A Bold Breakdown of Donald Glover’s “This is America”

Donald Glover.
Atlanta, GA native, filmmaker, director, and eye-popping musical genius keeps viewers on the edge of their seats as he releases a jaw-dropping music video this passed weekend titled “This Is America”.

Everyone has grown to know Glover (AKA Childish Gambino) by his works that exude bold doses of self and the reality around him. His latest content release communicated exactly that! This is America is nothing short of what he usually does, if you’ve been a follower of his work since his “Camp” album, but this time he delivered on a visual level. Serving up a hot knuckle sandwich on a silver platter, this video was a compilation of sensitive symbolism and meaningful metaphors. This video has so much going on visually and conceptually, it’s impossible to watch it just once.I may have contributed a mere 20 or 30 views to the staggering 45M+ since the video’s release on Cinco de Mayo. In my bold opinion, the release date, itself, carries significance and supports an overall theme that may have flown over the heads of many.
(I’ll go into details here soon, so hang tight!)

It’s tough to find a starting point to explain and highlight everything Mr. Glover put together, but we have to start somewhere. So put on your thinking caps, turn on your listening ears, and try not to spill brain juice everywhere from constant mind-blowing.

Let’s start by analyzing themes first, then highlight symbolism and lyrics, and conclude with some random observations.

Themes

A) Release Date
You may not have noticed, but May 5th isn’t just a day for drinking tequila and devouring tacos. Say you happened to be in Los Angeles on May 5, 1992. What was it like to walk the streets of L.A just days after Rodney King was slain by local police. Riots? Death? Chaos maybe? This was an immediate realization once I questioned the reasoning behind the burning cars, cop vehicles, dancing kids’ uniforms and the array of vintage cars. Peep the 92′ Coupe DeVille, 88′ Accord hatchback, and the ’92 Buick Roadmaster in the second to last scene if you don’t believe me.

B) Joy and Pain = Life
The entire video is an extreme roller coaster of emotions, you can’t deny. First you want to dance, then you’re jaw drops as you’re sucked into reality, then you’re back dancing and bopping, and reality pinches you again, and so on. It escalated quickly, didn’t it? But that’s life right? Happiness and its distractions cover up fear, violence and tragedy. The whole time you can’t help but focus on the trendy dancing and hip beat all while the background is everything but happiness. Even Death made an appearance in more ways than one.

Symbolism

A) Facial Expressions
I’m sure you were somewhat put off by Glover’s awkward facial expressions at the start of the video. He definitely likes to be different with his imagery, but the facial expressions definitely fit the overall joy and pain theme of the project. He made sure to show the awkward struggle of dealing with reality and being happy in the ugly times of today.

B) Murdering the Masked Man
This has a Jim Crow vibes written all over it, no doubt! The murdered man was barefoot, hands tied with rope, sitting peacefully and minding his own business. All of a sudden, BOOM, an execution style murder without a care. After his symbolic death, his body is shamefully dragged away while the murder weapon gets escorted away carefully in a red cloth. This symbolizes the reality that weapons are treated with higher regard than the lifeless body itself.
Ironically, the music immediately changes pace preceding the video’s title “This Is America” as if it’s a blatant wake up call.

C) Distracting Dancers
The dancers incorporated those trendy moves you see the kids doing now-a-days. I’m glad Glover added this touch to the video because it was clearly for distractive purposes!
“Hey look at us, never mind the chaos in the background. We’re more important. Our dance moves are what makes you happy, right?”
That’s not what they actually said, but it’s what was communicated, for sure. The dancing is definitely hip and trendy. I was dancing right along with them when the beat dropped! I guess that means I’m brainwashed too.

D) Church
This one was super clear and if you couldn’t see the rhetoric, you’re too deep in the sunken place (I’m talking Bikini Bottom deep). This scene symbolizes the 2015 Charleston Church shooting committed by American terrorist Dylan Roof. Roof murdered nine innocent people that horrific day and seriously injured one more. Did you count the number of church goers in Glover’s video? And again, the weapon was ushered away in a red cloth. A wave of rioters and a police vehicle rushed the scene shortly after.

E) Living in Mass Chaos
After slaying those church members, Glover returns to a scene flooded with chaos and confusion. The dancers dance with eerily smiling faces to keep up the distraction while images of burning cars, death on a horse, suicide, and anger fill the surrounding space. The only thing that seemed to provide peace and a sense of calm was his weed. Isn’t that what we do today? Pacify the harshness around us with inebriating substances.

F) Get Out
After he smokes, he wallows in his peace and short lived happiness by dancing atop a car with his woman looking on in support. By the way, did you notice that woman was SZA? She made a cool cameo there, I must admit. Shortly the scene fades away, similar to fellow filmmaker Jordan Peele’s iconic “Get Out” idea of passing or falling into the sunken place. A quick fade from darkness shows Glover sprinting, eyes wide in horror, mimicking more from Peele’s film. He’s chased by the group of rioters, and eerily enough, the white rioters emerge from the darkness directly behind him first before any others.


Lyrical Analyzations

Notice how there are two tones, two different vibes with their own messages. The opening and church scenes carry a happy, easygoing tune and “happy”, “everyday” messages.
Ex. “We just want to party!” “Get your money black man!”
This vibe is quickly perpandiculared to the jumpy, minimal lyrical, urban vibe of today’s hiphop with popular ad-libs from Young Thug, Migos, Kodak Black, and 21 Savage. It’s a vibe that mimics the shallow lyrical context of today, you can’t deny!
Ex. “Look what I’m whipping’ on!” “Cops be tripping.” “Look at me, I’m so pretty.” “I wear Gucci, I’m so fitted.”
Close your eyes and listen. Don’t you think it sounds like somehting you hear on mainstream radio right now? Of course. I’ll be honest, I found myself attempting the latest dances as the song played through. If you did the same, we are victims of the reality and proved just what Glover wanted to prove.
Brainwashed.

Random Sights
  • 1:30 – I spotted two chickens by themselves amongst the chaos. One brown, one white.
  • 2:30 – Kids sitting above the crowd recording all the riot activity on their cell phones. There are some of us that do that exact thing.
  • 2:37 – All black human figure riding a white horse. That’s definitely Death riding in on his white horse, with Hell not too far behind him. A biblical reference visualized.
  • 3:20 – SZA sitting on a car as Glover dances.
  • 1:57 – Church murder with an AK-47 also supports the Race Riot theme of 1992 as it was the “weapon of choice” during those years.
“The worst of times can make for the best of arts.”
-Julia Keller

One thought on “A Bold Breakdown of Donald Glover’s “This is America””

  1. I found the video very interesting. I’ve heard some people take it as satire on racial relations and others take it as straight fact. What do you think Glover’s intent was?

    Like

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