When it comes to music, unless it’s jazz, afrobeats, or the soundtrack to my latest favourite film, it’s very unlikely that I’ve heard it before. In fact, I had no idea who Childish Gambino was until a friend told me I should check out his latest music video, This is America. And now, who could’ve of missed this.
Listening to the melody of the first 30 seconds, I’m all set to conclude that this, coupled with the title makes for a very cheesy music video, but then the exaggerated dance movements and facial expressions kick in, and it latches onto my interest because (as weird as this might sound) it reminds me of my mother’s dancing. So I keep watching.
I literally cannot even put into words how cacophonous and disturbing the next part of the video is. The direction it takes is both transfixing and repulsive. From the initial gunshot, I found myself trying to watch the music video more actively, attempting to take in everything and make sense of the political undertone of each scene. I felt a guilty pleasure in enjoying the dance elements of the music video and slightly disgusted by the fact that I allowed myself to be so easily distracted from the background scenes; precisely Gambino’s intention.
Many of the bold dance moves were, for me, reminiscent of the way in which dance was used as both a tool for survival and expression during the transatlantic slave trade. I could see in the dance moves both the bonds and echoes of their African past. Yet by the end of the video, I felt like I had watched something and nothing at the same time. It felt rebellious and weighty in its message and yet incomprehensible and confusing. The more I read up on it the more I feel torn between thinking that I am better informed in understanding its significance and foolish for arguably subscribing to a reductive analysis of it. It’s a weird one. Whilst I think it is important that light is shed on perhaps some of the more covert references, I think it’s equally valuable to just watch the music video and let it sit with you for a while.
If one of its goal is to make you want to watch it again, then it definitely succeeded. I’ve probably watched it more than ten times now along with a couple of videos that pick apart its fabric, and I still feel like I haven’t truly understood its underlying meaning. Even writing this post and reflecting on it, my mind is scattered in so many different directions and my sentiments feel so fragmentary that I can’t really pinpoint them. Perhaps this repressive sense of incommunicability is the whole point of the music video. Maybe the unease is suppose to settle.