The Ingenious Media Strategy Behind Childish Gambino’s “This is America”
This weekend, Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino inserted himself into every conversation dominating the headlines. Kanye West? His skit, “The Kanye Place” mocked the rapper’s MAGA statements and “slavery is a choice” narrative, while paying homage to Jordan Peele’s “sunken place” in “Get Out.” Gun violence and police brutality? He went there. He didn’t just go there, he made his audience engage with deeply troubling material, like watching the doppelganger of Trayvon Martin’s father get executed as Gambino struck a Jim Crow pose.
Glover released his art and his message across every medium. He delivered the opening monologue on SNL, performed new music, released his video for “This is America” on YouTube, dropped two songs on streaming services, and trended across social media platforms. It was like watching a masterclass in media strategy.
Black people, artists, and the marginalized are often told to “stay in their lane.” In this case, Glover was responding to that criticism, by making “being American” his lane. Just as Americans are assaulted every day by hundreds of hot takes, Twitter trolls, and opinions divorced from history, Glover took to the very mediums weaponized against us to critique social media culture, and provide us with reflection from his lived-experience. He dialogued with West, the NRA, and Parkland Students, and he set the stage for more thoughtful conversations, like that of Ta-nehisi Coates and his searing piece “I’m not Black, I’m Kanye.”
Both Coates and Glover spoke to how people and artists are bigger than themselves. They stand for something. And they can represent a people and their dreams. When Black people are videotaped getting killed and there are no consequences, what is the job of art, and how can it better engage with its audience so that we aren’t left feeling so hopeless?
Glover dared to connect his message with images, words, and art in a provocative way that made his audience reflect on what America is today, and what it is becoming. We like to think of people as brands, but Glover isn’t a brand. He’s a human face with human thoughts that reveal how much we are capable of doing when we have something genuine to say.
When building out a platform, crafting messaging, and developing exactly what to say, we could all stand to take notes from Glover. Establishing yourself as an expert has nothing to do with the volume of noise you put out there. Expertise and thought leadership are the strategic usage of what you talk about, why, and connecting to your audience. Seeing your name everywhere isn’t the same as having your message resonate with people. So having a clear vision of what you want to say, mapped out to each medium, and playing to each’s strength helps increase the impact of your message.
Glover challenges all of us to rethink how we provide commentary, to be more thoughtful, and to engage with America in a deeper, more significant way.