Donald Glover has every reason, as a young black man in America, to be angry at and frustrated with society. The music video for his latest single “This is America,” directed by Hiro Murai, is a carefully choreographed piece of art filmed in one location to appear as if all the events are occurring continuously. Each facial expression, dance move, and character in the rotating cast seems to carry the heavy weight of symbolism. Yet without Glover or Murai’s commentary, interpretations of the video necessarily carry with them the perspectives of the people writing them.
Glover is showing us the America he sees, how each of us responds depends on the America we see. I see this video as a creative expression of the pain Glover feels, but I don’t see “This is America” as him proposing a solution or working as a solution itself. Childish Gambino also debuted another single on Saturday Night Live along with “This is America,” and I trust that both songs are the beginning of the story he is telling on a larger project he is releasing. Gambino has proven himself to be a storyteller best understood over time, so whatever we might think “This is America” is saying, is likely to be challenged when the entire album drops.
Please note that we received many more longer, thoughtful answers than what is reproduced here. So many in fact that we will be including more on the website at a later point. Thank you to everyone who submitted responses: Soshi, Alan, Scott Masek, Carter Moore, Amina, Jeremy Leung, Spencer Kerber, Ryan Pun, Bee, Edward Barnieh, Graham, Alex Lendrum, GT, Lewis J, Sharon Lam, and Dennis Dang.
How else have you observed music being used to provide social commentary? What potential do you see music as having to push change?
Music has all the potential to serve a critical purpose in inciting meaningful change because it articulates what we feel and brings us together. When there’s enough people resonating with the music and what it’s saying, it crystallizes into a rallying cry, an anthem. — Alan
Ever since NWA and Public Enemy, rap and hip hop has been a vehicle for social commentary. Contemporaries like Kendrick, J Cole, Eninem have all used their platform in innovative ways to cause a stir in the media but to also get the audience to wake up. The potential to push change has become more than just potential, I think music has such a massive influence on a private citizen’s personal life; we want to emulate the people we admire. — Jeremy Leung
Praise to Donald Glover and Hiro Murai for taking their time to put out a complete, calculated performance despite the ugliness of the subject. Now the performance is out, and they can start preparing their subsequent rebuttals to the different responses that come. Let’s hope their militant performance moves beyond talking about change to enacting it. — Spencer Kerber
How did you feel while watching “This is America”?
The entire video kind of reflects how I feel about the US — it’s trying to present itself as this idyllic promised land but in reality, it’s as broken and chaotic as any other first (or third!) world country. I just felt really angry for all the injustice that minorities have to face. They can’t trip up, they have to be on their best behaviour and even then it isn’t enough. — Soshi
This feels more like an art exercise dabbling into some political message, but nothing much or far beyond it. This pains me because I know I am missing the bigger picture, and that it’s probably incredibly rich in meaning, but I also found that the commentary on the video I saw and read so far fails to really explain everything in detail or provide the meaning I think this video likely has. — Scott Masek
Happy then brought back to reality then happy then brought back to reality… this is a great representation of how it feels to be black in America. We gotta find our happiness again everyday until another, yet disregarded race driven, tragedy happens again. Then when we get too frustrated and exhausted of trying to find the good we take a long ruminating pause and just give up trying to be happy for that moment and do what’ll just keep us sane (smoking weed for some.) — Amina
Any additional thoughts?
While this song, and more importantly the video, go to impeccable lengths to illustrate so many current ideologies and behaviours within America, I hope in some way this unites people more than divides. I can see one half of America really embrace and resonate with this artwork in a positive way, while the other half despise it. The aim of art and expression is often to provoke thoughtful discussion, which this certainly does, but does this piece do it in a way that is meant to unify, divide, or simply illustrate the perspectives and emotions of the artist himself (and undoubtedly many others) I don’t know yet. Regardless of the motive, I’m here for it. It’s a compelling visual and auditory experience that is well executed regardless of if it’s message is agreeable or not to its audience. — Carter Moore
Where does the conversation go from here? I look forward to seeing what the recent album of J-Cole, Gambino’s “This is America”, and even Kanye’s recent remarks have on the collective of people of color. Is it an alarm to wake up from the “system” to change focus, or is it just another wave of conversations that’ll be passed up and drowned out by white noise? — Lewis J
The internet runs in our veins at this point. Streaming records break weekly. 45M views on “This is America” after 3 days? The consumption of entertainment is exponentially growing. I wonder if we’ll ever notice real world problems. — Dennis Dang