“This is America” by Childish Gambino is a great modern example of integrated entertainment. And it makes sense that the renaissance man of entertainment would be behind it.
A lot of music is good and a lot of videos are good. But, few harness that combined effect where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the case with Childish Gambino’s “This is America”. The video opens with a shot of a guitar leaning against a chair. That guitar is picked up by a black man who starts playing said guitar as a joyful tribal chorus sings. The image and the audio give us a sense of care free joy. At the same time, something about the empty warehouse setting and the progression of the music seems off.
The shot follows Donald Glover who is standing behind the guitarist. His expressions are strange and we hear effects that remind us of hip hop. The music starts to transition as Donald Glover poses with the gun. And ‘boom’ the mood and the song orchestrate a change in feeling to a dark satire of American culture.
This isn’t the first time Donald Glover has shown his expertise with combining mediums. His second album, Because The Internet, combines video, music, and even a screenplay. Each adds a new layer of complexity to the other. Together they create a brilliant commentary on the effects of the internet on the general population.
The music video for “Sweatpants” demonstrates the repetitive and self absorbed results that can come from overuse of the internet. His work on the popular TV show Atlanta flawlessly combines audio and video for a brilliant combined effect. His works of art have always been dissected by fans.
The dark theme of the song continues, mimicking a style of rap that is known to glorify death as a form of toughness. The video carries that theme satirical viewpoint with a group of dancers joining in strange expressive dance moves. But, the song and the video don’t directly refer to any one event. The satirical nature of the work of art is broad enough to comment not only on gun violence but glorification of violence and false stereotypes of people of color all at once.
Maybe this is why Donald Glover shies away from talking about the video. He knows that the video like a good picture is worth a thousand words. His explanation of “This is America would essentially ruin the wide reach that the music video has as a piece of art.
The final two minutes of the song refer to personal image. During those lyrics chaos is happening all around and kids up above are on their phones filming the tragedy. The message and the video are cohesive and yet each adds it’s own layer of complexity to the work of art. The autotuned ending with the maniac run away from it all layer on top of each other to top off the video.
It’s fascinating to watch as so many people are coming out with interpretations and analysis of the music video. They are engaged because it’s a work of art. And, that’s what we should do with good art. We should be engaged, be awoken, and most importantly be entertained.
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