Viewpoint: It Was Only a Matter of Time Until Someone Ruined ‘This Is America’
If you have to explain your message in a “thought-provoking” piece, then it wasn’t thought-provoking at all.
Childish Gambino’s song “This is America” was an overnight hit not only because of its beat but its ingenious way of depicting the real-life issues African-Americans face in modern America through shocking imagery and symbolism. It was only a matter of time until someone took Gambino’s work of art and completely ruin the original meaning.
Nicole Arbour, the YouTuber that was rightfully dragged through the mud a few years ago over her “Dear Fat People” video, has taken Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and created a music video called “This is America: Women’s Edit.”
Whereas Gambino’s music video clearly took the time to eloquently and subtly incorporate several messages through symbols from the very start of the piece, Arbour appears to have haphazardly thrown in women’s stereotypes in an attempt to appeal towards women.
Arbour’s lyrics in her “feminist” twist touches on one of the most difficult stereotypes women face: how a woman is “supposed” to look. She opens with the lyrics, “We just wanna be pretty. Pretty, that’s the goal.” In one scene a female child is playing with blocks when a man comes by, kicks her toys over, and hands her a jar of makeup brushes. While that is a creative take on the concept, that’s the extent of the creativity.
The rest of the video is consists of a cast of women, the majority who fit the stereotype of what it means to be conventionally beautiful, dancing around in revealing clothing. The women are tall, with long flowing hair, fit bodies, and a full face of makeup. Arbour herself is dolled up. There are no women who do not fit the stereotype struggling to fit the image, no women struggling to dance alongside the NFL cheerleaders and burlesque dancers. There is simply a cast of characters doing exactly what Arbour says as she sings.
At one point in the video, Arbour is reapplying lipstick while her voiceover wonders whether or not her audience will understand a reference she made. Not only does that imply that her audience might not be intelligent enough to interpret her lyrics, Arbour’s video clearly lacks the thought-provoking symbolism that the original video had. Gambino did not have to explain any of the symbolism in the song, in the video itself or in interviews, and he refuses to. Despite this, hundreds of thousands of viewers are dissecting the music video and contemplating what the imagery and lyrics mean.
One of the comments before the comments section was disabled called out Arbour for her lack of effort in making a clear message while shamelessly working off of Gambino’s success.
“This is America was special because of its subtlety, and how much thought was put into each part. This video removes all of that to just be a loud declarative statement about something that has little to do with the original, yet somehow they decided the same backdrop that represents a prison, and tried to replicate the South African cultural dance moves that were used for a video about women’s rights.”
This comment is accurate and completely true. The African-American community is a culture that is cherry-picked, and Gambino’s video portrayed that. In the original video, there are scenes where Gambino is dancing with a group of black students as chaos ensues in the background. Bodies are falling, people are running, and cars are being looted, all while Gambino and the dancers are safe from harm. Many people speculate that this is in reference to the idea that society accepts and embraces certain aspects of the black community for personal gain while ignoring issues they community faces. Ironically, Arbour’s video does just that.
Gambino’s “This is America” portrays a message that is real for an entire community. That is not to say that women do not face problems as a group. Arbour is correct in saying that women in America face adversity against society’s expectations of them. However, the difference is that one artist took the time and effort to make an effective statement that got people thinking, and it was not Arbour.
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.