People are sifting like archeologists through the new "This is America" video from Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, digging for clues to what he believes is going on in America these days.
People aren't watching it just once. A second viewing seems necessary to catch a breath and to notice all the things happening in back of Gambino as he dances.
"Watching it the first time through is overwhelming, to say the least," writes Bustle. "Glover pairs cheery synchronized dance moves and a generally upbeat track with a flood of chaotic imagery that, as people on Twitter have noted, essentially serves to inundate viewers with a fragment of the kinds of horrors that some people endure in this country."
Critics call the 4-minute video an indictment of gun violence in America, police violence, rampant consumerism, obsession with social media and the blind eyes turned to injustice as people record the chaos around them on their cell phones.
"It's not often that a music video manages to successfully synthesize as much that’s happening musically, culturally, and politically as Childish Gambino’s 'This Is America,'" writes Slate, "but if everyone involved hadn’t been aiming high, they never would have titled a song 'This Is America' to begin with.
"That’s a great-American-novel sized title, and if you had any doubts about Donald Glover’s genius (Childish Gambino is a stage name he uses for his music career), watching 'This Is America' successfully live up to its name should dispel them."
Glover, who plays Lando Calrissian in "Solo: A Star Wars Story" debuting May 25, performed the song on "Saturday Night Live." His longtime collaborator, Hiro Murai, directed the video.
"The video ... is best watched several times so that you can see what's happening in the background," notes Adrienne Gibbs at Forbes. "The video became a trending topic several times over as fans unpacked its secrets.
"Many parents would also argue it is not safe for children to watch, so be mindful as you view it."
Here are five things to notice as you watch the video.
1. The guns on red cloth. After each time Gambino uses a gun to "shoot" someone, he places the weapon on a piece of red cloth. This, observers noted, symbolizes how Americans revere guns more than they do human lives.
2. The symbolism of the church choir gunned down. Gambino twice uses a gun to kill. The first time, at the beginning of the video, he pulls a gun from the waistband of his pants and shoots a man wearing a hood over his head. (Early rumors suggested that the man in the video was Trayvon Martin's father, but it is not.)
A few moments later Gambino dances into a scene where a church choir is singing. He is handed an automatic rifle and kills the choir members, blood splashing the wall behind them.. Many take that as reference to the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. which left nine people dead.
Gambino nonchalantly walks away from the bloody scene.
3. The white horse. Some viewers interpret the appearance of a rider on a white horse as a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the Bible's Book of Revelation, the horsemen represent the evils that come at the end of the world.
The white horse appears behind Glover as he dances with schoolchildren.
"Death riding the Pale white horse while he is followed by Hell (represented by police) going totally unnoticed because of dancing and pop culture in the foreground is the single greatest cinematic message I’ve seen in a music video to date," wrote Twitter user Isaiah Parsons.
4. The older-model cars. "Nothing is new or modern," writes Gibbs. "All of the makes and models are mid- to early-'90s, if not '80s, cars. This speaks to the whole idea that a fair number of Americans aren't driving new whips; many people are pushing boxy cars that still have tape decks. Luxury vehicles often seen in rap videos are noticeably absent from this one."
Slate took note of the blinking hazard lights on the cars, as if to "punctuate the disaster" of the America being depicted.
5. Why Gambino is shirtless. "If you think Gambino isn’t wearing a shirt just because he wanted to show off his trim frame, you’re missing the point," writes Yahoo! Entertainment.
"Glover wants to remind us that violence is committed against black bodies like his with some regularity and with no heed to whether the body in question is that of a celebrity or an ordinary citizen. This is also the implication buried in the lyrics, which include the phrase, 'Police be trippin’ now' and which speaks of 'guns in my area.'"