In his career as an actor, musician, and rapper, there is not much that Donald Glover (A.K.A Childish Gambino) hasn’t done in the entertainment industry. Personally, I know him best for his role of Troy Barnes on the hilarious show Community. But hilarity is certainly not the intention when it comes to his latest single,‘This is America’.
Since its release earlier this month, the music video has received 137 million views, 50 million of which it gained within the first five days of release. Yet why has it received such widespread acclaim?
Well, other than being brilliantly catchy, because it depicts the cruel reality of modern-day America. Beginning with a deceptively upbeat tune, the song at first seems to be yet another brilliant pop song – but this is far from the truth. Within moments, Gambino takes a gun and shoots the guitarist dead, before then placing the gun onto a red silk cloth, held by a child – a recurring feature of the video that blatantly demonstrates the American celebration of this destructive weapon over the lives of its people.
“Schoolchildren ride by on their bikes, giving no reaction to the violence around them. And why should they? … such acts of violence are merely part of daily life.”
Gun violence and racism have been especially relevant within recent news when it comes to the U.S.A, and Gambino’s single, directed by the brilliant Hiro Murai, perfectly captures this. Although certain aspects, such as the aforementioned shooting, the use of the red cloth, and the later shooting of the gospel choir, are blatant demonstrations of this violence, there is also a great amount of subtlety to this music video. Save for the first 20 seconds, Childish Gambino is constantly the one in focus – yet what is happening in the periphery?
At first glance, we see a dancing rapper, surrounded by happy dancing children. But in the background? Violence, abuse, cruelty. Figures run by armed with baseball bats and guns, destroying cars, and attacking each other; cars are set alight, and police flood the same, all within the setting of the vast, empty warehouse. Yet at the same time, schoolchildren ride by on their bikes, giving no reaction to the violence around them. And why should they? Throughout America, such acts of violence are merely part of daily life. Even the expressions of Gambino himself – the silly, the smiling – perfectly encapsulate this.
“The continual shifts [in the music] … perhaps demonstrate this constant movement from safety to danger for anyone living in America.”
The video itself differs from most music videos in that it isn’t over-extravagant: it doesn’t take place in some highly detailed set, or involve numerous scenes and changes. In its essence, it is simplistic, almost mundane, because the life it is depicting is similarly mundane – it’s the norm. As sad as it is, Gambino’s song perfectly highlights the sad state of modern-day America – a country in which racism and gun violence abounds.
The continual shifts from the upbeat track to the harsh rap verses perhaps demonstrate this constant movement from safety to danger for anyone living in America. The pause for the cigarette gives the audience the time to digest exactly what it is that Gambino is saying, whilst the final scene – with Gambino himself running from an armed mob, truly brings the message home, as Gambino’s previously joyous expression has shifted into one of complete fear. An expression no doubt shared by all those in America who have fallen victim to the race and gun-related crimes prevalent in the modern U.S.A.
Ultimately, there is far too much symbolism within this 4-minute song than can be properly addressed in such a short article as this, but ultimately, Gambino has perfectly summarised the horrors of modern America. It may do nothing to change, but one can only hope that the power behind the words, and the fact that it has become so widespread, will only continue to help prevent further acts of violence.
Featured image courtesy of ‘Petras Gagilas’ via Flickr.
Image use license here.