As Donald Glover was turning in one of the season’s notable hosting performances on Saturday Night Live, his musical alter-ego, Childish Gambino, debuted the striking video for his new single, “This Is America.”
Set in a large warehouse, the video (watch it below) features a shirtless Glover/Gambino alternating between giddy, celebratory dancing and gruesome, point-blank shootings and chaotic scenes of unrest. Directed by Glover’s Atlanta collaborator, Hiro Murai, the video has a rich depth of field, layering in a large ensemble cast, cars and dance moves as the restless camera follows the main character’s path. It definitely gains resonance upon repeat viewing.
As Glover moves between sections, the mood shifts from benign and melodic to ominous and violent, with the stark chorus, “This is America!” heightening the contrast. There are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references to Black Lives Matter, the Charlottesville protests, police shootings, terrorism, the Civil Rights Era, and on and on. It is difficult to even enumerate all of the references, especially the swirl of dance moves that move through the frame, a kaleidoscopic mix ranging from the Hustle to the African Gwara Gwara.
Pay attention too to the cars in the video — none of them are the late-model Lamborghinis or Bentleys that pop up in most music videos. These are all workaday sedans from the 1980s and 90s. (Make of that what you will.) After unfolding in long, full-speed takes, the video ends with an anguished Gambino/Glover running in slow motion through a suddenly dim passage. He looks like the dark forces he has kept at bay for the previous three-plus minutes are finally ready to overtake him.
The single is from the still-untitled, upcoming Childish Gambino album. After Saturday night, a lot more than just the box-office prospects of Solo: A Star Wars Story got a boost.
Here is the full, four-minute video: