During Donald Glover’s astounding guest spot on Saturday Night Live, the multi-hyphenate took to the stage as Childish Gambino to debut a new song titled “This Is America.” Glover gave a thrilling performance of the track, then unleashed the single online, as well as the official music video, which many are calling brilliant and disturbing. With a title like “This Is America,” both descriptions fit.
While the song itself is a great sonic follow-up to what Gambino put forth with 2016’s Awaken, My Love!, there’s a lot to unpack with the visuals, which, as Akilah Hughes pointed out, take place entirely in a warehouse, similar to the video for Gambino’s 2011 single “Freaks and Geeks.” Both feature Childish showing out for the camera, but instead of a one-man performance, “This Is America” brilliantly takes on a number of issues plucked directly from recent news.
Very early on, an actor by the name of Calvin The Second (who definitely resembles Trayvon Martin’s father Tracy, but is not, in fact, Tracy Martin) strums on a guitar to the track. By the time the camera moves with Gambino back to the chair the man was sitting on, he now has a hood covering his head, and Gambino’s standing behind him, hitting a terribly familiar Jim Crow pose, before aiming a gun and shooting the man through the head. A well-dressed person in a polo shirt and slacks then brings a red cloth out so Gambino can carefully place the gun into it. This special cloth makes it clear there’s real care and consideration given to how the firearm is being handled. Meanwhile, the dead man’s body is left lying on the ground, only to be dragged off-screen, all while Gambino continues his performance, smiling and dancing like nothing has happened, as if that black body isn’t worth anywhere near as much as the instrument used to end its life. A similar moment of gun violence during a happier singing sequence happens later, after Gambino uses an assault rifle to mow down a church choir.