Music Review – My Analysis of Childish Gambino’s “This is America”

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a music video on this exceptional blog.  Perhaps it could be the start of a trend.

Actor/comedian Donald Glover was the funniest part of NBC’s “Community,” but for years, he’s rapped under the moniker, “Childish Gambino.”  As rappers go, I thought he was ok, he had some skills but never really blew any wind up my proverbial skirt until now.

Although it isn’t for the squeamish, his new video “This is America” is worth a watch, and maybe even a couple watches just to pick up all the hidden and/or double meanings.  He’s definitely lit up the Internet, getting people talking and there are all sorts of theories about what he’s trying to say.

I’ll give my two cents though I admit up front I could be entirely wrong in my interpretation:

#1 – On a surface level, it’s a psyche out.  It begins as though he’s going to sing a happy song, something lively and fun in the wheelhouse of Pharell’s “Happy.”  But then it turns dark.  Ever so nonchalantly, Gambino blows away a man seated in a chair with a bag over his head.

The tone of the song goes from happy tune to hardcore rap…and yet, ironically, Gambino and a gaggle of young students in school uniforms proceed to dance happily, as though the happy music was still playing.

This happens a second time, when the happy music starts up again, then Gambino machine guns a church choir, then the hardcore rap plays yet he and company dance happily to the hardcore beat.

The casual, non-introspective viewer will think this is just a bait and switch, get you to look left while you get walloped with a right hook you weren’t suspecting.  But there’s much more.

#2 – Obviously, gun violence is a major theme.  One thought I had is that the first shooting was a street crime style shooting.  As the dancing goes on in the foreground, a small amount of people freak out and run around in the background.

Meanwhile, the second shooting was an act of terrorism, and tons of people freak out and run around in the background.  I could be stretching here but it dawned on me that people freak out when a lot of people are shot at once in a mass shooting and they demand that something be done to stop mass shootings.  Yet, individuals are shot in criminal i.e. (you crossed me or you got something I want) style shootings and the public doesn’t respond with equal alarm, even though if you add those individual shootings up, the numbers get high.

Both types of shootings need to be solved, stopped, prevented.

#3 – The choir scene is clearly a reference to the Charlestown church shooting where 9 black worshippers were gunned down by a white supremacist.  And I think Gambino was trying to make a point in how quickly and casually he was able to wipe out a whole choir, cutting a large group of people down as easily as how a hot knife would go through butter, perhaps trying to make us rethink the idea of letting the average person wield a device that carries so much power.

#4 – Dancing happily amidst tragedy = the general public seeks constant entertainment and distraction.  We sort of know that these shootings are going on, maybe we heard about them on the noise or something, we care for a little bit and then…ooohh, hey!  What’s that new song?  Time to dance to this new beat!  We’re easily distracted and should be taking the time we put into entertaining ourselves with pop culture and putting it into solving society’s ill, gun violence in particular.

#5 – We celebrate black pop culture and black entertainers in particular…the music, the dancing and so on…and yet, are we doing enough to help inner city African Americans who suffer all day?  Do we only care about African Americans who can sing and dance but not about those who live in downtrodden neighborhoods who just want to get through their day without becoming the next victim?

I don’t know.  Those are some of my observations.  Could be wrong.  I don’t know if he has done it yet, but would love it if Glover would come out and spoon feed us what he was trying to say.

What do you think?

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