This is the most important song released so far this year.
As Donald Glover’s acting career has skyrocketed, his work as Childish Gambino was an outlet for ideas and experimentation that he couldn’t keep bottled up. That project improved with each release, reaching the heights of 2016’s funk odyssey, Awaken, My Love! Around the same time, he created Atlanta, a masterfully-written, politically shrewd TV series. If that show is the culmination thus far of his writing and acting talents, with a focus on the societal challenges and struggles of African-Americans, “This Is America” is the musical equivalent. It’s the peak of his talents as Childish Gambino.
Glover powerfully uses the song to contrast the broad perception of African-American life and a far grimmer reality. Musically, the song starts with a joyous, heavenly choir that calls back to his previous album. Glover sings about partying and dancing in a lighthearted manner. But as a sinister trap beat hits, he raps about the turmoil, chaos and threats to everyday African-American life. The abrupt mood switch to and from the choir puts in stark contrast the two sides of America: where people can be happily partying one minute and be struck down by violence the next. Or those can happen at the same time, as tragedies elsewhere distract us only temporarily from our own festivities.
While the song itself is immensely powerful, the video drives his points home on a more intense, unsettling level. It’s one of the very few must-see videos of this past decade.
“This is America” is out now.