The song “This is America” is a song cleverly written by Childish Gambino, also known as Daniel Grover; the song came out May 2018, and it quickly took the internet by storm. “America” hits number one Streaming Songs with 65.3 million U.S. streams in the week ending May 10; “America” also starts at number one on Digital Song Sales with 78,000 downloads sold in the same tracking period, also drawing 9.4 million in all-genre radio airplay audience in the week ending May 13.
The song contrasts popular perception of happy, carefree America with its harsh and dark reality. When Gambino says “This is America”, he is speaking on behalf of all Americans. He chooses to have upbeat verses that show what the typical American thinks is an accurate representation of America; the chorus heavily contrasts with the verses with an abrupt and more aggressive change in tone. Gambino did this to show the darker side of America. Childish Gambino attempts to bring light to not only the popular perception of American, but also the inequalities, discrimination, and gun violence. The music video for “America” perfectly ties in to the lyrics. The first minute of the song starts off with a choral tone to it; in the music video, this is when an African-American man is sitting on a chair strumming a guitar followed by Gambino dancing to an African-style dance called the Gwara Gwara. He does this to show that the song is from the African American perspective of what America is like. The first verse starts off with the lines “we just wanna party, party just for you”. The verse continues by saying that “we” want money and dancing. The “we” Gambino is talking about is the American culture as a whole. Americans are drawn to what is fun and trending. This alludes to the next line in the same verse that says, “dance and shake the frame.” This is symbolism for blurring up your vision, or being distracted. Gambino is dancing over to the man playing guitar, who no longer has a guitar, and now has a bag covering his head. Gambino pulls out a gun, and the second he shoots the man in the head is when the chorus starts; the song does a dramatic switch from a “choral tone to a trap tone” with the first line of the chorus being “This is America.” This shows the sharp contrast of what America is portrayed as via media and public perception, and the reality of America. One of the harsh realities Gambino points out is gun violence. The gun is quickly concealed with a red rag by another person quickly coming into the scene to dispose of the gun. The red rag can be used as symbolism for red America, or guilty in the sense of being caught “red handed”, and concealed with a red rag so it is less noticable if there was bloodshed.
As Gambino continues with the chorus, the camera focuses on him, however the real story is happening behind him. The man who was shot was quickly dragged by two African American kids dressed in a school uniform. There are people running in a frenzy as well as a car driving by with two people hanging out of it. This scene alludes to the idea that America is distracted from what is really going on “behind the scenes”, which are injustices, murder, and chaos. After the first chorus, the song goes back to its choral tone. The scene in the music video opens with a choir of 10 African Americans singing and dancing. Gambino quickly guns them down as the second chorus starts. The massacre may be a recall to the 2015 Charleston shooting in which white supremacist Dylann Roof killed 9 black people in a church basement. Gambino is bringing up instances where racism has lead to mass shootings. The quickness of the scenes show how it can happen at any moment with no warning. The chaos gets worse in the second chorus with more people running in havoc. There is a broken down police car, which signifies the inability for America to police itself.
In the next verse the song continues with the trap tone. Some of the lyrics are “I’m so fitted, I’m on Gucci, I’m so pretty.” Gambino is showing that Americans are heavily concerned with their self-image by using the brand Gucci and also explicitly saying “I’m so pretty.” School kids are dancing with Gambino, which can have many meanings. This could be a symbol for the American young culture being distracted from the chaos by following brands such as Gucci. This can also be a visual representation since Gambino and the school kids are physically blocking and distracting the viewer from the injustices of America. The camera quickly pans over to kids who are recording the ensuing violence from a platform. This shows that main stream America knows the violence and other injustices that are going on; it even records and uploads the injustices, yet America stands at a distance. It takes no action to stop or prevent the issues, but the only thing America does is use its platform to share and spread the news, highlighting the passiveness of America. Lyrics continue with Gambino mentioning Hunnid bands. This is a reference to pop culture’s slang for a stack of one hundred dollar bills. He then mentions contrabanding, implying that the money he is talking about is from illegally imported good, most likely drugs. Gambino’s next line is “I got the plug on Oaxaca.” Oaxaca is a city in Mexico. In pop culture, to be the plug means to be a supplier or to have connections. Essentially, Gambino is using symbolism to reference the drug cartel and their influence on the corruption of America. His next line is “They gonna find you like ‘blocka.’” Blocka is slang for being shot at, usually in reference to a glock gun. In the music video, he supports this idea by raising his hands as if he is aiming an imaginary gun at someone. Gambino pauses for a moment, then pulls out a joint of marijuana and smokes it, which can have multiple meaning to it. Firstly, it brings up the controversy of the legalization of smoking marijuana in America. Gambino also calls to mind the drug wars America is having with the Mexican cartel. He also brings into light the influence the cartel has on those who intervene in their affiliations, which will end in be shot or death. The song ends with Gambino frantically running for his life down a dark hallway with a mob chasing him. Since it is common people chasing him, this could be symbolism for Gambino trying to escape the popular view and lifestyle of America. This means that it takes a lot of hard, conscious effort in order to not be consumed by the pop culture way of living.
To conclude, Gambino’s song “This is America” became popular within the first week of its release. The song was highly effective since its objective was to draw as much attention and spark dialogue regarding the themes and messages the song conveys such as violence, injustices, and racism. The song is highly controversial because America is seen as “beautiful, the land of the free, the dream” and many other good qualities, however the song portrays the injustices and imperfections within America that we see and share, yet stand idle and continue living in our rose colored world.