Spotlight: Donald Glover

Donald Glover makes the uncomfortable popular

Childish Gambino’s new music video for one of his latest songs, ‘This is America’, received 100 million views on YouTube in its first week. That makes it the third most popular video he’s ever uploaded, behind the official uploads of ‘3005’ (which it will overtake by the time this article is printed) and the absolutely iconic ‘Redbone’.

It’s the beginning of what’s set to be a huge year for Donald Glover, who aside from his work as Childish Gambino, is about to hit our cinema screens as a young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo-centered Star Wars spin-off, and star as Simba in Disney’s live-action retelling of The Lion King next year.

All of this mainstream exposure and popularity seems to be a cosmic reward for Glover’s success in other areas, as many of the highlights of his career so far have done. After writing for a season of 30 Rock, spending 5 seasons as fan-favourite character Troy Barnes on Community, and a promising stand-up special (which is on YouTube, and well worth checking out), he finally won Golden Globes and Emmys last year for his work on the incredible hip-hop comedy-drama Atlanta, which he created, writes, directs and stars in. It is clear that Glover seems to be outstandingly talented at everything he tries his hand at.

Gambino’s lyrics and videos have always been far more poignant and thoughtful than Glover’s comic persona would lead you to believe, but ‘This is America’ is exceptional even by Gambino’s standards. The music video, directed by Hiro Murai (a regular collaborator of Glover’s who has directed most episodes of Atlanta), is a miasma of shocking imagery deconstructing gun culture, race relations, and public perceptions of fame that, like the best music videos throughout history, takes an already powerful song and deepens its impact in indelible fashion.

The music itself, cooked up by Glover and his regular collaborator Ludwig Görannsson (composer of the incredible Black Panther score), combines African choral sounds with trap stylings to intoxicating effect. But this musical style necessitates a certain amount of lyrical repetition which would limit the reach of the song’s targets without the music videos visual allusions to Jim Crow, the Charleston massacre, and invocations of recent popular dance trends which have inspired thousands of deconstructive hot takes online. It grounds the lyrics in contemporary issues, begging the viewer to sit up and witness a powerful African-American voice which has scarcely been so well-articulated in such a popular medium.

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Of course, no-one’s hot streaks last forever, but even Glover seems to take his hiccups in his stride. Although his recent attempts to bring an animated Deadpool series to the small screen fell through, he managed to channel his disappointment and anger into a hilarious fake script. And the upcoming album seems to combine the best of his soul-stirring Awaken, My Love-era songwriting with the social awareness of his most enduring work on Atlanta, hopefully bringing fans back to the fold who were disappointed by the lack of rap on his last album. Donald Glover’s never risen higher – long may he and Gambino reign.