I was going to write about another song but I just couldn’t get this one out of my head. Perhaps the most talked about song in the past week, “This Is America” was created by Childish Gambino, Donald Glover‘s musical alter ego, and Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer who produced music for Black Panther and all three of Glover’s studio releases. The non-single, and its accompanying music video, blatantly demonstrates how black people are being treated in America right now. It’s less a response, and more of a clarification to anyone who does not totally understand the turmoil black people continue to face in American society, especially after a shooting.
In a previous Colorful Monsters post, we talked about Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer and how it acknowledged “queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves.” Aside from it being a genuinely impressive album, it was quite easy for us as a group to feel validated by its message, since we all consider ourselves a part of the queer spectrum. However, even though we have our own problems, it shouldn’t always be about ourselves. Just because we don’t directly relate to a message, doesn’t mean it’s not concerning. Even though I will never know how it feels like to live as a black person in America, “This Is America” broke through and tore me apart.
It’s hard to disconnect the song from the music video directed by Hiro Murai. The symbolism in the video is what fabricated my perception of the lyrics. Even though music on its own has power that can single-handedly push an idea, the visual aspect emboldens a message to the point where you can’t think of one without the other. That’s exactly how I feel about “This Is America.” In the way it features constant dancing by Gambino and school children to distract us from people panicking in the background. In the way Gambino popped off weapons (a sound effect which isn’t included in the song) before gently handing them off to someone who gently covers them with a red cloth. In the way Gambino dances on top of older vehicle models signifying how far we’ve come (not far enough). And many more symbols placed across the video that couldn’t have just been told through audio. However, the lyric “this a celly, that’s a tool” has a double entendre, perhaps referring to phones as ways to record violence or referring to jail cells as a way used to incarcerate innocent and guilty people.
All I really want to say is that Donald Glover was able to attack a crucial topic through a seamless embedment of symbols that can be difficult to concentrate in only a few minutes. Just like Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Kendrick Lamar’s opening performance at the 2018 Grammy’s, there should be credit given to artists who relay brutal experience through artistic expression, as opposed to simply citing the facts aloud from history books. I find there to be more impact when artists make their points through the lens of their own psyche.