From riding a Ferris wheel with a teddy bear to spooky campfire stories, we’ve seen it all in Childish Gambino’s music videos. Ironically, one could see the new “This Is America” music video a few times over and still not quite catch all of the imagery. In Donald Glover’s first music video in five years, the ever-evolving genre of the star seems to have approached a hint of cheerful, upbeat reggae at the clip’s beginning, but turns into something completely different as soon as he pulls a gun out and blows a bullet through a guy with a bag over his head. The first in a series of hard-hitting political references throughout the 4-minute bit subtly arrives at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when the gun used to off the man is gently placed into a red handkerchief. The same can be seen at the 2-minute mark upon another massacre, this time Glover being tossed an AK out of nowhere and taking out 10 choir singers in a possible allusion to the infamous 2015 church shooting in Charleston. Both occurrences appear unexpectedly, but are immediately followed by Gambino uttering the titular phrase with an intentional lack of enthusiasm.
Much of the brilliance lies within the background. Black people running around in a frenzy are easy to spot behind the dancers, but there are even tinier details to miss. A video that demands to be rewatched and dissected, keen-eyed viewers will pick up on obscure bible references and Jim Crow caricatures poses, just to name a few. Even SZA makes a brief cameo towards the end, making a good case that she’ll be featured on his upcoming fourth album.
The simplicity of having Gambino and his dancers prance around in the foreground plays into a variety of interpretations. In a country that eats up black culture, the dancers could represent how oblivious some Americans are when it comes to realizing the turmoil minorities find themselves in, as opposed to the glitz and glamour on the TV screen. It could also be a jab at recent criticism towards black celebrities for getting “too political”: the crew is so concentrated on dancing, they don’t even acknowledge all the chaos happening around them. That’s the beauty of “This Is America”, at its core a deeply layered gem that only gets better and better the more times it is seen. So much so, it’s popularity on trending pages is outdone by breakdowns of the actual video.
If there’s any downside, it won’t be the same to listen to just the audio for this track. Part of me hopes it’s left off his next LP to ensure this song stays synonymous with the already iconic video, but hype for a Childish Gambino album is now at an all-time high thanks to this juggernaut lead single. Top-tier in its relevance and genius in its execution, the visuals conjured up by Glover and his Atlanta director Hiro Murai have cemented the legacy of “This Is America” as one of the greatest music videos of all time.