This Is America (song)

Last updated
"This Is America"
This Is America (single cover) 2018.jpg
Single by Childish Gambino
ReleasedMay 5, 2018 (2018-05-05)
Format Digital download
Genre
Length3:45
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
  • Donald Glover
  • Ludwig Göransson
Childish Gambino singles chronology
"Terrified"
(2017)
"This Is America"
(2018)
"Summertime Magic"
(2018)
Music video
"This Is America" on YouTube

"This Is America" is a song by American rapper Childish Gambino. Written by Donald Glover,Ludwig Göransson, and Jeffery Lamar Williams, [4] and produced by Glover and Göransson, it was released on May 5, 2018, at the same time that Gambino was hosting that day's episode of Saturday Night Live . The song features background vocals by American rappers Young Thug (who also has writing credit as Williams), Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy JB, Quavo, and 21 Savage. [5] [6] The song addresses the wider issue of gun violence in the United States, the high rate of mass shootings in the United States, along with longstanding racism and discrimination against African Americans.

Donald Glover American actor, rapper, comedian and film, television and record producer

Donald McKinley Glover Jr. is an American actor, comedian, writer, producer, director, rapper, singer, songwriter, and DJ. He performs music under the stage name Childish Gambino and as a DJ under the name mcDJ.

Ludwig Göransson is a Swedish composer, conductor, and record producer. His work includes Fruitvale Station, the Rocky franchise entries Creed and Creed II, Venom, and the critically acclaimed superhero film Black Panther, for which he received a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, and nominations for the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Score. He is known for his work on U.S. TV sitcoms Community, Happy Endings, and New Girl.

Young Thug American rapper

Jeffery Lamar Williams, known professionally as Young Thug, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. Known for his eccentric vocal style and fashion, he first received attention for his collaborations with rappers Rich Homie Quan, Future, Birdman, Cash Out, Shawty Lo and Gucci Mane. Young Thug initially released a series of independent mixtapes beginning in 2011 with I Came from Nothing. In early 2013, he signed with Gucci Mane's 1017 Records, and later that year he released his label debut mixtape 1017 Thug to critical praise.

Contents

The song's accompanying music video was directed by Japanese-American filmmaker Hiro Murai, a frequent Gambino collaborator. [7] [8] According to RCA Records, the song is not the first single from Gambino's upcoming studio album. [9] [10] "This Is America" became the 31st song to debut at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming both Gambino's first number one and top ten single in the country. It has also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The song won in all four of its nominated categories at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Music Video. This made Gambino the first hip-hop artist to win Record of the Year and Song of the Year, and "This Is America" the first rap song to win the former. [11]

A music video is a short film that integrates a song with imagery, and is produced for promotional or artistic purposes. Modern music videos are primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings. There are also cases where songs are used in tie-in marketing campaigns that allow them to become more than just a song. Tie-ins and merchandising can be used for toys or for food or other products. Although the origins of the music video date back to musical short films that first appeared in the 1920s, they again came into prominence in the 1980s when the channel MTV based their format around the medium. Prior to the 1980s, these kinds of videos were described by various terms including "illustrated song", "filmed insert", "promotional (promo) film", "promotional clip", "promotional video", "song video", "song clip" or "film clip".

Hiro Murai is a Japanese-American filmmaker based in Los Angeles. His most notable works include internationally successful music videos for artists such as Childish Gambino, Earl Sweatshirt, Chet Faker, Flying Lotus, David Guetta, St. Vincent, The Shins, The Fray, Bloc Party and Queens of the Stone Age. In 2013 he directed the short film Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, a companion piece for Childish Gambino's second studio album, Because the Internet, and its attached screenplay. In the same year he created a multi-panel video set for Frank Ocean's performance at the Grammys.

RCA Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. It is one of Sony Music's four flagship labels, alongside RCA's former long-time rival Columbia Records, Arista Records, and Epic Records. The label has released multiple genres of music, including pop, classical, rock, hip hop, electronic, R&B, blues, jazz, and country. Its name is derived from the initials of its defunct parent company, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). It was fully acquired by Bertelsmann in 1986, making it a part of Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG); however, RCA Records became a part of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a merger between BMG and Sony Music, in 2004, and was acquired by the latter in 2008, after the dissolution of Sony BMG and the restructuring of Sony Music. It is the second oldest record label in American history, after sister label Columbia Records.

Composition

The song features a gospel-style choir and background contributions from various American rappers. Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage and Quavo each deliver an ad-lib. [8] [12] Young Thug returns to supply the song's outro. [6] The lyrics primarily address being black in the United States and gun violence in the country. [13] It also touches on police brutality. [14] [15] Pitchfork's Stephen Kearse described the song as a representation of the "tightrope of being black", with the song "built on the sharp contrast between jolly, syncretic melodies and menacing trap cadences". [16]

Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music usually has dominant vocals with Christian lyrics. Gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century, with roots in the black oral tradition. Hymns and sacred songs were often repeated in a call and response fashion. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. Most of the singing was done a cappella. The first published use of the term "gospel song" probably appeared in 1874. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. Gospel music publishing houses emerged. The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music. Following World War II, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate.

Rae Sremmurd American hip hop duo from Mississippi

Rae Sremmurd is an American hip hop duo originating from Tupelo, Mississippi formed by two brothers, Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee. In 2013, they signed a record deal with Mike Will Made It's EarDrummers imprint. In January 2015, the duo released their debut album SremmLife, which was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In August 2016, the duo released their second album, SremmLife 2. During that same year, the duo also created their own record label, called SremmLife Crew Records. The duo is best known for their single "Black Beatles" from SremmLife 2, which peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, while also charting internationally in the top ten in many countries. The duo also released other platinum-certified singles such as "No Type", "No Flex Zone" and "Swang". Their third studio album, SR3MM was released on May 4, 2018, and served as a triple-album.

James Baker, better known by his stage name BlocBoy JB, is an American rapper and songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee. He is best known for his song "Look Alive" featuring Drake which peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2018. His other songs include "Shoot", "Nun of Dat" featuring Lil Pump, "Rover", and "Rover 2.0" featuring 21 Savage.

Media outlets reported that a number of listeners accused Gambino of plagiarism over "This Is America", pointing out the similarities between the song and "American Pharaoh" by Jase Harley. [17] [18] CBS News stated, "The tracks have a similar sound, and share similar themes in the lyrics." Harley stated that he felt "This Is America" was influenced by his song, but that he does not have an issue with it. Glover's manager, Fam Rothstein, denied any plagiarism. [19]

CBS News is the news division of American television and radio service CBS. The president of CBS News is David Rhodes. On January 6, 2019, Susan Zirinsky was named President of CBS News, replacing David Rhodes. Rhodes will be leaving on March 1, 2019, and "will step down as president of CBS News amid falling ratings and the fallout from revelations from an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against CBS News figures, Rhodes and the CBS network said." Zirinsky will become the first female President of CBS News.

Music video

In the music video, Gambino assumes a stance similar to the Jim Crow caricature Jimcrow.jpg
In the music video, Gambino assumes a stance similar to the Jim Crow caricature

The music video was directed by Hiro Murai and released on YouTube simultaneously with Gambino's performance of the song on Saturday Night Live . The video received about 12.9 million views in 24 hours, [20] and has over 490 million views as of February 2019. [21] In an interview with the New York Times , Murai discussed his upcoming season for Atlanta , a show involving Gambino. He stated, "There's sort of a world-weariness in both this season and the music video. They're both reactions to what's happening in the world." [22]

YouTube video-sharing service owned by Google

YouTube is an American video-sharing website headquartered in San Bruno, California. Three former PayPal employees—Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim—created the service in February 2005. Google bought the site in November 2006 for US$1.65 billion; YouTube now operates as one of Google's subsidiaries.

<i>Saturday Night Live</i> American late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show

Saturday Night Live (SNL) is an American late-night live television variety show created by Lorne Michaels and developed by Dick Ebersol. The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, under the original title NBC's Saturday Night. The show's comedy sketches, which parody contemporary culture and politics, are performed by a large and varying cast of repertory and newer cast members. Each episode is hosted by a celebrity guest, who usually delivers the opening monologue and performs in sketches with the cast as with featured performances by a musical guest. An episode normally begins with a cold open sketch that ends with someone breaking character and proclaiming, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!", properly beginning the show.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 125 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.

The video contains a lot of scenes involving violence. It starts off with Gambino dancing through a warehouse, interacting with a series of chaotic scenes. According to Murai, the video was inspired by the films Mother! and City of God . [23] Choreographed by Sherrie Silver, Gambino and his entourage of young dancers perform several viral dance moves including the South African Gwara Gwara and "Shoot" popularized by BlocBoy JB, who is one of the ad-lib contributors on the song. Gambino's dancing is contrasted against moments of violence. Only 53 seconds into the video, Gambino shoots a man in the back of the head with a handgun, while assuming a comical stance similar to a Jim Crow caricature. The first person depicted as being shot in the video, a guitarist who had been accompanying Gambino's singing up to that point, was musician Calvin the Second, but was initially mistaken by many viewers to be the father of 17-year-old gun violence victim Trayvon Martin. This first shooting also marks a transition in the music, from an African "folk-inspired melody" to "dark, pulsing trap". [24]

<i>Mother!</i> 2017 film by Darren Aronofsky

Mother! is a 2017 American psychological horror film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The plot follows a young woman whose tranquil life with her husband at their country home is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple.

<i>City of God</i> (2002 film) 2002 film by Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund

City of God is a 2002 Brazilian crime film directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Kátia Lund, released in its home country in 2002 and worldwide in 2003. The story was adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins, but the plot is loosely based on real events. It depicts the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro, between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s, with the closure of the film depicting the war between the drug dealer Li'l Zé and vigilante-turned-criminal Knockout Ned. The tagline is "If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you."

South Africa Republic in the southernmost part of Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini (Swaziland); and it surrounds the enclaved country of Lesotho. South Africa is the largest country in Southern Africa and the 25th-largest country in the world by land area and, with over 57 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (White), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (Coloured) ancestry.

At a later point, Childish Gambino uses a Kalashnikov patterned automatic weapon to gun down a church choir, which viewers have interpreted as a reference to the 2015 Charleston church shooting. In both instances, a child appears from off-screen holding a red cloth, on which Gambino gently lays the weapon used, while the bodies are simply dragged away, which viewers have interpreted "as a reference to Americans' willingness to protect gun rights over people". Scenes also involved children using their cell phones to record the chaos happening in the video, while Gambino sings the lyrics "This a celly / That's a tool". Martha Tesema, writer for website Mashable, stated that "cell phones have been used as tools to broadcast police shooting, rioting against, or choking black people in this country". Throughout the video, numerous vehicles from several decades ago are featured, many of them with their hazard lights flashing and the driver's side door ajar, which critics interpreted as representing fatal police shootings during traffic stops, particularly the shooting of Philando Castile, who was shot while in a 1997 Oldsmobile; others have interpreted that the older model cars represent the relative lack of upward mobility of African Americans. American singer SZA makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the video, seated atop one of these vehicles. The video ends with Gambino in a darkened portion of the warehouse, fearfully running towards the camera while being chased by several white people. Viewers have said this resembles scenes from the 2017 film Get Out .

Critical reception

Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic described the initial reaction on Twitter as "a gushing river of well-deserved praise" and the video as "the most talked-about music video of recent memory." [8] Daniel Kreps of Rolling Stone commented that the video "is a surreal, visceral statement about gun violence in America". [25] Pitchfork awarded the song the distinction of "Best New Track". [16] Billboard critics ranked it 10th among the "greatest music videos of the 21st century." [26] Mahita Gajanan of Time quoted music history professor Guthrie Ramsey at the University of Pennsylvania:

He's talking about the contradictions of trying to get money, the idea of being a black man in America. It comes out of two different sound worlds. Part of the brilliance of the presentation is that you go from this happy major mode of choral singing that we associate with South African choral singing, and then after the first gunshot it moves right into the trap sound. [27]

Will Gompertz, arts editor of the BBC, asserted that "This Is America" was a "powerful and poignant allegorical portrait of 21st Century America, which warrants a place among the canonical depictions of the USA from Grant Wood's American Gothic to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks , from Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware to America the Beautiful by Norman Lewis". [28]

In December 2018, Billboard ranked "This Is America" as the 6th best song of the year. [29]

The music video won the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage Award for Best Cinematography in a Music Video, [30] as well as the Grammy Award for Best Music Video at the 61st Grammy Awards. It won more awards as shown below.

Cover versions and media appearances

Glover hosted the May 5 episode of the 43rd season of Saturday Night Live, and performed two new songs as Childish Gambino on the same episode, the second of which was "This Is America". Daniel Kaluuya, best known as the star of the film Get Out which the music video reportedly references, introduced the song's performance. [31] [32]

Several artists attracted attention and millions of views for creating covers of the song and music video with altered lyrics and themes, retaining the song's instrumental and the general structure of its music video. [33] [34] Nigerian rapper Falz released "This Is Nigeria" on May 25, highlighting the nation's issues with corruption and organized crime among others. [35] [36]

The music video also spawned popular Internet memes, particularly those in which the audio was replaced so that Childish Gambino appeared to be dancing in time to another song. Versions using Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" were some of the most viewed. [37] [38]

Awards

YearOrganizationAwardResult
2018 Teen Choice Awards Choice Song: Male Artist Nominated
Choice R&B/Hip-Hop Song Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards Video of the Year Nominated
Best Video with a Social Message Won
Best Art Direction Nominated
Best Choreography Won
Best Cinematography Nominated
Best Direction Won
Best Editing Nominated
iHeartRadio MMVAs Video of the YearNominated
Best DirectorNominated
Fan Fave VideoNominated
BET Hip Hop Awards Best Hip Hop VideoWon
Single of the YearNominated
Impact TrackWon
BreakTudo Awards Video of the YearNominated
UK Music Video Awards Video of the YearWon
Best Urban Video: InternationalWon
Best Choreography in a VideoNominated
Best Cinematography in a VideoWon
MTV Europe Music Awards Best Video Nominated
People's Choice Awards The Music Video of 2018Nominated
Soul Train Music Awards Rhythm & Bars Award Nominated
2019 Grammy Awards Record of the Year Won
Song of the Year Won
Best Rap/Sung Performance Won
Best Music Video Won
Costume Designers Guild Awards Excellence in Short Film DesignWon
iHeartRadio Music Awards Best Music VideoPending
Song That Left Us ShookPending

Chart performance

"This Is America" debuted at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming the 31st song to do so in the chart's history. It debuted with 78,000 downloads sold and 65.3 million US streams in the first week. Its music video accounted for 68% of the song's streaming total. "This Is America" is also Gambino's first top 10; he previously reached number 12 in August 2017 with "Redbone". "This Is America" overtook Drake's "Nice for What" from the top position for two weeks. Gambino is also the second Emmy Award-winning actor to reach number one on the Hot 100, the first being Justin Timberlake, who topped the chart with "Can't Stop the Feeling!" in 2016. [39] It topped the Hot 100 for two weeks, and left the top ten after five weeks.

Credits and personnel

Credits are adapted from Tidal. [3]

Charts

Certifications

RegionCertification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA) [74] Platinum70,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ) [75] Gold15,000*
Poland (ZPAV) [76] Gold10,000*
United States (RIAA) [77] 2× Platinum2,000,000Double-dagger-14-plain.png

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
Double-dagger-14-plain.pngsales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Release history

RegionDateFormatLabelRef.
VariousMay 5, 2018 Digital download
[9] [10]
United StatesMay 15, 2018 Rhythmic contemporary radio [78]

See also

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References

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  2. Jenkins, Craig (May 17, 2018). "The Internet Has Already Devoured 'This Is America'". Vulture . Retrieved May 20, 2018. The same night he dropped off the video for "This Is America," a combination trap and afrobeat banger with a beguiling message about race and gun violence.
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  4. "61st Annual GRAMMY Awards". GRAMMY.com. 6 December 2018.
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  10. "2019 GRAMMY Awards: Complete Nominations List". 7 December 2018. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
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