The lyrics to Childish Gambino's "This is America" have so many layers of meaning
On the May 5th episode of Saturday Night Live, host Donald Glover, also known by his rap moniker Childish Gambino, debuted a new single called “This is America.” And in the hours after it premiered, the unexpected song took the internet by storm.
The new track, which features pointed commentary about race and violence in the United States, is the first new song by Glover since 2016. Glover’s most recent album as Childish Gambino, Awaken, My Love!,was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Awards, and the song “Redbone” from the album took home the award for Best Traditional R&B Performance. The rapper has hinted that his upcoming album will be his last as Childish Gambino.
Directed by Hiro Mirai, the “This is America” video features Glover dancing in the midst of shootings and police brutality, sometimes even committing gruesome acts of violence himself. As the central figure in the video, Glover maintains a calm, carefree appearance on the surface, while a gospel choir adds a joyful sound to the song. But the lyrics betray something far more sinister.
“This is America/Don’t catch you slippin’ up,” the chorus instructs, a potential allusion to the strict expectations society places on black men in America. The second verse seems like lighthearted mockery of consumer culture, with Glover proclaiming, “I’m on Gucci/I’m so pretty,” but the song again takes a darker turn when, in the outro, Glover raps, “You just a Black man in this world/You just a barcode.”