Arts & CultureCultural Affairs

Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video sparks public discussion through straightforward symbolism

After two weeks in the limelight, Childish Gambino’s music video of “This Is America” has accumulated over 132 million views on YouTube alone, while Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” (for example) sits on a paltry 600 million views after six months.

The view count makes it clear that Gambino’s latest work has captivated crowds all over the globe, and for good reason too. The music video contains thought provoking scenes that hit hard with honesty. It contains straightforward mockery of modern society and references to tragic events in American history, which lends itself to becoming a hot topic of discussion. The internet has gone wild with people debating and discussing the video on all forums possible.

It is important to understand the context behind Gambino’s latest hit and the trail of fire it is leaving behind. There are enough analyses of the song and the video online already, so running past that ravine seems essential to approaching the reception of Gambino’s new work.

Going back in time three or even six years, Donald Glover (a.k.a Childish Gambino) has always been creating alluring and provocative content. Glover created, writes, and stars in the HBO show “Atlanta,” which engages in social commentary about race while tackling the bleak realities of being an American. Glover is also known for his comedic acts and roles which also seem to revolve around themes of African American quality of life and race, such as his stand-up performances and his role as Troy Barnes in Community.

As Gambino, he has written songs and created videos that have started discussion about hard and real topics. Why is it that suddenly, after years of Gambino content, this one song has amassed so much following in just two weeks? The viral nature of the web is one of the core reasons but even that virality must be influenced by something striking. On further inspection of Gambino’s prior videos, his thematic concerns are centered in the lyrics and the videos themselves usually require some heavy thought to interpret. For example, in his video of Bonfire, there are very interpretive messages that are hidden with subtlety. These are hard themes that set the stage for most of Gambino’s future work. “This Is America” is the first Gambino video to not be subtle in requesting audience interpretation. The interpretations of “This Is America” so far have been very similar. Few analyses that disagree with each other, contrary to the usual diversity in opinion online. This shows that commentators have been led by obvious direction, glaring lyrical choice, and conspicuous change in rhythm and music to converge on a single interpretation.

Gambino has already been asked on multiple talk shows and interviews about the meaning of his new video and has repeatedly turned down the opportunities. During one interview, he refused to explain the end of the video.

“No, I feel like it’s not my place to do that. I think that it’s just something that should be out there. It’s for the people. I don’t want to give it any context.”

With “This Is America,” it’s apparent that Gambino wanted to start a discussion and make a statement that people would interpret at their own behest. He succeeded at a scale bigger than his own previous work could have.

Oh, and his music is catchy too.

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