Is It Good or Nah? The Culture of Lightning Speed Consensus
Donald Glover pulled double duty on last weekend’s installment of SNL. Then, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, he dropped the video for “This Is America”. If you’ve somehow managed to miss the actual video or the discussion about the video, it’s below:
The video is chock full of symbolism as Glover, performing here as his musical alter ego Childish Gambino, and a group of exuberant school-age dancers boogie through what looks like an abandoned warehouse. In-between moves, he pulls out a gun to blast away unsuspecting victims, including a choir of black gospel singers. The song itself combines his signature falsetto and an African-inspired harmony with trap drums and mumble rap. There’s a lot going on and, depending on who you ask, it’s either sheer genius or absolute trash.
I watched that SNLepisode Saturday night. By the time I woke up to watch “This Is America” Sunday morning, I couldn’t keep track of all the reviews, think pieces, analyses, and YouTube reactions. Twitter users either praised him, raged against him, or used the conversation to position him as a truly woke alternative to Kanye West.
Everyone seemed to be rushing to a consensus. It was as if they’d be barred from the discussion if they didn’t have an absolute opinion within 12 hours of release. I guess this is the world we live in, right? There’s a 24-hour news cycle, and there’s no shortage of devices and information sources to keep us in the know. We’re constantly pressured to join conversations about which we’re not knowledgeable, we’re pushed to offer opinions about people, places, or things that really aren’t our place to discuss, and we have to do all of this at rapid speed.
I’m talking about “This Is America” today—it’ll be Wednesday by the time you read this—and already, the conversation is nearly complete. The video is old news. People have moved on to something, or someone, else.
Call me old school, but I miss having the opportunity to digest a new song and video. To really sink my teeth in. I miss smelling the fresh paper inside a CD booklet, reading the track or album credits to see if any of my other favorite artists played a hand in creating this music, poring over the lyrics in search of double entendre and hidden meaning. Music, when it’s done well, is meant to be consumed over time.
Often, I’ll listen to a song I’ve heard hundreds of time and still catch new things. That one lyric I could never make out that’s now crystal clear. That harmony in the second verse that I never noticed before. The way it sounds on my car stereo vs. my headphones. The way it flows on a playlist I’ve just created.
To me, songs are like living, breathing specimens. My relationship with them changes over time, and there’s no way I can finalize my feelings or impressions in a matter of minutes or even a day.
My initial impression of “This Is America”? The song is part summertime bop, part shrewd commentary on gun culture and, more subtly, mumble rap. The video is a surreal exercise, juxtaposing extreme joy and happiness with extreme violence, possibly to mimic the ways we’ve become so desensitized to violence and the ways we’re so easily distracted by the next thing, despite the fact that the core issue remains unresolved. It’s political, it’s challenging, and it’s worth revisiting again and again to gain a full understanding.
But I’m also biased—I’m a huge fan of Donald Glover, an artist who knows no bounds and has found massive success in writing, directing, acting, and music. I’m predisposed to think his output is great because, to an extent, I understand his voice and artistic style.
However, I need time to dive in. To live with the song. To examine the video. To form a bond or connection with it. By the time I do that, someone else will have released something or said something or done something that’s trending. And when I’m finally ready to dive in, no one will care. I guess this is why I’m not a reviewer. I can’t possibly be forced to fully dissect a work of art in less than 24 hours.
My hope is that you take that time to form your own opinions at your leisure. It’s likely that you too are not a reviewer. And thus, other than trying to join a trending conversation, there’s no reason for you to reach a consensus at lightning speed. Enjoy that song; let it bump. Play it in different rooms. Like it today; hate it tomorrow. Do whatever you want—just do it at a speed and in a way that works for you.
Whether or not the masses think it’s good is beyond the point. It’s up to you to decide.
(And if anyone wants to chat about this video in early June, drop me a line.)