This past weekend, Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, made his hotly anticipated return to music with the release of new track, ‘This Is America’. Directed by Los Angeles-based filmmaker and frequent Gambino collaborator Hiro Murai, the accompanying music video is a politically-charged tour de force that jolts viewers out of their comfort zones.
Unrestrained in its depictions of both violence and joy, the music video is rich in symbolism and provides context to the song’s somewhat vague lyrics. A condemnation of the rampant gun violence faced by Americans – particularly people of colour – and a brutal takedown of the fallacies of the ‘American Dream’, Gambino and Murai’s vision forces the country’s citizens to examine the realities of the ‘democracy’ they live in.
Sonically, ‘This Is America’ pulls from many of the varied genres we’ve heard Gambino playing with over the course of his music career. The funk and soul that dominated his award-winning 2017 release, Awaken, My Love!, is strongest here, but he also raps on the track more than he has since his 2013 album, Because The Internet. Though it features ad libs from the likes of Young Thug, Offset and 21 Savage, it’s Murai’s visuals that really imbibe ‘This Is America’ with its power.
Beginning with a shirtless, jovial Gambino dancing to the track’s malleable beat, it quickly ups the ante as he moves behind the seat of a hooded man, and swiftly shoots him in the head. It’s a graphic scene, the force of which is amplified by Gambino’s seeming nonchalance toward the act. Unsparing in its brutality, the scene evokes the horrifying abruptness of gun violence.
“This is America, don’t catch you slippin’ up,” Gambino sings as he moves around a warehouse, the scenes around him rapidly changing. Chaos reigns as people run through the background, fall of balconies and climb atop cars. The space on screen is punctuated by the appearance of other carefree artists, including a jubilant choir, the members of which all later meet their end by bullets from Gambino’s gun.
Stark and shocking in its directness, the video’s on-screen ferocity mirrors the kind of police brutality and racialised violence that has been on the rise in the US for the past few years. From the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, to the numerous young men and women who have been victim of non discriminate police shootings, Gambino and Murai pay desolate homage to them all, while emphasising the State’s continued complacency.
Watch the video above.