We need to talk about all that symbolism in ‘This Is America’


Childish Gambino dropped his latest single, This Is America, and it has the most powerful, awe-inspiring music video you’ll see all year.

Some celebrities come to SNL in order to promote work that is coming out or something that has already been released. You could say that Donald Glover coming to Saturday Night Live was in support of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which wouldn’t be incorrect.

Glover was there to promote something, it just wasn’t something we knew existed until after the show had started. Glover’s Grammy-nominated musical alter ego, Childish Gambino, released a new single on Saturday, timed with his hosting duties on SNL. “This Is America”, specifically the accompanying music video manifesto, has been rightfully praised by almost everyone as a much-needed piece of Post-Trump art.

“This Is America” takes the arm we’ve been patting ourselves on the back with as a society and snaps the bone. Where we think we’ve made progress in fighting racism, gun violence, and oppression, Childish reminds us that it’s mostly a song-and-dance mirage.

He takes that literally, singing and dancing through scenes of utter chaos while distracting us with his charisma. That’s the theme of “This Is America”, because that is America.

“This Is America” takes the arm we’ve been patting ourselves on the back with as a society and snaps the bone.

It’s the kind of commentary that Kanye might be doing if he was as woke as he was a decade ago. As Yeezy lays himself down to sleep in whatever grave he’s digging, Childish delivered a piece of art that establishes him as the new King.

The video, which is just over four minutes long, has so much to say that even five viewings won’t give you the full scope.

The catchiness is part of its venom

When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came out, it was a hit because it was so damn catchy. But that was the exact thing — how basic and cookie cutter music had become — that Kurt Cobain was openly mocking and calling out.

Childish does that same thing with “This Is America”, calling out everything from Mumble Rap to club thumpers while crafting a Mumble Rap club thumper. You’ll be humming the chorus of the song well after you heard it and even if you didn’t get the point, which is by design. Either you’re going to just like the song for its surface level coolness or you’re going to want to go further down the rabbit hole and figure out what it all means.

Guns are handled with great care

This is probably the first thing people notice, but it’s nonetheless important. Every time a gun is used to take a life, it’s handled with the utmost care. It’s not a new statement, but the idea that guns and gun ownership are more precious than human life is something that can’t be expressed with enough rage.

The video starts with a guitar player getting shot in the back of the head. His death is pointless and quickly forgotten, but the gun that killed him was handled as though it was a Faberge.  We remember not the death of a black man, but how carefully Childish handled it and how gracefully he used it.

Sound familiar?

Children literally follow Childish’s every move

When the #March4OurLives was happening, everyone applauded the youth of America for showing us that the future might be brighter than we thought. But, in tying back to Childish’s overall theme of societal distractions, he reminds us that the youth are still following our lead. That path, as demonstrated, is pointless and goes nowhere.

Rather than pay attention to the problems around them, the children ignore the chaos in favor of being copying whatever dance move Childish does. They’re too busy to be bothered with the problems around them that are going to affect them once the dancing stops.

Also, the children being sheltered from Childish’s violence and then brought back into the light is a wicked commentary on the seedy underbelly of how the powerful operate.

It’s all an assault on escapism and the current state of hip-hop

The main crux of the video features Childish dancing in various states — from what appears to be him having fun, to imitations of Jim Crow-era blackface performers. Meanwhile, all around him, there is utter chaos and confusion.

Here’s something you might have missed on the first viewing: At one point, he dances with a group of schoolgirls and makes mention of Gucci, all the while people run for their lives in the foreground and background. This comes after he gunned down a church choir with an assault rifle (a clear reference to both gun violence in America and the Charleston church shooting) before just going on about his day dancing to the latest distraction.

And that’s the point. We all claim to be ‘woke’ but as soon as another shiny ball is tossed in front of us we all lose focus of the mission. In a macro view, this is about Donald Trump, Robert Mueller’s investigation, Russia, Stormy Daniels, and how we’re all so easily amused by the chaos that it becomes background noise.

A micro view: Childish is calling out hip-hop. In a pretty direct way, He’s is placing blame at the feet of hip-hop for not more seriously getting behind issues within its own community. Rather than continue to fight for change and force society to keep its eye on the ball, we’re given a new dance craze or club banger to distract us. And it’s all marketed, like a magic drug, to the people most deeply affected by the issues in America.

Childish’s point isn’t that there shouldn’t be music or happiness. It’s to point out the line between escapism and irresponsibility.

The ending is absolutely terrifying

If you missed the point of the video for an entire four minutes, Childish takes out the sledgehammer to make sure you get it. After a video full of goofy dancing to distract us from the problems in the world, we’re left with the stunning image of a petrified Childish sprinting for his life from everything he’d been ignoring.

The terror on his face is chilling. It’s also a loose thread that ensures the conversation will continue after the video cuts to black.

What is he so afraid of: The police, poverty and oppression, a lynch mob, whites running after him to appropriate more of his culture, or simply reality?

Few artists are capable of putting together even half of what Glover pulled off with “This Is America”. The conversation only starts with his music video, but something that needs to be said is that Childish is an Auteur, capital-A. He has a lot to say and we’d all do ourselves as a society a favor by sitting down and listening.