Art is never better than when it transcends its popular shackles and has something to say. This is America, Childish Gambino’s new music video is the most recent example of what music and video can really do when they aren’t tied to expectations of wealth bragging, talking about your new girlfriend or pretending like everything is ok.
If you haven’t watched or heard This is America, you aren’t out of the loop on something. Childish Gambino, whose real name is Donald Glover, premiered the song on last weekend’s Saturday Night Live. Creating a perfect public relations blitz, the video premiered right after the song debuted on live television, so this appeared on out of nowhere.
This is America (embedded above) leaves so much to interpretation that it’s possible an entire classroom full of people will watch it and not come away with the same themes. The video is pretty heavy on symbolism, just like episodes of Glover’s Atlanta. Hiro Murai, the video’s director, also directs episodes of that show.
I interpret This is America as an indictment of funny rap. Funny rap being my shorthand for songs with catchy beats and shallow music. Gambino’s dancing catches your eye, but it’s the stuff going on in the background that drives this message home. In my opinion, it’s all a metaphor for garbage distracting us from what’s really happening in American politics and black neighborhoods. There are other themes too, but I’d prefer you watch the video and see them first hand. With a video like this, your visceral reaction is a huge part of the reason it exists.
Watch it and tell me what you think in the comments.
I will say this. With the success of Atlanta and his new role of Lando in the Solo: A Star Wars Story, it would have been the easy thing for Glover to keep his head down. That’s what most artists would have done. Instead, he handed us a mirror with a catchy tune. You gotta respect that.