Dissecting the Cultural Commentary in "This Is America": Analysis

 “This is America” by Childish Gambino (essay)

Childish Gambino, also known as Donald Glover, was named one of TIME magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2017, and for good reason after seeing his extremely controversial music video for one of his latest singles, “This is America.” In this analysis essay we will delve into the controversial and impactful music video by Childish Gambino, also known as Donald Glover, who was named one of TIME magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2017.

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The song flew to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart overnight, and the video racked up views rapidly as more and more people were talking about it. The video, which was published May 5, 2018, contains symbols that are easily missed upon the first viewing of the video. For most of the video, Childish Gambino is the main focus. Through various scenes, the viewer sees chaos unfolding in the background while Gambino and school children dance happily in the foreground, oblivious to the crime and horror behind them.

The only scenes where an event is the focus, are ones right before the chorus drops where Gambino says “this is America” (00:00:52), a huge contrast to the happy melody of the pre-chorus. The purpose of this video is to reveal to people that they are blinded by their own greed and desire for entertainment. It also speaks to the issues and racism African-Americans still face today and has some messages about gun violence. The video ends with a fade from black to Gambino frantically running away from people chasing him, as if he awoke from the American dream everyone else is chasing. This video makes two statements about society:

  1. Americans are blinded by money, fame, and entertainment from the real issues, and
  2. America has a gun problem.

First, the most noticeable message Gambino tries to get across to viewers, is the distraction that money and media cause, blinding Americans to the issues and injustices that happen in the background. The song starts out with a choir singing, happy acoustic guitar chords, and Gambino singing the lyrics “we just wanna party, party just for you; we just want the money, money just for you” (00:00:20). So much of our culture is focused on money and success; it is the American dream.

Everyone wants life to come easy for them, and we praise those who have found their own success. The “just for you” at the end of each of the lyrics is extremely significant as well because Americans all want to believe that their success is out there waiting for them. They want to believe that as long as they work hard, they can make the money they want to make, and enjoy the pleasures of the high life, which, unfortunately, is not the case. This is the same reason people play the lottery.

Everyone thinks they will be the one to get lucky, when, really, they have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning big at the lotto. Americans are distracted by their need for things to constantly be bigger and better and newer. Other evidence of this claim is the chaos happening behind Gambino and the kids dancing. An example is when a man jumps off the balcony behind Gambino and the kids (00:02:13).

Americans are so wrapped up in needing to be entertained. News sources nowadays have become less credible because they report the stories that will get read. Going along with the need for bigger and better, Americans quickly are distracted by new trends i.e., dances, fashion, technology, and information. They absolutely crave being entertained, which is why people are becoming addicted to their phones that cause an easy distraction from their current situation.

Americans have trained themselves to only care about the things everyone else cares about to feel a sense of security in community instead of learning about things that they care about or issues where they could contribute help. Many political issues are largely ignored due to the lack of attention to actual news and the desire to read about Hollywood drama. Another thing distracting Americans is the newer problem of social media. With any social media account people can react to your image or your post and it seems tat no matter how many likes, retweets, views or comments a person may get, it is never enough to satisfy.

People try to validate themselves with how many followers they have which will always leave a void that can only be filled by real relationships. Gambino speaks to this problem with his lyric “America, I just checked my followers list and you motherfuckers owe me” (00:03:02). Gambino is trying to show Americans that they need to wake up from their dreams of money and fame, stop being selfish, and start making a difference in the world so it can be better for everyone.

Another point Gambino addresses in his video is gun violence. Within the first minute of the video, a man is shot in the back of the head (00:00:52) and then after the next verse, he shoots a church choir before drastically switching to the darker chorus (00:01:55). These two moments in the video are crucial to the theme and what the video is trying to say. After each shot, the song completely changes tone. Before the shots, it is a happy and optimistic sound, then the shots happen and the bass drops and Gambino says in a deeper and more chilling tone, “this is America” (00:00:52). The choir getting shot is a reference to the Charleston Church shooting in 2015.

Another interesting reference is the 17 seconds of silence after Gambino makes a gun shape with his hands and the dancing school children scatter. The silence thought to honor the 17 high school students shot and killed at the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, but the gun Murry !4gesture says something more. When he raises his hands, the children scatter because of a possible threat without ever seeing a gun. This supports the Black Lives Matter movement after a wave of police brutality cases had surfaced in the news. Even though he didn’t have a gun in his hand, he was still viewed as a threat, which sounds awfully familiar.

Gun violence is a big debate in America and there is a plethora of views about the issue, but what Gambino points out in his video is that gun violence is a problem, and that America needs a solution. Gambino points out a lot of things wrong with society in his video, but his intentions are good. This video is beneficial to society because Gambino is using his fame to get his message across; a message that will only raise awareness of the issues that they have been distracted from. America could use more influential people talking about today’s important issues in creative ways that may actually make an impact.

Gambino’s video has been dissected by many people and has been one of the most popular, yet controversial videos of the year. This shows that people are drawn to the controversy and blatant references to issues and injustices. If more artists decided to use their creativity to help solve issues, not only would people be more inclined to listen, but the arts may gain a whole new importance within society. Entertainment and fame aren’t always bad things, but Gambino’s claim that they are distracting is really resonating to the digital age of society today. Perhaps society will notice their distractions, wake up from their selfish and somewhat unachievable dreams, and move forward to solve the pressing issues of today.


  1. time.com/collection/2017-time-100/4736210/donald-glover/
  2. Childish Gambino. “This is America.” Youtube, 5 May, 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjWnS4cMY
  3. http://time.com/collection/2017-time-100/4736210/donald-glover/
  4. http://www.webmath.com/lottery.htmlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjWnS4cMY
03 December 2019

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