Yes, I know that “This is America” won three awards last night at the MTV Video Music Awards, but no one thought it would not win Music Video of the Year (no one who cares about the VMA’s, that is). And it didn’t.
Not only is the music video an important piece of modern history, but the video is an undisputed masterpiece. I’ll never forget when I first saw the video… this Spring when I casually mentioned that I hadn’t seen the just-released music video for “This is America,” from Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), my friend Jacey’s eyebrows shot up. Without another word, she typed it into Youtube, tapped play.
That evening in early May, I woke up, violently, to one of the most disturbing yet compelling mainstream music videos of our time.
While “This is America” initially lulls you into thinking it will be a feel good tune with upbeat high pitched chanting and a guitar sitting benignly on a chair, it quickly spirals into an intensely disturbing, frightening and compelling visual and audio commentary on gun culture in modern day America. Disclaimer: It is extremely violent, showing scenes that depict Glover acting out bloody, point blank murder and mass homicide – including of a church choir.
Lyrics like, “This is America/Don’t catch you slippin’ up/Look at how I’m livin’ now/Police be trippin’ now/Yeah, this is America/Guns in my area/I got the strap/I gotta carry ’em” merge with lines like “We just wanna party/Party just for you/We just want the money/Money just for you/I know you wanna party/Party just for me,” to emphasize how sick it is to be so concerned with frivolity and status as atrocities abound. The easygoing lyrics being set to scenes of bone chillingly abrupt, bloodcurdlingly casual killing presents an extremely uncomfortable combination – one with which Childish Gambino clearly believes America needs to be confronted.
“This Is America” debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Childish Gambino’s first top ten entry and number-one single in the U.S.
“This Is America” didn’t just get a nod for MTV Music Video of the Year – it racked seven nominations: Video of the year, Video With a Message, Best Cinematography, Best Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Choreography, and Best Editing. Compared to the other nominees, it is the most impactful, urgent, and unforgiving. It’s desperate, vicious, terrifying and shameful, and leaves you feeling scared and breathless post viewing.
I have a hard time listening to the song without the video; I feel guilty if I start to get into the beat or feel good to the music – this isn’t a happy song, I remind myself. This isn’t a positive message – it’s a wake up call.
The spray of red blood on the white wall as Donald Glover mows down a church choir with a machine gun like a one-armed, one-man firing squad makes me hunch over, wracked with the guilt of somehow being a conspirator in all the video seeks to bring up and shoot down.
“This is America” is one of the last songs we’ll ever hear from Childish Gambino, but not the last. In a January 2018 Variety interview the singer said he is for sure leaving behind his Childish Gambino persona chapter – when the final ending will be, we don’t know – but since “This is America,” he’s dropped several other tracks. On May 5, the night he hosted SNL and performed “This is America” live for the first time, he also performed his new track “Saturday” live.
Then, on July 11, he released a duo of songs he’s calling his Summer Pack: “Summertime Magic” – my preferred jam of the two –
and “Feels like Summer” –
Here’s his performance of “Summertime Magic” live for the first time on July 12, at the BBK Bilbao festival in Spain:
The title of this Rolling Stone article gets at the vibe of Summer Pack – “Hear Childish Gambino’s Breezy Two-Song ‘Summer Pack’”. Yes — breezy.
“Summertime Magic” is the song you want to listen to out basking on the beach or lying on a picnic blanket with your lover, wrapped in the soft evening heat of July.
Lyrics like, “You feel like summertime/You took this heart of mine/You’ll be my valentine in the summer, in the summer/You are my only one” give this song serious potential to be a classic, couple’s “our song” by which to remember the summer.
“Summertime Magic” is a tropical, and yes, magical, track to include on your waning summertime, back-to-school party playlists as well as to set the tone for your romantic outings. And “Feels Like Summer,” is definitely excellent late summertime soiree party playlist potential – go ahead and add it.
After the gravity and urgency of “This is America,” “Saturday” as well as “Summertime Magic” and “Feels like Summer” all feel pretty darn chill, fun and light in comparison, but there is some preaching in the last of these songs – if you listen closely to the lyrics of “Feels Like Summer,” it goes considerably deeper than its Summer Pack counterpart:
“Seven billion souls that move around the sun/Rolling faster, faster and not a chance to slow down … Men who made machines that want what they decide/They’re just tryna tell the children please slow down … Oh I know you know that pain/I’m hopin’ that this world will change/But It just seems the same.”
Over the past decade of his acting (check out Atlanta, created by and starring Glover, with two Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series) and music career, Donald Glover certainly has become a cultural tour de force in the U.S. and worldwide.
His influence only is about to blow up even more as he plays the voice of Simba in Disney’s upcoming remake of Lion King, set to release in July 2019. With Beyoncé playing the voice of Nala, we might just be in for the impossible: a remake to rival … challenge?! … the original of one of our most beloved childhood sagas of all time.
Indeed, it does seem as though everything the light of Childish Gambino touches turns to his kingdom …except maybe “Best Music Video of the Year” for the 2018 VMA’s.
Now here is what SCENES Star Izzo has to say about “This is America” — listen and learn to this wise young sage: