This past Saturday, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) dropped his new single, with accompanying video, This Is America. [Trigger warning: this video has violent themes.]
He then performed it while acting as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live.
We. Were. Shook. And that’s to say the least.
As a player in the marketing world, some might say we don’t have a right to comment on this video and its own commentary within. However, we’re not here to critique. We’re also not here to pretend we relate to the realities presented in the song.
“This is America/Police be trippin’ now/Yeah, this is America/Guns in my area.”
What we are here to do is listen. We encourage you to do the same.
This is what captured our minutes. Here’s why:
The arts and political commentary have a long history, and one that seems very much at the forefront of people’s attention as of late.
The PBS program Speak Truth to Power from 2000 set out to “celebrate the work and struggle of human rights activists around the world.” In it, it talked about the “Intersection of Arts and Human Rights” and how art and politics seem to fit so well together.
“Art has another point of intersection with the political, in that it is also a potent vehicle for communication, one that uses beauty, and emotion, to transport the viewer to worlds and realities that we might not be receptive to otherwise.”
We’ll hazard a guess that Glover fully understands this notion.
Interlaced with his lyrics that rotate between almost carefree (“I know you wanna party/Party just for me/Girl, you got me dancin’ [yeah, girl, you got me dancin’]/Dance and shake that frame”) to downright harsh (“You just a Black man in this world/You just a barcode”), are visuals that inspire a flurry of emotions in audiences.
There’s fun dancing. And then there are gospel choirs being shot to death.
All these juxtapositions make for a video that puts its viewers through turmoil. But that turmoil and the themes and situations that appear, synchronized to the beat, are an everyday reality throughout the United States. From racial violence to police brutality to gun violence, Glover breaks it all down in just over four minutes.
And in just under 48 hours, the video has already 16 million views on YouTube alone [at the time this article was published].
So why is This Is America so difficult to watch, but yet completely enthralling?
Because Glover did exactly what art and politics do when weaved together: “transport the viewer to worlds and realities that we might not be receptive to otherwise.”
The awful realities he depicts are ones that most would feel bad for, but then consequently switch the channel to avoid watching any more.
But presented in his song, there’s something so eye-opening about it all.
The beat captures listeners, moving them forward as the story unfolds.
The visuals, short, punctuated but also varied, provide the substance that makes them stay.
The lyrics then go straight to the point, telling listeners in simple and clear words what they need to know.
This Is America is challenging to say the least. But maybe that’s what’s needed. And maybe, when presented through a creative platform rather than a podium, it’s all that more potent.
A lot of brands are aligning themselves with political and social issues. But in the Battle for Time, it’s stuff like this that brands are up against. It’s more gruesome. It’s more shocking. It’s more real.
And that realness will always win.
VIDEO CREDITS [AS LISTED ON YOUTUBE]:
Director: Hiro Murai
Producer: Doomsday with Ibra Ake and Fam Rothstein of Wolf + Rothstein
At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.
What will win this week?
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