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Music / This Is America

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Contraband, contraband, contraband.

This Is America is a 2018 music video and song by Childish Gambino, most famous for being a satirical and critical look at the United States of the time, and in particular reflecting black rights and black history in the US and their intersections worldwide.

The song itself is an interesting combination of trap and Hip-Hop, but largely viewed as less significant than the music video, with some interpretations ruling that the chorus of the song was made deliberately simple but still set to a Southern Rap beat to keep people dancing as commentary on the deteriorating state of music as well as the basic elements of black music being sampled in many other genres and styles of music where it may be made more popular.

And that's probably the shallowest level of interpretation applied to the video.

It was Gambino's first top ten song, and in fact reached #1 in all Anglophone countries it was released in except for the UK (#6) and Ireland (#2).


Don't catch you tropin' now...

  • The Cameo: The actual song features vocals from many other rap artists, like Young Thug and Quavo. The video also features SZA sitting on one the cars at the end (pictured above).
  • Dissonant Serenity: Gambino and the kids he's dancing with are clearly way too happy about throwing down some moves while the world literally burns around them. Something snaps the kids out of it and frantically leave Gambino by himself to have a smoke.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Gambino shoots and kills eleven people during the course of the song, but the police only start coming at him during the ending scene after he lights up a blunt to unwind.
  • Gospel Choirs Are Just Better: A robed church choir appears midway through the song to join the chorus - then it's subverted when Gambino grabs an assault rifle and mows them all down.
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  • The Grim Reaper: The figure on the horse can be seen as Death riding in, as in some tales it has a white horse.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Another interpretation of the figure on the horse is as the leader of the Four Horsemen, known as Conquest. It is said to conquer all and lead to falling societies, carries a crown, and charges in on a white horse.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Gambino manages to gun down a ten-person choir in less than eight shots, most of which are from while he whips around in the span of a second to face them.
  • Malaproper: Probably an intentional one where the word "Guerilla" in the lyrics is said as "gorilla", connecting the form of warfare and a word that can be used as a racial slur.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The video repeatedly shifts focus between Gambino's gleeful dancing in the foreground and the shifting scenes of chaotic violence and rioting in the background. Considering the lyrical content itself makes similar shifts between being hedonistic and carefree to critical and disturbing, this juxtaposition is very much intentional.
  • Modern Minstrelsy: Gambino's exaggerated faces and poses directly evoke Minstrel Shows. He does some of the dance "Jump Jim Crow", and the position he takes to shoot the guitarist is the famed pose of the original Jim Crow.
  • Mood Whiplash: Invoked multiple times in the video (and the song itself). The first time is when the video first opens on a man playing guitar as chorus chants cheerfully, then pans to Gambino, who then begins dancing. As he makes his way to the guitar player (who now has a mask over his head), he grabs a gun and shoots him in the head as the beat becomes much darker. He shortly resumes dancing. A similar example happens later is when Gambino dances in front of a church choir singing gleefully before being thrown an assault rifle and killing them.
  • Money, Dear Boy: Invoked and satirized with the repeated mocking refrain "Get your money, black man," a clear jab against artists who are only in it for the money, which makes them downplay racial issues and violence. Gambino himself begins by singing "We just want the money / Money just for you."
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: The music video pulls no punches.
  • The Oner: The video isn’t quite a oner but it’s 4 minutes of run time composed of only 4 obvious shots, two of which are extended tracking shots, with the obligatory whip pans for flavor.
  • Phallic Weapon: Gambino thrusts his hips suggestively while dancing to the lyric "Guns in my area."
  • Reference Overdosed: Practically every frame of the video has some level of shout-out or pop culture reference, from Minstrel Shows to Michael Jackson to Get Out (2017), largely treated as satirical commentary.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The line "America[...] you motherfuckers owe me" could be a reference to the Kanye West song "Famous" and how West claimed that he made Taylor Swift ("that bitch") famous and that she owes him. This is translated into the song saying black people gave America its position while also being critical of modern America and giving a Take That! to West's belief that he made Swift famous, because the lyrics also equate this fame/position with a "following list" — mocking this idea of being popular.
    • A very sarcastic one to Michael Jackson, as in the shot in the page pic Gambino is doing Jackson's dance on the car from the "Black or White" video.
    • The ending, which has Gambino running away from an angry crowd, is inspired by Get Out (2017).
  • Stylistic Suck: The verses are about as basic as you can get, to the point where they're not so much verses but a collection of modern trap rap cliches and adlibs. This was done to illustrate how the simplistic catchiness of trap keeps America placated as horrible things happen.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: One interpretation of the song reads it as Gambino criticizing artists who play on black stereotypes to get money and acclaim from white audiences, ignoring the realities of violence and discrimination faced by the black community.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Gambino is shirtless throughout the video.

You just a black man in this world
No proper life to a dog