Ever hear of Don Glover? No, not Danny Glover from the Lethal Weapon franchise. Don Glover. He was a writer on the hit TV comedy 30 Rock, a supporting cast member in the second season of HBO’s Girls, and has filmed popular comedy sketches on YouTube, including one about a spelling bee that I can’t name without offending the entire world. Currently, he’s an actor and writer for the NBC show Community and, for the relevance of this article, a rapper. If you’ve never heard of Don Glover, then maybe you would know him by his stage name, Childish Gambino—a moniker that was famously handed to him by Wu Tang Clan’s Name Generator (apparently in the Wu Tang world, Matthew Perrino=Zexy Pupil).
Last week, Childish bundled these many talents—filmmaking, writing, and rapping—into one project: because the internet. It’s a huge package, whose parts include the 25-minute short Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, a 75-page screenplay that’s interspersed with music and videos, and a 19-track album. To make the experience authentic, and comprehensible, Gambino suggests watching the short film first, then reading the script, and then playing the music during specific scenes. So I did (you kind of have to if you want to understand what you’re hearing).
What follows isn’t a review but an analysis of the ideas that, I believe, Childish Gambino was trying to convey. Of course, I could be wrong. This is just my interpretation—and that’s what makes because the internet so great.
Structure and Character
The album plays out like the screenplay: it tells a story. Each song links to a specific moment in the script, either setting the emotion for the scene or elaborating upon it. Without the screenplay, the album might sound disjointed and weirder than it actually is (although even with it, it’s still pretty damn weird). Together, the music and script introduce us to The Boy, a character played by Childish Gambino. He’s the son of Rick Ross (yes, the rapper), a child of wealth and privilege, and a troll. Like the trolls of folklore that hide under bridges and aggravate those who try to cross them, contemporary trolls spend their time perusing the Internet and saying things to pick verbal fights—all for the sake of pissing people off.
Fifteen years pass by, and The Boy is now a man. However, despite this lapse in time, Gambino still refers to him as The Boy. This, I believe, shows a lack of maturity, dependence, and purpose in the character’s life. He’s just wasting away on the Internet (aren’t we all?), trolling and humiliating people with his blog, and living off his father’s millions, with no clear direction or goals. He wants to be a WORLDSTAR (the third track on the album) but is doing nothing to achieve that. He also seems to view the world with indifference. Every day is the same, which, I think, is the purpose of Gambino’s short film. Even his relationships seem devoid of any real meaning, which brings me to…
The Boy lacks a relationship with his superstar dad and doesn’t care when his father dies and becomes cremated (alluded to in II. zealots of Stockholm and III. urn). He also perceives his friends as leeches, sucking on his father’s resources. Frustrated with their materialistic ways, he kicks them and everyone else out of his house party (playing around before the part starts and I. the party).
In particular, girls play a large part in the story, appearing in songs like I. the worst guys, II. shadows, III. telegraph ave. (Oakland), and I. pink toes. However, none of them are constants or meaningful, and ALL of them overly accessible. For instance, a girl he randomly meets on a beach suddenly finds herself in his house. In another case, an ex-girlfriend attends his house party, transforms into a star, and then shoots up into the sky. Literally. The Boy even travels to Oakland to visit a young woman who nearly had his child, completely unannounced. These interactions, I believe, are metaphors for the accessibility of our flings—all thanks to the Internet. At any point, we can type his or her name into the Search bar and find out what they’re up to or who they’re seeing.
This idea of meaningless relationships is something we can all relate to. Think about it. How many pointless relationships have you had during your life? Teachers’ names become forgotten, romances sizzle out, and friends constantly come and go. Even close-knit families can break a part.
By the end of the script, The Boy finds himself romantically involved (though only for a short time), dealing drugs, and still labeled as a boy. In other words, he begins the story as a Boy and ends it as a Boy, possibly suggesting a lack of change or evolution in his character. He learns no values and discovers no meaning–and then before he even knows it, it’s all over. In the finale, The Boy finds himself caught in a drug heist, looking down the barrel of a gun, wondering if this is his last day on earth (II. earth: the oldest computer and the best song on the album). If so, did he live his life to the fullest? What kind of memory or legacy will he leave behind? In the case of The Boy, there is only wasted potential. But with Childish Gambino—between his music and writing endeavors—I think it’s safe to say that he’s definitely accomplished some great things.
Technology plays a central role in this project, from the album title to the individual song titles. II. earth calls our planet “the oldest computer,” which is true in a way. For centuries, Earth has brought us together and connected our lives, long before the worldwide web existed. Although the Internet has increased those connections, it might also be weakening them. In a world where emotions are replaced with emoticons and conversations are replaced with screens, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Even Gambino’s screenplay includes Emojis, LOLs, and SMHs (“shaking my head” for any of you abbreviation illiterates) instead of describing actual emotions.
In the end, the only meaningful interactions in The Boy’s life stem from his Twitter, Instagram, and blog followers—all from the superficial world of the Internet. But the real genius of this album comes in the last song: III. life: the biggest troll. Here, he refers to life as a giant Internet troll. It gives us happiness and then takes it away. It inflates our dreams and then pops the air out of them. It feeds us relationships and then slowly fades them out of our worlds. As Gambino tells us in the last lines, “Realities like allergies, I’m afraid to go nuts/Life’s the biggest troll, but the joke is on us/Yeah, the joke’s you showed up.”
What Childish created won’t be for everyone. It’s confusing, strange, unique, and very abstract. I mean, like wayyyyy out there. As in little-creatures-marching-out-the-kitchen-during-a-wedding-reception out there, which actually happens in the script. Even the music is different. Throughout the album, Gambino goes from R&B (I. flight of the navigator) to EDM (II. zealots of stockholm) to rap; from a Soulja Boy/Southern flow where he brags about his lavish lifestyle (II. WORLDSTAR and IV. sweatpants) to a flow that’s reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar (II. no exit). Still, despite its weirdness, you can’t help but applaud the creativity and originality. The music is definitely an acquired taste, one that might take a few days to digest. That’s how it was for me anyway. But at the sum of its parts, because the internet is an innovative production that takes the conventional way of listening to music and completely transforms it.
Recommended Songs: I. pink toes, II. Earth: the oldest computer, III. Life: the biggest troll, V. 3005, I. Flight of the Navigator
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