing and fashion. “I’m so pretty”, this is simple, but to me I thought of the “beauty face promotion campaign” on social media. It’s a made-up term by myself. Many Instagram models or just Instagram based famous people started this. They will post a picture of their face or their body, then talk about a random topic, the topic is sometimes serious, sometimes light, however, all completely unrelated to the nature of the picture. Pure showcase of the “pretty” but with no real content. All of these, are distracting the world from the violence, the racism, and the dysfunction in America.
The choreography, coinciding with the story, stunned many viewers. As Aida Amoako stated from the article “Why the Dancing Makes ‘This Is America’ So Uncomfortable to Watch”:
“An internal struggle begins in the viewer’s body, which is pulled between joy and horror. Just as the video questions how we can dance when there is pandemonium all around, the audience struggles with whether to continue moving, too, after witnessing such brutality,”2
I agree with this quote, because that was exactly my reaction to the video. How can we dance? How can we enjoy? Many artists pander to their audience, but ‘This Is America’ is challenging us, making us think, research, and helping us form our voice
The SNL Debut
I first watched the debut of the song on SNL (Saturday Night Live, popular late-night variety show on NBC). Only two words came up in my mind- True Artist. My personal opinions on most SNL performances are usually negative. The mixing of the music are always off, and the performances usually have a lack of creativity. However, Donald Glover had real aesthetic consideration and artistic creativity for his performance. The lighting combined with his dance was surreal. It really brought the viewers to a perplexing beautiful visual. At the same time, the lights looked like chains, constraining him, befitting the story of the song. The performance delivered strong visual impact that I have not seen other artists do on SNL.
Growing up in China, the summation of the image of America to us was: Everybody holding hands, smiling, and attending Harvard. But at the same time partying hard, enjoying freedom.
How surreal! Donald Glover teared this fake ideology apart, but also representing the face under the mask at the same time. Great art goes beyond dimensions.
With acknowledgement of many historical references and references of major events that had happened in the U.S., I also saw Childish Gambino representing the madness of America. Donald Glover’s portrayal of a man executing an innocent black man and a black choir, and the showcase of indifference throughout the song, are all different ways of symbolizing the madness of the United States. The end of the music video, Donald Glover running away from cops almost implies a sense, which the authorities are attempting to hide the true nature of The United States.
There are many people making brilliant analysis, from the Director of ‘Dear White People’, Justin Simien, to Jim Crow Historian, David Pilgrim. Pilgrim’s comment caught my eye, he called ‘This Is America’ a “Harsh indictment of indifference”3, how true. This is definitely a song with many layers and recommended to watch multiple times.
At the 2018 Met Gala, reported from E! Live from the Red Carpet, Donald Glover gave the best and most accurate summation of the song, and why he made the song.
He said: “I just wanted to make a good song, something that people can play on 4th of July.”4
Digging through the ocean of analysis’, opinions, historical references, I find that the artist’s own simple words said it all. How funny, and direct, but truly gets to the point. This is the song that is really representing the true detachment of America, tearing apart the facade, challenging the image of America to the world. So of course, people should play it on 4th of July.
Although it’s sad that Donald Glover said Childish Gambino is retiring after the new album is out, but ‘This is America’ is definitely a shocking and brilliant start of his last album. Truly worth a listen and watch. I cannot wait for the complete album to come out.
- Amoako, Aida. “Why the Dancing Makes ‘This Is America’ So Uncomfortable to Watch.” The Atlantic, 8 May 2018, http://theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/05/this-is-america-childish-gambino-donald-glover-kinesthetic-empathy-dance/559928/
- Childish Gambino, Lyrics to “This is America”, 2018
- Craven, Julia. “Donald Glover’s ‘This Is America,’ Through The Eyes Of A Jim Crow Historian.” The Huffington Post, 9 May 2018, http://huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-glover-this-is-america-jim-crow-history_us_5af31588e4b00a3224efcc40
- YouTube, YouTube, 7 May 2018, http://youtube.com/watch?v=P1IqMsPMcqM
- Original Blog Post: http://discoverwithjt.com/2018/05/13/this-is-america-a-new-way-of-celebrating-4th-of-july/