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Donald Glover dances out his rage in “This Is America”

Childish Gambino takes on police brutality and the nation’s gun epidemic in new single.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Donald Glover’s highly anticipated upcoming Childish Gambino album doesn’t yet have a name, but in the new video “This Is America,” it gains a face — and it’s one of exhaustion.

Glover dropped the music video to the single overnight. In it, an atypically sober Gambino starts out performing his normal, carefree persona — but punctuates the show by intermittently taking out guns and mowing down the other carefree artists around him. Throughout the video, Gambino seems to be referencing a number of recent flashpoints involving police brutality, white supremacy, and racialized violence: the lynching of black men; the Charleston shooting; the Black Lives Matter protests. “I’mma go into this,” he sings, even as he clearly seems fed up with the entire conversation around gun violence, race, and policing in America.

Confronting us with abrupt, horrifying gun violence only to return to singing and dancing might seem like a heavy-handed reminder that the nation’s gun violence is a uniquely American epidemic. But Glover makes it works thanks to frequent collaborator Hiro Murai’s tight direction, as well as his own world-weary awareness that this is just how things are. “Don’t catch you slippin’ up,” cautions the man who previously reminded black Americans to stay woke. In the end, the song reminds us over an image of Glover’s frantic face as he flees the scene, he’s “just a black man” — “just a barcode” — running for his life in America.

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