Future Folk

This is a remix? Childish Gambino's 'This is America' has started a global wave of remix videos

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Credit: Courtesy of Artist/Glassnote Records/I-NZ

What do the United States, Nigeria, Iraq, Sierra Leone and France all have in common? 

They all have remixed version of Childish Gambino's “This is America” music video specific to their individual countries. The original video is a social and political critique of America that has generated conversation and controversy in the US and, as of publication, more than 350 million views.

The video itself has a lot of moving parts, both in the foreground and background. Gambino dances through a warehouse, sometimes with a group of school children, and together they pass by several chaotic scenes. They dance through scenes of blazing fires, police brutality, as well as murders and suicides. There's a lot going on. And one watch isn't enough to see or even understand it all. 

The choreography and music are so catchy, repetitive and danceable that it’s easy for a viewer to be sucked into the fun. Maybe that's the point.

The music is set over stuttering drum kits and snares, a lullaby guitar pluck, repetitive lyrics that bounce between your left and right ears and some classic ad-libs. Whenever the more violent scenes are introduced in the video, the beat becomes more complex.

For example, whenever a gun fires, the beat becomes more sinister. The bass grumbles deeply with the texture of a large, vibrating rubber band. And while the main musical line eventually returns to elated voices and happy chants, there are eerie horror-movie string moments that are woven in between, punctuating joy with fear.

The video itself presents a muddled, chaotic mess of messages. It raises questions. Are we supposed to be dancing or concerned? Is this a good time or a dangerous one? Is everything okay? 

Now it’s not just about the US. The video has had an impact abroad, too. Artists from other countries have emulated this video and song in order to express their own concerns and criticisms derived from years of political and social corruption. These global remixes of “This is America” take on different perspectives and experiences — many of them black experiences. Similar to the Gambino video, each of these remixed videos spans a history of stereotypes, media virality, corruption, violence and more that is unique to each country.

Here are some of the remixes out right now:

Future Folk shares the stories of communities through the music that they make. It is a co-production of PRI’s The World and the Smithsonian Folkways.

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