Others have already examined the dances, the layering of images, so much else, but wanted to try to… evoke something of what I felt, watching this.
The absolute bare minimum simplest way to interpret this working is as an attempt to force a reckoning with the fact of and our complicity within the commodification of life, death, and culture, generally, and most specifically the commodification of black lives, deaths, cultures.
Donald Glover’s newest song and video (song and dances, singing and dancing, schuckin’ and jivin’) constitute a celebration and a condemnation. It is about and IS complicity in the system which demands that black people sing and dance or die—as in either be killed for not singing and dancing the way those with power want you to, or just, y’know, die for all they care (though if we kill each other who cares [“Go Away”]), but we’d better not resist (in any way they can understand, and even then our time on the stage in the spotlight had better be brief and cultivated for their pleasure), and we’d better not show anything real—unless it has a beat and you can dance to it.
I say again, it is a condemnation of this, and is about this, but it also is this. Because it has to be? Because the only time this country is Happy to listen to the voices of black people is when they’re porgy-and-bess-in’ it…but also because Glover knows that’s what it takes to sell his art, tell his stories, to stay alive long enough to do so. (“Get your money, Black man.”)
But when you’re the product of 500 years of kidnapping and genocide, shouldn’t you get/don’t you need/want to breathe and laugh and dance, in spite of—because of—everything… and to keep it from happening to you?
This song and this video is about all of that. (And all the guilt and weight and weariness that all of that implies.)
I want this placed in conversation with both Beyoncé’s “Formation” working, and the series version of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE. Maybe in a classroom, or a podcast, or a panel discussion at a conference. I want scholars of color to undertake an exegesis of fame and incantations of power and safety in PoC-made pop media, and I want in any way, shape, or form that it can be made to happen.