Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) has burst back on the music scene with a song that has lyrics just as vividly descriptive as the music video. This song addresses a handful of controversial topics that remain hot-button issues on everybody’s social media timelines. You can find a myriad of interpretations for the visuals and lyrics contained within this four minute mini-masterpiece; what you are getting here at The MÆG is a full analysis of the hidden messages contained within Donald Glover’s video and lyrics.
Childish Gambino – This is America
Intro & 1st Verse:
The song begins with an a cappella and acoustic tune. The visual mood of the music video is light and the lyrics are positive, simple and repetitive. Childish Gambino is seen dancing his way into the foreground without a shirt. This playful tone sets the viewer up for one of the major points that ‘This is America’ touches upon – gun violence. The jovial introduction is quickly brought to an all too familiar dark and gritty environment after Childish Gambino’s dancing ends as he pulls a handgun to murder a seated man who is bound and blindfolded.
This shocking depiction is completely unexpected and ushers in a change in tone. The song segues from light vocals and acoustic rhythms to Childish Gambino rapping over a low-bass hip-hop beat. The message contained within the lyrics become crystal clear – This is America.
“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”
Towards the end of the 1st verse the beat shifts back into a light acoustic rhythm and the scene changes. A small church choir is singing the lyrics and moving to the music as Childish Gambino enters the room and dances into the foreground. The choir continues singing as Childish Gambino grabs an automatic weapon and guns down the choir in a single sweeping motion.
2nd Verse & Outro:
The second verse to ‘This is America’ begins with Childish Gambino continuing to dance him way on-screen. He is later met in the middle of the screen by young dancers in school uniforms and they continue to dance while pandemonium ensues in front of, behind, and above them. This consistent chaos in the background provides almost infinite re-watch value as I seem to always notice something I did not catch before.
The visual imagery contained within the background is daring and bold (even though the entire music video has a mostly muted color palette). A man is thrown from the second floor, another rides in on a white horse (looking eerily similar to the grim reaper), a car burns to ash as mobs of running individuals confirm the chaos – Childish Gambino is showing America to viewers exactly as it has been shown to him.
“You just a Black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a Black man in this world
Drivin’ expensive foreigns, ayy”
In the end, Childish Gambino is seen running through what I would guess to be an incredibly dark warehouse. The scene slowly becomes more bright to reveal the terror on Childish Gambino’s face while he runs from a growing number of pursuers. The mob running after Gambino is blurry, but looks to be made up all white individuals.
The constant, over-the-top dancing by Childish Gambino speaks directly to Jim Crow minstrel shows. Minstrel shows were a popular form of North American entertainment during the early 1900s. The inception of “blackface” performances can be traced back to the 1800s, however popularity of Jim Crow style minstrel shows became white America’s trendy way of demeaning African-Americans.
The minstrel show style dancing serves as the perfect distraction to the chaos and anarchy that casually plays on in the background. Childish Gambino is stating here that America’s flashy displays only distract us from the reality of lawlessness; both distractions and reality happen right before our eyes, we only focus on what we choose to see.
The depiction the church choir being gunned down is Childish Gambino’s way of re-shedding light on the 2015 church massacre that took place in Charleston, North Carolina. This scene shows how engrained the problems of gun violence and racism are in today’ American culture. The original Charleston shooter was a white male with racists ideologies that led him to spontaneously murder unsuspecting church members.
The second verse of ‘This Is America’ is a visual representation of American culture (according to Childish Gambino). This music video is one that should be watched multiple times in order to truly soak in its brilliance. Gambino takes the forefront with his support dancers without a care in the world for all that is happening around them. Meanwhile, the free-for-all that is taking place in the background completely ignores Gambino and his dancers. There is a duality that Childish Gambino sees within American culture and he uses this scene to show how easily injustices can be ignored no matter how obvious the injustice is.
The expression of fear on Gambino’s face as he runs through that dark building at the end of the video can not be ignored. The fear on his face is palpable and the white mob that appears behind him is reminiscent of the old southern lynch mobs – this is no coincidence. Childish Gambino is running from darkness and a white mob is a direct nod to Jordan Peele and his 2017 blockbuster ‘Get Out‘. If you haven’t seen the film, a basic synopsis of the plot is white people strategically rounding up black people to suppress their consciousness and take over their bodies. Child Gambino reminds every black man in America of the battle we must fight every day… the battle between Authentic Blackness and The Sunken Place.