Saturday, May 12, 2018

Deconstructing Childish Gambino's "This Is America"

It's been a week since the debut of the song "This Is America" and its accompanying video. Written by American rapper Childish Gambino, the musical stage name of actor Donald Glover, and produced by Ludwig Göransson, the lyrics of "This Is America" address a number of realities that affect the black community in the USA, including police brutality, gun violence, and mass shootings. Pitchfork's Stephen Kearse describes the song as a representation of the "tightrope of being black", with the song "built on the sharp contrast between jolly, syncretic melodies and menacing trap cadences."

It was the music video for the song, however, that propelled "This Is America" into an overnight cultural phenomenon, amassing an estimated 12.9 million views on YouTube in the first 24 hours and over 50 million views in a matter of days. (NOTE: To view "This Is America," see this previous Wild Reed post.)

The massive outpouring of interest in the video prompted Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic to declare "This Is America" the "most talked-about music video of recent memory," and Billboard's Nerisha Penrose to note that Gambino's "timely visual comes on the heels Kanye West's controversial Twitter spree, in which the rapper repeatedly endorsed Donald Trump and made an ill-advised comment about slavery."

Following is how the "This Is America" video is described by Wikipedia:

Directed by Hiro Murai, the music video was released on YouTube simultaneous to Gambino's [May 5, 2018] performance of the song on Saturday Night Live. The video follows Gambino dancing through a warehouse, interacting with a series of chaotic scenes.

Choreographed by Sherrie Silver, Gambino and his entourage of young dancers perform several viral dance moves including the South African Gwara Gwara and "Shoot" popularized by BlocBoy JB, who is one of the ad-lib contributors on the song.

Gambino's dancing is contrasted against moments of violence. Only 53 seconds into the video, Gambino shoots a man in the back of the head with a handgun, while assuming a comical stance similar to a Jim Crow caricature. At a later point, he uses an automatic weapon to gun down a church choir, which viewers have interpreted as a reference to the 2015 Charleston church shooting. In both instances, a child appears from offscreen holding a red cloth, on which Gambino gently lays the weapon used, which viewers have interpreted "as a reference to Americans' willingness to protect gun rights over people". The first shooting also marks a transition in the music, from an African "folk–inspired melody" to a "dark, pulsing trap." American singer SZA makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the video.

The video ends with Gambino in a darkened portion of the warehouse, fearfully running towards the camera while being chased by people. Viewers have said this resembles scenes from the film Get Out.


Since the release of "This Is America" there have been numerous video commentaries posted online that insightful analyze both the song's lyrics and its music video's "hidden meanings." The following from the website Insider is a good example of one of these commentaries.

For other insightful video commentaries on "This Is America," click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Related Off-site Links:
Childish Gambino Debuts ‘This Is America’ on Saturday Night Live – Mary Papenfuss (The Huffington Post, May 6, 2018).
Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ Video Is Full of Harsh Truths – Alejandra Salazar (Yahoo! News, May 6, 2018).
What It Means When Childish Gambino Says ‘This Is America’ – Frank Guan (Vulture, May 7, 2018).
Here's Everything You Probably Missed In Donald Glover's New Music Video ‘This Is America’ – Kev Smith (BuzzFeed, May 7, 2018).
‘This Is America’: 8 Things to Read About Childish Gambino’s New Music Video – Judy Berman (The New York Times, May 8, 2018).
Adult Gambino: Unpacking the Importance of ‘This Is America’ – Max Quinn (Triple J, May 7, 2018).
Donald Glover's ‘This Is America’ Holds Ugly Truths To Be Self-Evident – Audie Cornish and Monika Evstatieva (NPR, May 7, 2018).
Donald Glover’s ‘This Is America,’ Through the Eyes of a Jim Crow Historian – Julia Craven (The Huffington Post, May 9, 2018).
Hiro Murai Is the Filmmaker of the Year – Adam Nayman (The Ringer, May 8, 2018).
The Story Behind Childish Gambino's Symbolic ‘This Is America’ Dance Choreography – Eric Skelton (Pigeons and Planes, May 10, 2018).
Here’s Our Top 10 Artworks Inspired by Donald Glover’s ‘This Is America’ – Relly Hunt (Gritty Vibes, May 7, 2018).
‘This Is America’ Producer Reveals New Details About Childish Gambino’s Viral Video – Hayley Miller (The Huffington Post, May 9, 2018).
Existing While Black: Irrational Fear Is the New Breed of Racism – Richard J. Reddick (Fortune, May 11, 2018).
All Three Childish Gambino Albums Re-Enter Billboard 200 After "This Is America" and SNL – Tara Mahadevan (Complex, May 15, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Donald Glover: Renaissance Man
Quote of the Day – May 8, 2018
The Music of Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Uprooting the Sources of Disenfranchisement"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Medicine Songs
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood
The War Racket
The Student-Activists of 2018 – Leading Us to the Future
Quote of the Day – February 17, 2018
Quote of the Day – November 13, 2017
Remembering Philando Castile and Demanding Abolition of the System That Targets and Kills People of Color
"This Doesn't Happen to White People"
Quote of the Day – March 31, 2016
Something to Think About – December 29, 2015
Quote of the Day – November 25, 2015
"We Are All One" – #Justice4Jamar and the 4th Precinct Occupation: Photos, Reflections and Links
Rallying in Solidarity with Eric Garner and Other Victims of Police Brutality
"Say Her Name" Solidarity Action for Sandra Bland
In Minneapolis, Rallying in Solidarity with Black Lives in Baltimore
Making the Connections

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