For some of you reading this, I may have came to you and asked, “what song do you think is controversial but has a meaning or message?” My findings were quite interesting, but also understandable. I surveyed 40 kids in each grade level for a total of 160 kids over all. Overall the student body felt that the song, “This Is America” by Childish Gambino was most controversial, getting a total of 35 votes in the poll.
What’s So Controversial About It?
The big question that needs to be answered is, where is the controversy in this song? What is causing this controversy? The answer would have to be how Childish Gambino brought to light certain subjects nobody tends to bring up and speak so outwardly about. For example, he talks about gun violence, police brutality, shootings, racism, discrimination, suicide, and violence in general. He portrays this in a unique way that I have yet to see from other types of artists. In the video, he portrays the topics in the way much of America actually views them.
Behind The Video
In the video, Gambino would have serious situations happening in the background and you likely wouldn’t notice them unless you paid close attention to what was happening while they danced and entertained you, serving as a distraction. I bet in the beginning of the video at 1:13 you didn’t notice someone’s car was robbed or that the car next to it ran someone over. You probably didn’t notice these things because of his amazing dancing skills, the distinctive faces he was making or the fact that the kids stayed behind him while he kept walking.
The world, specifically America, would try and hide or conceal the real world issues by producing a new song, or, hey look, Kendrick Lamar is doing a surprise tour and also, OMG, do you see that beautiful designer shoe? Oh wait, there was a shooting at- OH LOOK A BIRD.
This was how uniquely and exceptionally Gambino was able to represent America. In the beginning of the video, a man came down and sat down on a chair while playing an instrument. We then zoomed in closer to Childish Gambino. He then began walking towards the man dancing in a weird manner while making some ridiculously crazy faces. Once he got to the man, he took out a gun, got into a weird stance, shot the guitarist, and then gave the gun off to a man who carefully took it off screen in red cloth.
This phenomenon was also seen again later in the video at 1:55, but, this time he shoots a choir singing. People believe the intention of this was to represent the Charleston church shooting. The three titular words in “This Is America” were said every time after he shot a gun and gave off the gun to a person with red cloth. People also believe that he says this after he shot people because, as Americans, we sometimes tend to treat our guns as more valuable than human lives. People believe this because, in the first shooting scene, the gun went off neatly in cloth while the man was just roughly dragged off. As I watched the music video over and over, I counted 17 important issues happening in the background. But even when I watched it the first time, I won’t lie, I didn’t notice a single thing that happened in the background. I was captivated with the dancing. This was what Gambino was aiming for, distracting you from the important situations in the background.
Many of you also may be asking why the kids were wearing school uniforms. People conjecture this represents how our youths in this day in age ignored or are easily distracted from the important predicaments that happen because they are immersed in dancing, singing, being on their phone, and are generally just mesmerized with the famous people they look up to.
Behind The Lyrics
In the beginning of the song, the lyrics, “This is America, don’t catch you slipping now,” were said after he shoots a man. This is believed by many to represent that fact that if someone of importance catches you “slipping up,” you might face an extreme consequence in America.
After he shot the choir, he sang, “Look what I’m whippin’ now, look how I’m geeking out, I’m so fitted, I’m on Gucci, I’m so pretty. I’mma get it. Watch me move.” This was intended to show you how famous people or people with nice things are using their popularity to distract you and encourage people to pay attention to them because of how I look and what I have and who I am. Oh, a white cop shot a black man because he was holding his phone and they thought it was a gun? But look at my $2,600 Chanel white purse you literally could get at Macy’s for $15.
People want to create this illusion of America to “protect” the people, but, in truth, it’s better to know what’s happening around you than to be swept up in the ignorance of a sweet bliss of hyperreality. (Hyperreality is the inability to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality or a false world in general.)
The ending lyrics had me speechless as if almost indecipherable. “You just a black man in this world. You just a barcode, you just a black man in this world drivin’ expensive foreigns, you just a big dawg, I kenneled him in the backyard. No, probably ain’t life to a dog. For a big dog.” Even I, reading this a numerous amount of times was perplexed about, “you just a barcode,” but, being a barcode means you are not a name, just data, to the government.
In the rest, it is saying how he is just a locked up man in a backwards world and it’s a hard because they have had to deal with it for many years. And to the question of why he is running down a dark alley with many white people chasing behind him bearing an anguished look on his face at the end scene, Guthrie Ramsey gave Time an excellently worded answer, “a black person running for his or her life has just been a part of American culture dating back to slavery.” This is why he was running, to save his own life because he “slipped up,” and “This Is America.”
In the poll, Sad by XXXTENTACION was second most controversial song, followed by In My Feelings by Drake. Some very honorable mentions include I’m Not Racist by Joyner Lucas, 1-800-273-8255 by Logic, and Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People. There is so much other content I wish to discuss ranging from the kids with the white masks over their mouths to the white horse in the background and the individual people getting abused by the police in the background also. But I’ll leave you with this, important things are happening, but what are they? Do you know?
Edit: A mistake by the editor misrepresented the identity of the shot musician as a pianist, he was a guitarist.
Amaya is a junior who loves the arts and writing poetry. She is an avid reader and listens to all kinds of music. She will be writing for the Life & Arts and opinion section.