Try as he might to destroy the world by either tearing up a very sensitive diplomatic agreement or firing off a hyper-aggressive tweet, but Donald Trump is going to have to go some way right now to wrestle back his title as the world’s most famous Donald.
That’s because of the tireless work of Donald Glover, who made a sensational power play last weekend by hosting Saturday Night Live, dropping the new Childish Gambino single ‘This Is America’ and blowing up the internet by unleashing its powerful, brutal and unmistakably brilliant video. A visceral, multi-layered masterpiece, the Hiro Murai-directed clip has prompted an outpouring of debate online over its provocative delivery and plethora of hidden meanings: from repurposed Jim Crow references to a bleak send-up of the gun violence that continues to plague the US, via a whistle-stop tour of some of the latest dance crazes – all of which are impeccably executed by Glover, of course.
One indisputable observation that we can glean from the attention that ‘This Is America’ has courted is that more people than ever are in tune with Glover’s work. In a year which should propel the 34-year-old to superstar heights, it couldn’t have come at a better time for a supremely-talented individual who is acutely aware of his ascending star: “Some people have described me as a triple threat,” he said in his SNL monologue. “But I kind of like to call myself just a threat.”
Make no mistake about it, 2018 is Glover’s year: as well as the imminent release of the now-hugely anticipated – and supposedly last – Childish Gambino album, he’s also set to star as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo film, earn even more acclaim for his TV show Atlanta, and continue work on the 2019 adaptation of The Lion King, which he just so happens to have the lead role in. It’s exhausting even just contemplating the sheer scale of some of those tasks, but Donald finds a way – he always does.
Here’s a closer look at how Glover is acing life at the moment.
The already-iconic video for ‘This Is America’
Where to begin? Well, for starters, we can already hand over any and all Video of the Year awards to Glover and Murai for the clip. If you haven’t managed to watch the video for ‘This Is America’ yet, well, here’s your chance:
It’s the sort of agenda-setting, sit-up-and-take-notice work which only comes around every so often: it’s not even a stretch to describe it as a seismic moment in popular culture. You can watch it over and over again and still pick up on something new, particularly if you set aside one viewing to solely focus on Glover and his excellent band of teenager dancers, and then another viewing to try and take stock of all the madness that’s going on in the background of the shot.
That deliberate distraction technique is just one of the many genius aspects of the video. Speaking to Pigeons & Planes, ‘This Is America”s choreographer Sherrie Silver explained that the joyful dancing – which incorporates such popular moves as Blocboy JB’s ‘shoot’ dance – in the centre of the picture was intended to be “the light of the video”.
“You know how kids are innocent and kind of unaware of what’s going on? We were there to smile and bring joy to everyone watching [the video], because the background is bringing so much darkness and reality,” she explained. “The whole point is to get a discussion going and to get people coming up with their own opinions. We tried to show what’s actually happening in the world. Not just in America, but in the world. We also wanted to bring joy to it, in the middle of madness. That’s what kids do and that’s what dance does – especially African dance.”
A vivid and politicised criticism of gun violence, racism and the facade of popular culture that has infiltrated the US and wider parts of the world in 2018, the chaotic ‘This Is America’ video is a breathtaking ride through the mind of Glover that’ll leave you deep in thought for some time – and eager to press the replay button over and over again.
There’s a new – and possibly final – Childish Gambino album in the pipeline
“Is there room in the game for a lame who rhymes?” Glover, as Gambino, asked on the 2011 track ‘All The Shine’, which featured on his divisive debut studio album ‘Camp’. Facing plenty of detractors en route to that record, Glover was self-aware enough in those early days to recognise that plenty of people weren’t taking him particularly seriously as a rapper, or even as a musician.
But the haters – who were frequently addressed on early Gambino tracks to the point of obsession – didn’t derail Glover’s creative journey to ‘This Is America’. As well as dropping the intriguing but bloated ‘because the internet’ (2013) and the beach pop-leaning EP ‘Kauai’ (2014), Glover hasn’t let up in his attempts to secure acceptance for Gambino, particularly from the rap world: 2012’s feature and sample-heavy mixtape ‘Royalty’ (which included a surprising guest verse from his old boss at 30 Rock, Tina Fey) and the 2014 love letter to Atlanta’s hip-hop heritage, ‘STN MTN’, were both solid leaps for credibility and respect.
Ironically, though, it wasn’t until Glover dropped the hip-hop direction altogether for his third album, ‘”Awaken, My Love!”‘, that he started receiving the kind of critical acceptance that he’d surely been striving for since releasing his unfortunately-titled debut mixtape ‘Sick Boi’ in 2008. Scrapping the raps entirely, Glover showed off his evident talent for crafting throwback soul and funk music on the Grammy-nominated album, including the masterful ‘Redbone’, which, prior to ‘This Is America’, was arguably his greatest musical achievement to date.
The fourth Childish Gambino album is set for release later this year, and it’s set to be Glover’s last under the moniker. As well as ‘This Is America’, another new song, ‘Saturday’, was premiered on SNL last weekend and suggests that the final Gambino record could strike a compromise between the get-up-and-dance vibe of ‘Redbone’ to the spectacular-yet-abrasive trap that drives the verses of ‘This Is America’. If that proves to be the case, then it’ll be quite the note to sign off on.
The upcoming Childish Gambino tour is going to be unmissable, too
With his many, many commitments, Glover doesn’t often find the time to properly tour a Childish Gambino project. But he is set to visit the UK for what’s set to be a very special headline slot at Lovebox Festival in London in July, before then heading out on a big US tour in the autumn to promote the so-called ‘final’ album. And if the SNL performance of ‘This Is America’ is anything to go by, then every Gambino show is going to feature a quite mesmerising light show.
Those US dates could bring the curtain down on Childish Gambino for good – and wouldn’t that be an awful shame?
The Atlanta juggernaut powers on
Season two – or ‘Robbin’ Season’ – of Glover’s 2016 TV creation draws to a close tonight (May 10) in the US, with the award-winning dramedy ascending to even greater – and stranger – heights with its latest block of episodes.
If you’ve not managed to catch any of Atlanta yet, then don’t fret: BBC Two are airing the show from the beginning, kicking off with the first two episodes at 10pm on Sunday night (May 13).
Guest-hosting Saturday Night Live? A breeze
Unsurprisingly, Glover killed it as the guest host of the long-running US variety show last Saturday, turning his hand to presenting, comedy and musical performance as he dominated proceedings throughout the stand-out episode.
His work on the sketches – such as the A Quiet Place-lampooning skit which saw Glover and the SNL cast fail to contain their reaction to Kanye West’s tweets – also brought back fond memories of the Glover-associated Derrick Comedy troupe (their grainy yet hilarious videos are still available to watch on YouTube) for those who’d followed the very early stages of his career.
He’s only playing Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story
— Star Wars (@starwars) May 2, 2018
Honestly, where does Glover find the time for all of these activities? His upcoming role as Lando Calrissian is one of the most enticing prospects about the next Star Wars anthology film, which hits cinemas on May 25.
Fulfilling a childhood dream to be in a Star Wars movie, his take on Lando could certainly unlock a whole new audience for Glover and his work once the film comes out.
And then there’s the small matter of becoming the Lion King…
Glover will play Simba in the forthcoming live-action adaptation of The Lion King – which is being directed by The Jungle Book’s Jon Favreau – with work on the movie well under way.
Glover will star alongside the likes of Beyoncé (Nala), John Oliver (Zazu) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar) in what is a purely A-list cast – a prospect which has probably got some fans queueing outside of cinemas already in anticipation of the July 19, 2019 release date.
Playing a king is a role that’s fitting of Glover’s growing stature in the world right now, and, totting it up with all of his recent achievements and future plans, would surely seem like enough for any ordinary person. But then with Donald Glover you can always bank on one thing: he’s nowhere near finished just yet.