If they haven't already, someone is soon going to ask you "What do you think of 'This Is America'?" It's a song by Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, who hosted "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, performed the song live on the show and then released the music video, above, on YouTube's Vevo. Though the YouTube post of his "This Is America" performance on the "SNL" YouTube channel has, as of this writing, fewer than 100,000 views, the official music video has racked up more than 17 million—and has become a major media obsession and cultural talking point.
The video features a dancing, singing Glover engaging in hyperviolence—he graphically shoots a man in the back of the head at point-blank range just 50 seconds into the video. (The violence gets even worse later.) This comes right after Glover has sung,
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
The tone of the song and the video suddenly shifts as the chorus begins,
This is America
Don't catch you slippin' up
Don't catch you slippin' up
Look what I'm whippin' up
The video was directed by Toyko-born, LA-based Hiro Murai, who has helmed more than a dozen music videos over the years as well of episodes of Glover's FX series "Atlanta." The song's lyrics are available at Genius.
With its references to guns, police, fear, the black experience and more—well, this is indeed America. The conversation about the song and the video, though, has already gone global. For instance, in a post titled "Review: Childish Gambino's 'This Is America' is a revolution" on the website of Singapore-based street culture magazine Juice, Indran P writes,
Childish Gambino's new song, "This Is America", isn't a chill song. It doesn't even sound chill—it's not "Redbone" [Childish Gambino's 2016 hit]. This is not two years ago; this is the screaming, fiery, horrifying maw of the now in which we're chewed and crushed on repeat. This is a song you can't over-read because its extreme vision unpacks and lays everything bare for you.
More reviews and essays and think pieces are sure to follow—by the dozens, by the hundreds—in the media in the days and weeks to come, but meanwhile part of the "This Is America" phenomenon is the way that it's inspired countless people on social media to try to deconstruct an artwork, and unpack their own emotions, in real time. A sampling from Twitter:
This scene reenacts Charleston shooting. Black people praising Lord killed for no reason. Look at the background, you see people running towards the area and "rioting" for change and cops running after them, just b/c it's their "job"— Kanisha J (@KaniJJackson) May 7, 2018
The most blatant point of #ThisIsAmerica is that @donaldglover serves as a distraction to the viewer while a lot more meaningful things are happening in the background.— Aaron T. Starks (@StarkyLuv73) May 7, 2018
Distracted America has been an issue for decades.
Don't catch you slipping y'all. The ending of the video though?! Even with all the beauty he may bring to the world through his art, he is still just a black man running for his life. #ThisIsAmerica— Berthine (@TouchtheSky1911) May 6, 2018
And here's a tweetstorm worth reading in full:
I've watched @donaldglover's new music video a few times now and the first time I watched it I had a familiar, primal discomfort that I couldn't place.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
It wasn't until the third watch that I realized it was reminding me of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971).
Some thoughts: pic.twitter.com/8xCgpaHCXD
There aren't really any shared visual references between the two. But, both seem to consider the levity in "ultraviolence", and suggests ultraviolence is our true nature.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
In CWO, Alex and his droogs cripple a man while assaulting his wife, while Alex cheerily sings. pic.twitter.com/v3SdaGrPKB
In TIA, Glover giddily "gwara gwaras", "shokies", and "BlocBoy JB shoots", his way around an execution of a black hostage and a firing squad execution of a black choir, all while burning cars and chaos pop up around him. pic.twitter.com/cBERqJnI48— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
In CWO, Alex is sentenced to jail and becomes eligible for a new prisoner rehabilitation technique: the Ludovico technique.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
He's strapped to a chair and forced to watch disturbing images of sex and violence, so that he develops a Pavlovian disgust to them. pic.twitter.com/PJ2K05lgPV
At the same time, Alex realizes that the disturbing montages are set to music by his favorite composer, Beethoven.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
And like my inability to taste Coke without also feeling like I'm tasting Jack Daniels, Beethoven's songs now make Alex nauseous.
and are thus ruined. pic.twitter.com/WVeO4dytH9
In TIA, I feel like Glover has done something similar, by taking that lovable and viral imagery of African kids happily dancing and slapping it on American ultraviolence.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
As if to say "next time you drink African kids dancing, also taste Charleston AME being gunned down." pic.twitter.com/ikH3Efkm40
Anyway, it's a very good and intriguing video and it feels like Glover and Hiro Murai (director) conclude it by saying this is America— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
and you can try to run from it but you cannot outrun the things you'll see. pic.twitter.com/PwXrN4ls79
Oh. last point.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
I thought this was such a great and powerful shot and it and the subtle chain around his neck reminded me of a similar fantastic shot
Django Unchained (2012), when Django throws off his bondage
and from another director obsessed with American ultraviolence pic.twitter.com/xDqXi77eCg
Last last point.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
It's interesting to recall and reflect on Glover's hotel notes to himself in 2013. pic.twitter.com/F2eotDD4ar
Last last last point.— KYLE A B (@kyalbr) May 6, 2018
I'm focusing on Hiro's decision to shoot the video in a series of long takes.
Think about it. If it was your usual jump cuts and quick pans, you might miss stuff.
Long takes trap you. Stop you from being able to look away. pic.twitter.com/hwfT94MF1O