A few thoughts on the power of music thanks to Childish Gambino…

HERE are two stories about music: the first is one of those pop-culture moments on the BBC Today programme, the second a sad but ultimately uplifting tale of a young woman who was inspired by a Demi Lovato song to overcome suicidal feelings and self-harm.

Nowadays my finger isn’t exactly on the pop-culture button, more the old-culture button, and I wasn’t even sure who Demi Lovato was. But I do know who Childish Gambino is, so perhaps that will earn me kudos.

A while ago, the eldest boy bought me his album “Awaken, My Love!” as a present. I’ve just tried to find it but a filing error in the CD rack seems to have turned it invisible. Anyway, it’s a good album, sort of rap, sort of soul/pop, and with a stand-out track, Redbone.

You will not be surprised to learn that Childish Gambino is a stage-name, as adopted by the American actor, comedian, rapper and man of many talents, Danny Glover – not the Lethal Weapon actor, but another Danny Glover altogether.

Childish Gambino has caused much comment with the video for his latest release, This Is America – so much so that the Today programme was getting in on the act just now in one of those slightly awkward down-with-the-kids items. That gives me an idea: I’ll watch that video and write one of those slightly awkward down-with-the-kids blogs.

The video is a brilliant bit of choreographed political comment. It’s set in a giant warehouse where Glover dances around in a parody entertainment that addresses gun violence and racism, and he adopts exaggerated poses that suggest he is playing with racial stereotypes.

It opens with a man playing South African-style acoustic guitar, catchy and lovely. Then Glover walks in shirtless and shoots the man in the head, and the music becomes darker.

Later, Glover dances before a black gospel choir, before turning an automatic rifle on the swaying singers, possibly in a reference to the Charleston mass church shooting. The video ends with Glover being pursued by an angry mob, having seemingly stirred up a riot. Or perhaps it is the police who chase him.

More than 24m people watched this video on its first day of release. That suggests the power a musician/video-maker can have in tackling social problems – important at a time when the US president is more interested in making gruesome mock of London’s difficulties with knives rather than addressing his own country’s unending problems with guns.

Don’t go away thinking that Glover’s cryptic video for This Is America is all gloom. No, it draws its power from presenting the joyous side of American life alongside the horror of gun violence. It’s worth a watch and, once I’m done typing, I’ll try to rescue that album from the uncharted depths of the CD rack.

Four telling minutes in one viral video. On the BBC website you will find a two-minute video in which Abbie Foster, a 22-year-old from Norwich, tells how she began to come to terms with years of suicidal feelings after hearing a Demi Lovato song.

Abbie Foster with Demi Lovato. Credit: Abbie Foster and courtesy of the Eastern Daily Press

“I’ve been bullied form a young age and been sad, I guess, for as long as I can remember,” Abbie says. “One day I was sitting in my mum’s car and Skyscraper by Demi Lovato came on the radio…”

Lovato sings about her own battles with depression and something about that song connected with her. Through addressing her feelings of worthlessness, she overcame her self-esteem problems and now works with other young people who are experiencing similar difficulties, even reportedly turning some away from suicide.

Abbie is, she says in the video, “three-and-a-half years free of self-harm” and in a clip she is shown doing cartwheels. A moving moment.

Leave a Reply