On Saturday, Donald Glover also known as Childish Gambino hosted and performed two songs on Saturday Night Live, including the song “This is America.” That same night the music video for “This is America” was released. America and the rest of the world have been talking about it ever since.
If you have not watched the video yet, then please do so now. The unpredictability of the first time watching it is something that should be experienced unspoiled.
Now that you have seen the video, possibly twice, let’s discuss why the music video for “This is America” is one of the best, if not the best, music video of 2018 so far.
People have highlighted the juxtaposition of Glover’s dancing in the video with young Black schoolchildren while in the background violence ensues. The first level of shock springs from a dancing Glover who then shoots another Black man joyfully.
The video is very graphic and cluttered with gun violence. It’s not just the violence that is intriguing but the respect guns are given over human lives. After claiming his first victim, Glover’s gun is gently carried away on a cloth while the victim’s corpse is dragged away.
There are many startling moments in this video but perhaps the most is when Glover shoots down a Black choir. It’s an awful image but realistic, for it refers to the 2015 shooting of a Black choir in Charleston.
The music video paired with the song can make you want to dance along with its unique mixture of beats and rhythms, but as the violence ensues, it makes you regret every dance step you take. But you cannot help yourself and that’s point of the video. This is you; this is America.
Thanks to the internet, people have already begun theory-crafting and listing all the references. Some people have tried to determine the meaning of the song’s title. One possible message is about how America wants to represent equality yet racism continues to divide the country.
“There had been, to be sure, an alternative vision embodied in the word ‘America,’ one that placed an emphasis on ideals like universal liberty and equality of justice under the law,” said Frank Guan, Vulture staff writer, “but this lofty mirage had never managed to elude the matter of its implication in the violence of American racism.”
Viewers have also vigilantly observed the dance moves within the video. Glover performs the South African gwara gwara dance and a dance made famous by Blocboy JB. Glover easily transitions from form to chaos. Some of his dance moves refer to a painting from the Jim Crow segregation era in America.
Justin Simien, creator of Netflix show Dear White People whose second season premiered the same weekend as the video, posted on his Twitter some of his thoughts about the video. He explains that Black Americans must participate in the space that the country allows them or perish. This may mean destroying innocence or mistreating your own people, for your own gain.
“It may even result in our attention spans (articulated through razor-thin depth of field) being distracted from the suicidal mayhem around us,” Simien tweeted. “But it will also include trap beats, gettin’ money, fun dance memes and a chance to survive long enough to enjoy America’s promise of freedom.”
This video has an intentional gruesomeness to it which can be criticized but that’s the point. People are either dancing along with the schoolchildren or participating in the background riot that never fully makes it to the front of the stage.
“Glover forces us to relive public traumas and barely gives us a second to breathe before he forces us to dance. There is an inescapable disdain sewn into the fabric of ‘This Is America,’” said Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker staff writer. “The very fact that the dance scenes are already being chopped into fun little GIFs online, divorcing them from the video’s brutality, only serves to prove his point.”
This video also includes ad-libs by artists: Blocboy JB, Quavo, Slim Jxmmi, 21 Savage and Young Thug. Artist SZA also appears sitting on a car as Glover dances on top of a vehicle. The video’s director is Hiro Murai who has collaborated with Glover many times including on the critically-acclaimed TV show Atlanta. Murai’s skill is evident throughout the whole video.
“The power of Murai’s aesthetic is bound up in the balance between the camera’s visual overstatement and its subjects’ deadpan dismissal,” said Adam Nayman, writer for The Ringer.
The music video for “This is America” is unpredictable but it is also very rewatchable. There is something new to be gained from each viewing. There are various meanings to be discovered within each frame and none of them are absolutely what the video is about.
People may keep talking about this video for the rest of 2018 and possibly after as well. Rewatch it right now to keep evaluating what the phrase “This is America” means to you.
Featured Image via Rush Hour Daily