As Act Two begins, The Boy examines the sleep-walking existence he’s been living. This process is slow, and fittingly, Act Two begins with the instrumental track “Dial Up.”
The most popular means of accessing the internet in the 1990’s required you to connect through your phone line. Click above to experience the ubiquitous sound.
In the screenplay, “Dial Up” is preceded with a small scene, and it’s noted that this scene should be soundtracked by Nosetalgia by Pusha T. The Boy and his crew walk into their mansion in slow motion. After this brief scene, we’re instructed to play “Dial Up.” The Boy lays in bed staring at the ceiling. The script then reads:
I. The Worst Guys
The song’s hook is performed by Gambino and Chance the Rapper who, noted in the screenplay, is supposed to play The Boy’s friend Marcus.
Marcus is The Boy’s most sex-crazed friend who grabs condoms before the party (upper left), flirts with Sasha at the beach first (upper right), and is hyper-competitive in Clapping For the Wrong Reasons (bottom). Chance’s presence, or character, on this hook thus depicts a man who views sex as competition, as a means of stunting.
The incomplete phrase “all she needed was some” is repeated sixteen times. As producer Ludwig Göransson explained, Chance’s phrase had a sort of “you can’t say that” quality that made it appealing. Fittingly, on page 69 of childishgambino.com at the time of the album’s release, this hook was presented as a multiple choice question:
While there’s a bit of humor in some of the options, it appears that in The Boy and Marcus’s eyes, C is the intended answer, that the girl needs some dick. The hook is then an immature bit of braggadocio, with the idea that all a woman needs is sex.
The lack of payoff in the phrase is similar to the lack of an actual rap verse from Chance on this track. Chance and Glover would play-fight about this on social media at the time. The unsatisfactory nature reflects The Boy and the worst guys’ meaningless patterns of behavior.
The hook’s sexual innuendo sets the tone for a bevy of arrogant phallic imagery, as Gambino details the self-indulgent exploits of him and his crew.
“Go Home, Roger.”
When Gambino competitively jabs, “why these bitches see you, go home Roger,” a girl saying “go home Roger!” in the style of twin sisters Tia and Tamera Mowry from the 90’s sitcom Sister, Sister follows.
“Roger” refers to the character Roger Evans, who insistently pursued the twins throughout the show, so much so that “go home Roger!” was a catchphrase used by both the twins and their parents.
Gambino continues the reference, rapping: “Tia and Tamera in my bed, I’m a smart guy.” Smart Guy was another 90’s sitcom centered around the character TJ Henderson, who is played by Tahj Mowry, the real-life younger brother of Tia and Tamera. Tahj actually appeared in a few episodes of Sister, Sister, and Tia and Tamera appeared on an episode of Smart Guy.
In this episode, TJ’s brother Marcus tries to hit on the girls played by Tia and Tamara, but they both end up leaving with TJ. By positioning himself as the “smart guy,” Gambino likens himself to TJ, using Tia and Tamera to imply he’s about to have a threesome. This is relevant because Gambino will rap about a failed threesome later in the track, and The Boy will be involved in a failed threesome in the screenplay. We also recognize that Marcus is both TJ’s older brother on Smart Guy, and the name of The Boy’s horniest friend that’s played by Chance the Rapper, who of course appears on the current track.
“The girls that you brought man, where are they from?”
This song, sondtracking a party at The Boy’s house, illustrates his fixation with sex. He then raps “we were playing PlayStation,” a reference to the prelude film to BTI, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons. There we see Gambino or The Boy ask his brother Steve and Swank about a mysterious girl, played by Abella Anderson, that he assumes they brought to the house. Steve and Swank are distracted by playing NBA 2K on PlayStation and they don’t know who she is.
Glover continues to wonder until he sees her that night and asks her directly, but she doesn’t reply. This ties into the next lines of the song, as Gambino raps: “why you standing there? Say some, / Girl, say some, no this ain’t a vacation, / this is my house, all she needed was some.” The implication of “this ain’t a vacation, this is my house,” is that the girl can’t just be here for nothing, for free, that she has to do some ‘work,’ the sexual overtones of the song further implying that he thinks “all she needed was some” dick.
“I ball, Ima ball, King James”
King James the first (left), who is believed to have had multiple male lovers during his reign, such as George Villiers (right), who James made the Earl of Buckingham. Given Glover’s repeated use of “balls” in the King James line, as well as the insinuations of him talking about taking shots and his new bath, there’s clearly an element of homoeroticism consistent with Glover’s continued questioning of sexuality labels throughout BTI.
“Uncle Ben in my hand, make change”
In 2010, there was an online movement using the hashtag #Donald4Spiderman that called to cast Donald Glover as the next Spiderman, so it’s highly probable this Uncle Ben line is in part a reference to that.
When Uncle Ben dies, he’s in Peter Parker’s arms, and he tells Peter “with great power comes great responsibility.” Parker then makes a change by leaving his normal life to assume the role of superhero. In this sense, “Uncle Ben in my hand, make change” is Gambino saying that he is realizing the need for change, for something more worthwhile.
“All she needed was some…”
Essential to Because the Internet, this idea of subjectivity and one’s own agency and freedom to ascribe personal meaning in their life. The repetition of the phrase “all she needed was some” combined with the inherent vagueness of the phrase itself renders it completely ambiguous. Recall that Gambino deliberately posed the phrase as a multiple choice question on his website. We get a sense that all the choices are both correct or incorrect — that perhaps “all of the above” and/or “none of the above” might actually be the best answer. We have the power to choose differently, and perceive our own meaning.
Additional evidence of interpreting this guitar solo as masturabatory comes when we consider Glover’s performance of this song live, as he would often pantomime jerking himself off to intro this solo section.
Also, note the phallic light wands in the music video during this solo.
Sasha, the girl who the crew met at the beach scene during “Crawl,” opens the door and pulls him inside. Sasha then tells The Boy to show them his dick, which leads to a bit of an awkward exchange. The Boy asks, “Why?” She starts kissing and touching him, but then stops when he doesn’t get erect. She asks, “What’s wrong?” but receives no clear answer from The Boy, who then tells the girls to hold on and he goes to the bathroom and locks the door.
We also might think of the shadowy, silhouetted threesome that introduced the live performance of this song on the Deep Web Tour (above). When he has the chance to engage in a threesome, he can’t get erect, because he doesn’t see the point. When he asks Sasha “Why?” the question has existential implications. This event mirrors the failed menage Gambino rapped about in the second verse. The dissonance between the lyric about getting an “Uber from her place” and the party taking place at The Boy’s mansion seems to suggest a bit of overlap between events in the lives of The Boy and Gambino.
It seems Glover is using vulnerability and honesty as a means of connection with his audience, as discussed in the interview above. For Gambino, and for The Boy, recognizing what’s happening – this moment of sexual impotence – and being honest about it, is a chance to evolve and move forward. This is a moment of realization, where The Boy knows that he can’t maintain the hedonistic patterns that have put him where he is.
Producer and bassist Thundercat discusses Shadows.
The intro features a drum kit put in reverse (sampled from Manzel’s Space Funk), signaling a backward shift in time – reflective of The Boy’s upcoming memories and recollections.
This scores the scene of The Boy in the bathroom escaping the failed threesome. He sits on the floor with his head in his hands and, inexplicably, his ex-girlfriend Vanessa steps out of the linen closet and tells him she wants to go out.
“I hope you understand / That I get you”
He cries out for connection here – hoping he can reach those he’s lost and let them know that he gets it now, that he understands. Amidst the maelstrom of instrumentation and emotion, there’s hope here for real reconciliation. The overpowering elements of the emotion may be most evident in live performances of the song, in which Gambino reaches his voice higher and higher (see live performance above).
At this point, Gambino, and The Boy, are being torn apart by a realization of the “phoniness” of it all – of Vanessa, of the festival, of their patterns of hedonistic behavior. To The Boy, this is a waste of time, and he’s allowed it to tear him apart. Following this scene, the script then cuts to The Boy pacing in his shower. He realizes the water is cold and it’s 5 in the morning.
With his 2013 album Because the Internet, Donald Glover sought to construct a transmedia world by weaving together physical, sonic, visual, and online material Under his pseudonym Childish Gambino. For the most comprehensive compilation of the world’s components, visit S7 co-writer Camden Ostrander’s piktochart.
The album’s opening track titled “The Library” marks the first act, and propels us into the world of Because The Internet.
According to Glover, “The Library” provides the effect of logging on and connection.
The Library also refers to the origin point of the album, as BTI was recorded in the library room of the mansion they dubbed “The Temple.” (see below)
“Who is this?”
Rick Ross is cast as The Boy’s father in the screenplay. A correctional officer before embarking on a music career, Ross achieved musical success by painting a picture of lavish living, even though it wasn’t his real life, exemplified in his video Hustin’ (left)and the subject matter of his feature on Kanye West’s Devil in a New Dress (right).
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Author Kurt Vonnegut warns of such pretenses above in his novel Mother Night. In casting Ross, Glover emphasizes the idea that we all construct characters for ourselves, especially in the age of the internet. What we then have to figure out, is whether we are those characters we build up, or if we even have a true identity.
An image of The Boy’s bookshelf, featuring three Vonnegut novels and his memoir, A Man without a Country. Vonnegut’s literary material was known for its irony, dark humor and exploring the absurd in relation to existential dilemma — all things Glover himself will utilize and explore in BTI.
Nigerian twins Christian Rich who produced the track Crawl.
The chaotic, unsettling nature of the Crawl’s production is accentuated by vocals from the rapper Mystikal, best known for his 2000 Neptune-produced hit, “Shake Ya Ass” (left). The majority of Mystikal’s ad-libs on “Crawl” can be traced back to a live performance by Rick James of his song “Mary Jane” (right). We might speculate that the Rick James samples were used first in the song’s production, and Mystikal was brought in later and re-recorded them, plus added his own original ad-libs.
“Where we were, kinda thing, betcha crawl, all alone.” The first of Glover’s handwritten notes, which suggests Donald Glover (as opposed to The Boy or Childish Gambino) in an existential crisis of self-exploration, an infancy of a new self in a sense, emblematic of Crawl’s refrain.
“Y’all B-String like a broke guitar“
Gambino criticizes other rappers as “B-string” backup players on a team, as well as the B-string on a guitar. The highest string on the guitar is the E-string and is the one most likely to break, exposing the second-highest string, the B-string.
“Yeah I murder some, murder one / explain it all, Ferguson.” This line rather refers to Ferguson Darling, the annoying younger brother in Nickelodeon’s 90s hit show Clarissa Explains It All.
“Cut a white girl with the same black gloves on”
1. The term “white girl” in drug vernacular means cocaine, and the process of cutting, or mixing and preparing the drug, requires handlers to wear gloves. Thus, Glover makes a clear connection between the previous musical touchstones and the distribution of drugs, a metaphoric bond that he will continue to employ throughout the album.
2. Also potentially alluding to the trial of O.J. Simpson in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson in 1995, at the time was the most talked about scandal in the nation. The key piece of evidence was a black glove found at the scene of the crime. Considering that Nicole Brown Simpson, a white woman, was stabbed to death by someone wearing the black glove, this line seems to clearly contain a reading centered on racial tension and 90’s nostalgia.
3. A third plausible interpretation: a magician’s iconic trick of cutting their assistant in half. This illusion commonly involves a woman assistant, wearing black gloves, lying in a box, and apparently being cut in half by the magician.
What’s the rationale?
An existential question that will reverberate throughout Because the Internet: Why? Why be alive?
Glover keyed audiences in on the existential quality of this world before it was released, repeatedly mentioning reading Soren Kierkegaard in interviews. He 0penly carried the book Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche & Kafka, by William Hubben, which surveyed the life and ideas of these pioneers in existentialist thought. Like the question “who am I?” posed at the beginning of the track, he asks “what’s the rationale?” openly, making clear that this album and world seeks to address it.
“I scorch winters, I burn autumns / gut [n-words], so Kurt Vonne.”
The line name-checks famous American author Kurt Vonnegut, cleverly crafting an image of violence. The influence of Vonnegut’s work is essential to the transmedia world of BTI Glover created. For instance, many of Vonnegut’s novels appear on the bookshelves of “The Boy’s Room,” as mentioned earlier. Also, given the violence surrounding this line, the way Vonnegut’s last name is cut off reflects dismemberment. Gambino literally ripped the “guts” out of Vonnegut.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that”
A reference to a viral 2012 news report of a woman named Sweet Brown detailing her experience of an apartment fire. Sweet Brown became a viral sensation inspiring countless internet memes, adding to Glover’s collection of internet-references.
Sweet Brown’s entire life was changed as a result of becoming an internet meme. While this presented a few economic opportunities (like acting in a Tyler Perry movie), it also meant that everywhere she went, or every new opportunity she got, she was connected to a moment frozen in time by the internet.
After The Boy came home from summer Camp, the script flashes-forward 15 years. The Boy is somewhere in his late 20s, still living in his father’s huge mansion. This clip from the screenplay shows The Boy’s desk, including a flash-drive labeled “hackz.”
Included in the drive: The BTI Movie Poster, the script, “what kind of love” (a rough track that was seemingly intended for BTI) and a full recording of his performance at Life is Beautiful Fest on October 26th, 2013.
Inside The Boy’s mansion. Left, the Buddha statue; right, the spiral staircase.
The Boy’s Twitter: “You Are Unimportant – @thegoldmolar” Glover made a real Twitter page for The Boy (above).
Born on September 25, 1983 at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Donald grew up with his siblings Bree and Stephen, as well as a steady flow of foster children. His mother Beverly ran a daycare from their home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and his father, Donald Sr, was in the Air Force and later was a postal worker.
Pictured left to right: Bree, Donald Sr., Beverly, Stephen, and Donald.
Under the pseudonym “mc DJ,” chitown, Glover’s remix of Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago.
At NYU, Glover was a part of Derrick Comedy, one of the first sketch comedy groups to create a presence on the then-nascent website YouTube. Left, a sketch titled “Bro Rape: a Newsline Investigative Report;” right, Derrick highlights from an improv show in October of 2012.
Left, Derrick Comedy presents Mystery Team, written by and starring Donald Glover; right, the film’s red band trailer.
Gambino followed up Culdesac with the 5-track EP, containing his first notable single – “Freaks and Geeks.”
2011-12, Camp and Royalty
Gambino’s first studio album, Camp, released November 15, 2011, conceptually explores the notion of a Black boy at summer camp, trying to find himself amongst new peers. These same emotions also applied to Glover’s place in the hip-hop community at the time.
Glover on The Breakfast Club further discussing fitting in amongst new peers.
Glover continued his busy work schedule throughout 2012. When he broke his foot performing, he used his few weeks of rest to work on a mixtape, before performing at the 2012 Coachella Festival. Left, notice his foot in a protective boot; right, his freestyle performance alongside Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown.
His mixtape, ROYALTY was released on July 4th, 2012, and included collaborations with a variety of artists, such as Schoolboy Q, HAIM, Bun B, and Beck.
Glover discusses his decision to leave Community in 2013.
Renting out a mansion in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, Gambino invited a team of friends and collaborators, which goes by the name “Royalty,” to live and work with him. In 2013, this team consisted of Fam Udeorji, Jamal “Swank” Olori, Chad Taylor, Ibra Ake, and his brother Stephen Glover. Producers Ludwig Göransson and Stefan Ponce would also live in the mansion, while artists like Chance the Rapper, Flying Lotus, and Trinidad James would stop by.
Left, Glover discusses the working arrangement at “The Temple;” right, Gambino discusses Because the Internet, not simply as an album, but a product of Glover’s belief that in the modern age, “you gotta build a bigger world.”
Because the Internet – A “Bigger World”
As an album, Because the Internet consists of 19 songs, separated into 5 acts. Songs within each act are assigned a scene number, in line with Glover’s training in dramatic writing. These songs are intended to interact and score an accompanying screenplay, also titled Because the Internet.
Because the Internet‘s prelude, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons (Internet Version), a surreal short film, directed by Hiro Murai, only 50 seconds long.
“I’ve been having the strangest recurring dreams for the last week.”
Seemingly capturing the feeling of life and work in “The Temple,” The Internet Version emphasizes key thematic concepts and wraps them up with powerful visual imagery in a bite-size, made-for-social-media package.
“Like I said, sometimes you just can’t explain things.”
The sounds of a phone ringing and a basketball dribbling up the infinity staircase resound throughout the clip.
These symbols hold key positioning throughout BTI as Glover explores identity, technology, connection, patterns, and reality.
Clapping for the Wrong Reasons (Director’s Cut), a 24-minute version released two weeks after the “Internet Version,” originally as a continuously playing loop online. The importance of the images, dialogue, and symbolism will reveal itself over the course of the season.
Because the Internet movie poster by artist Sam Spratt.
The Boy’s Room was created by Glover in collaboration with Brian Roettinger and Tumblr IRL. Inviting audiences to come through the installation at Rough Trade in NYC and look around The Boy’s bedroom from the screenplay, Gambino also gave an intimate performance and meet-and-greet event with fans. The installation took cues from Tracey Emin’s My Bed and offered an intimate, real experience adding another element to Glover’s fusion of reality and digital spaces.
Glover extended this performance art to live shows on his tour, which included dynamic, interactive graphic backdrops and the integrated use of an app. Audiences downloaded the Deep Web Tour App, using it to interact with the stage during the show.
In all public appearances during the rollout, Donald Glover wore the same outfit as The Boy in the screenplay. Glover’s commitment to his costume led to speculation that his public existence at the time was really an extended piece of performance art – which Glover all but confirmed by retweeting an article discussing the theory.
During the rollout for the album, Gambino stopped doing traditional media interviews and began hosting public appearances to connect with fans in parks across North America. He explained: “I want these listening parties to happen in the real world. To have people there so they can feel… rather than getting it curated through a Tumblr.”
Glover explained that these meetings were a way to augment or change the traditional rollout interview process, where different magazines and newspapers spend a bit of time with an artist, and they end up answering many of the same questions over and over again.
When the journalist speaking to him asked if that meant circumventing and avoiding reporting altogether, Glover clarified.
Glover also viewed the gatherings as a way to be more honest and open about life experience than what often gets projected online. “I just allow myself to be human and aware and see things as they really are. I feel like there’s a lot of stuff we pack on ourselves to make ourselves seem less human. We walk down the street like, ‘I don’t shit, I’m a robot.’ We do that but we don’t have to anymore.”
“I’ve seen the worst parts of humanity and good parts. But only extremes. We’re using it as entertainment instead of having our lives be the internet. That’s where we’re going. That’s what the listening parties are about. It’s not, ‘Hey guys, listen to my tracks on Spotify and maybe I’ll do a [Reddit] AMA.’ Like, no, that’s not real. How about I’m going to tell everybody I know that I’m going to be at this point and we’ll all meet up and talk, get new ideas. Maybe somebody there knows something about this thing, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea.’ Then I come back and tell people, ‘Guess what I just found out about? This shit is hot.’ Let’s make better shit and be more connected because right now I feel very lost and empty. I feel like that’s everybody. I feel like there’s this feeling of ‘why-ness’ because we have so many tools.”
Glover officially announced Because The Internet’s forthcoming release with a single entitled “Yaphet Kotto,” which debuted October 8th, 2013. The song was accompanied by a provocative video that found Glover’s body floating lifeless in a pool, and foreshadows a moment towards the end of BTI’s narrative.
A few weeks after Yaphet Kotto’s release, Gambino appeared on the radio show Sway in the Morning, where his viral freestyle over a Drake beat addressed his public life. Halfway through the freestyle, Gambino slips into a conversation with Sway, addressing him almost outside of the music itself. This moment also provided a viral spark in the rollout process, emphasized as context for the upcoming album, where we will see him cover the same thematic material and even use a few of the exact same tricks.
In the Sway in the Morning freestyle, Gambino addressed the handwritten notes, composed on Mariott Hotel notepad paper, he had released a week earlier on Instagram.
Images of each of the 7 notes posted to Instagram.
As page 1 of Because The Internet’s screenplay begins with a quote, “You can’t live your life on a bus,” from Camp‘s final track, That power, it appears that we must revisit its outro, a spoken word poem, below:
This is on a bus back from camp I’m thirteen and so are you Before I left for camp I imagined it would be me and three or four other dudes I hadn’t met yet, running around all summer, getting into trouble It turned out it would be me and just one girl. That’s you And we’re still at camp as long as we’re on the bus And not at the pickup point where our parents would be waiting for us We’re still wearing our orange camp t-shirts. We still smell like pineneedles I like you and you like me and I more-than-like you But I don’t know if you do or don’t more-than-like me You’ve never said, so I haven’t been saying anything all summer Content to enjoy the small miracle of a girl choosing to talk to me And choosing to do so again the next day and so on A girl who’s smart and funny and who, if I say something dumb for a laugh Is willing to say something two or three times as dumb to make me laugh But who also gets weird and wise sometimes in a way I could never be A girl who reads books that no one’s assigned to her Whose curly brown hair has a line running through it From where she put a tie to hold it up while it was still wet
Back in the real world we don’t go to the same school And unless one of our families moves to a dramatically different neighborhood We won’t go to the same high school So, this is kind of it for us. Unless I say something And it might especially be it for us if I actually do say something The sun’s gone down and the bus is quiet. A lot of kids are asleep We’re talking in whispers about a tree we saw at a rest stop That looks like a kid we know And then I’m like, “Can I tell you something?” And all of a sudden I’m telling you And I keep telling you and it all comes out of me and it keeps coming And your face is there and gone and there and gone As we pass underneath the orange lamps that line the sides of the highway And there’s no expression on it And I think just after a point I’m just talking to lengthen the time Where we live in a world where you haven’t said “yes” or “no” yet And regrettably I end up using the word “destiny” I don’t remember in what context. Doesn’t really matter Before long I’m out of stuff to say and you smile and say, “okay” I don’t know exactly what you mean by it, but it seems vaguely positive And I would leave in order not to spoil the moment But there’s nowhere to go because we’re on a bus So I pretend like I’m asleep and before long, I really am
I wake up, the bus isn’t moving anymore The domed lights that line the center aisle are all on I turn and you’re not there Then again a lot of kids aren’t in their seats anymore We’re parked at the pick-up point, which is in the parking lot of a Methodist church The bus is half empty. You might be in your dad’s car by now Your bags and things piled high in the trunk The girls in the back of the bus are shrieking and laughing and taking their sweet time Disembarking as I swing my legs out into the aisle to get up off the bus Just as one of them reaches my row It used to be our row, on our way off It’s Michelle, a girl who got suspended from third grade for a week After throwing rocks at my head Adolescence is doing her a ton of favors body-wise She stops and looks down at me And her head is blasted from behind by the dome light, so I can’t really see her face But I can see her smile. And she says one word: “destiny” Then her and the girls clogging the aisles behind her all laugh And then she turns and leads them off the bus I didn’t know you were friends with them
I find my dad in the parking lot. He drives me back to our house and camp is over So is summer, even though there’s two weeks until school starts This isn’t a story about how girls are evil or how love is bad This is a story about how I learned something and I’m not saying this thing is true or not I’m just saying it’s what I learned I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them But this means there isn’t a place in my life for you or someone like you Is it sad? Sure. But it’s a sadness I chose I wish I could say this was a story about how I got on the bus a boy And got off a man more cynical, hardened, and mature and shit But that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus I still haven’t
The lesson he’s learning is to “make it all for everyone, always.” This conveys the importance of expressing truth universally, the idea that being honest and open is a means for connecting with others, understanding that their reactions cannot be controlled. We’re reminded here of Glover’s hotel notes, which seem to be a real-life expression of this idea. He’s still on that bus, scared to move forward, scared to try out this new knowledge, scared to be honest.
“You can’t live your life on a bus…”
And this is how we arrive at the existentially-fraught opening line of BTI’s screenplay: “You can’t live your life on a bus…” Exemplified in the cropped movie poster above, Donald Glover has to get off the bus to assume control of himself, to begin expressing his truths and living a life guided by honesty.
“It’s an Internet cesspool that’s cashed in big on senseless fight videos. The site’s popularity has created a sort of voyeuristic feedback loop, in which disassociated bystanders immediately videotape violent incidents and act as if they’re already watching a video on the Internet”
“Blow up / Worldstar before rap you already know that”
The album’s animated cover exemplifies Gambino’s first words on this track, “Blow up,” suggesting violence and explosion, but also the process by which a person or piece of content can go viral. This duality of violence and virality will reverberate throughout the track.
Before Culdesac in 2010, Glover had already won an Emmy for comedy writing for the show 30 Rock (left), and was starring as Troy Barnes on Community (right). The embedded link refers to Glover’s ascent to fame through comedy writing and acting before his rap career took off.
“So Fresh Prince, they about to bring the show back”
Gambino has often referred to the connections between himself and Will Smith. These connections are multi-layered, referring to both the artists–Smith and Glover–but also the largely autobiographical characters they portray– The Fresh Prince and The Boy.
In each of the songs linked above, Gambino notes the similarities between himself and the star of the 90’s sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as both actors and music artists. Left, Gambino raps in The Real: “Imma rap and act Will Smith this bitch.” Right, in Not Going Back: “Callin’ me the new Will Smith, that’s Jaden.”
In Chance the Rapper’s My Favorite Song, Gambino separates himself, claiming his content is more substantive and meaningful than what Will Smith would touch on in his party-rap anthems: “As God as my witness, this Will Smith spit real shit.” As an example, Smith’s 1997 video for “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”
This also foreshadows the follow-up project Kauai, which casts Jaden Smith as “The Boy.” Glover acknowledged that Jaden Smith represented a real-life version of “The Boy,” a dizzying oscillation between characters, wherein the relationship between fictional roles and realities becomes blurred.
“It’s your birthday, make it earthquake / fell in love with a [n-word] like a mermaid”
Recall that the first verse began with a reference to Fresh Prince. Considering, we understand how Gambino has used forbidden love to intricately string together his opening Fresh Prince reference, the Little Mermaid, and his own personal narrative.
“Phone call gotta say ‘Moshi Moshi’ (moshi moshi) / Girlfriend acting all wishy-washy (wishy washy)”
“Moshi moshi” is a Japanese method of saying hello when picking up the phone. The phrase is also an internet meme typically used to spam or troll internet message board conversations.
“When I hear that action / I’ma be Scorsese”
A play on the word “action” referring to both a fight and the word a director would yell to start filming a scene; the specific reference to Scorsese refers to films like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and The Departed, movies that grapple with the exploits of violent criminals.
Note the smartphone held horizontally with the “filmmaker” lying prone in an attempt at a sophisticated angle. Both Worldstar wannabes and famed directors like Scorsese tantalize audiences with violence, leaving them clamoring for more, spurring more production and leaving the viewer complicit in the process.
“My [n-word] hold it horizontal man, be a professional”
The video above shows a special act Gambino incorporates during live performances of the song. As Gambino interjects, he implies that many Worldstar videos, filmed with a vertical smartphone, reflect amateurish lack of forethought in comparison to the horizontal aspect ratio more similar to professional films. Including this direction in the song asks listeners to widen their view and consider exactly what our obsession with violence and crime based entertainment perpetuates.
“She on Hollywood and Vine / thinkin’ that she Hollywood on Vine”
“She on Hollywood and Vine” implies his girl equates herself to the stars commemorated on the Walk of Fame at the intersection of these streets, but the following line implies that she only thinks she’s “Hollywood” as she appears on the now defunct social media app, Vine.
“Showin’ off her ass, that’s a net twerk”
Gambino implies his girl’s “net twerk,” creating sexualized content for the internet, constitutes a network, equating her content creation with that of a television network, in that case, meaning she is “Hollywood on Vine.”
This passage is most likely a reference to the presence of adult film star Abella Anderson throughout Because the Internet. She first appears as a mystery woman in Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, and will show up many more times. We’ll be able to examine her presence more closely in “Zealots of Stockholm.”
“The boy is seeing this through his phone.”
The above scene begins with Fam, The Boy, and their crew driving to a nightclub while eating In-N-Out. When they arrive, The Boy isn’t dressed appropriately to get in the club, so he waits outside, where he witnesses a fight break out after an SUV pulls up and its occupants verbally accost a patron named “Jay.” The boy instinctually begins filming it, as the voiceover calls attention to that fact. Police show up, shots are fired from and into the SUV, and Jay dies on the sidewalk next to the boy.
“Let me flash on ‘em, we all big brother now, lil sis, let her run around”
An allusion to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, wherein a government organization known as “Big Brother” monitors and tracks every move of its populace. Gambino notes that our contemporary government doesn’t even have to do the work of surveillance anymore, since people voluntarily record each other and themselves every day. With this voluntary big brother established, the system is content to allow its populace, “lil sis,” to run around.
“Yo, bro, man, check out that video I just sent you, man, this shit is hilarious, man”
Splitting the song in two equal halves, a phone call from “Steve” references a video tweeted out by the real Steve, Steve G. Lover, when Worldstar was released as a single in October of 2013.
The video shows a man sneaking up on a child and spraying him with Silly String. The child reacts by screaming and running away, as if he’d been shot, not knowing it was harmless. From Steven’s description, we get the sense that the “victim” in the video is overreacting, and it’s in this overreaction that Steven derives entertainment. The juxtaposition of this seemingly harmless humor directly after the death The Boy witnesses and records at the club questions the content we encourage and consume everyday.
“That’s what WorldStar is about.”
— Gambino brings “Because the Internet” to Studio Q
With the first half of the song serving as an awakening, and the second more of a psychedelic trip, the implication is the lasting mind-altering effects of the awakening, this “cup of coffee.”
The duality of the track “Worldstar” is an offering to see both sides of our internet behavior, our frenetic and obsessive consumption as well as our fears and desires. It’s not an indictment; it’s a pursuit of understanding every side of the equation. We can enjoy the sweetness of enthralling imagery and sensational virality. Glover is just asking us to eat our vegetables too.
Beyoncé crouches on the hood of a police car halfway submerged in flood water that extends to the horizon, an image intended to recreate the devastation in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. This is the opening shot of the “Formation” music video. While much of the settings in and around New Orleans have focused on “the curse” and its history, this image places “the curse” in more present day context.
A closeup of Beyoncé leaning on her side atop the police car, delivering the opening refrain.
Left, the paparazzi overwhelm the frame in number and with flash photography, followed by footage of a bounce dancer performing in a mirror and Beyoncé commandingly posed on the car over the lines “…catch my fly and my cocky fresh” (right). This shows Beyoncé in control of her narrative in the face of the public gaze.
Left, Beyoncé rocking back and forth in unison with a troupe of female dancers in an ornate plantation house hallway; right, a French Renaissance style painting of regal Black women which, according to director Melina Matsoukas, was added to “Blackify” the mansion.
Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy (center), with her hair in an Afro, poses with a smirk and a hand on her hip alongside two other young Black girls in white dresses. Portraying Blue Ivy proudly rocking her Afro affirms her daughter just as she is in the face of public scrutiny of her natural hair, deemed by some “unruly” for a child from a family of such wealth and status.
The grounds of Destrehan Plantation, turned into a place of communal healing and a celebration of strength through art and expression, the song “Freedom” an emblazoned anthem of resistance, strength, and collective empowerment.
CH. 11 – REDEMPTION
The titlecard, where three young Black girls run through a front door onto a massive lawn toward a white picket fence gate surrounding Madewood Plantation, which earlier represented the idyllic promises of heaven and the American dream.
Two Black women open a curtain to reveal various Black women freely strolling through the grounds at Destrehan Plantation.
Shots of women walking freely on the grounds, sharing a meal and laughing in contrast with those from Chapter 1 at the same setting, where many of the same women were eerily subdued and silent.
Left, a shot of Beyoncé’s feet, a suggestion of modesty and their pose, alike that of a ballerina in point shoes and a suggestion of gentleness; right, a tree adorned with Spanish moss is shown over her shoulder.
Beyoncé sits with hands folded, contemplative; considering the symbolic value of the trees and moss she gazes with the spoken word poetry, “Grandmother, the alchemist,” the suggestion is Beyoncé is contemplating the legacy and spirit of not only her ancestors, but the entirety of ancestral spirit of Black women in America.
Beyoncé with a young girl whose tightly coiled curly hair matches her own; they run their fingers through each other’s, teasing, and smiling, Beyoncé in a maternal role instilling the young girl with a sense of confidence and pride.
Left, overlaid with the poetry “Broke the curse with your own two hands,” a close-up of grandmotherly hands that are revealed to be those of Leah Chase, “The Queen of Creole Cuisine” featured earlier in Lemonade; right, a young girl plays with a doll and the camera pans to reveal Beyoncé behind Ms. Chase, brushing her hair in an act of reverence. Three generations of women smile as they engage in conversation with one another.
Beyoncé stares out from a porch, and the camera cuts to the children running toward the Madewood gate. Perhaps, having become a mother herself, she realizes it is her turn now to pass along the wisdom from her grandmother to the next generation.
Grandmother, the alchemist
JAY-Z’s mother Hattie during a speech at her 90th birthday party, which reveals the meaning of the film’s title: “I had my ups and downs, but I always found the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”
Left, the lights on the floor reveal the real life context for Hattie’s speech; right, Blue Ivy plays with a boy as they listen to Grandma Hattie deliver her speech.
Beyoncé (center) with Wanda Johnson, Gwen Carr, Sybrina Fulton, and Lesley McSpadden, mothers of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown (respectively). Their shared grief over their sons’ tragic deaths connects them as the so-called “Mothers of the Movement” against police brutality and injustice. Their activism, in the words of Gwen Carr, “…transformed their mourning into movement, and pain into purpose.”
The penultimate image of the chapter, a Mardi Gras Indian circles an empty dining room table, shaking a tambourine as part of a healing ritual.
The chapter’s final image, a black and white shot of Beyoncé with a group of Black women inside a Jim Crow era school bus, the same women and setting from “Apathy.” With poet Warsan Shire’s utterance of the word “magic” over the image, we consider the obvious nod to the idea of “Black girl magic.”
CH. 10 – HOPE
“The women of the past in Beyoncé’s Lemonade attempt to rewrite the tragic stories they’ve inherited through art. They dance. They sing. They cook…This is how we try to birth beauty through pain.”
Author Jesmyn Ward
Previously depicted as despondent, paralyzed, and silenced, here in “Hope,” the women occupy the tiny cabin with beauty, color, and feminine grace, giving the impression of solidarity and self-sustaining community as the women nourish themselves and care for one another.
With the opening note of the chapter’s song “Freedom,” the camera pushes forward into the room as if we, the viewers, are walking into the room ourselves. As we center on a Black baby sucking her thumb, the baby looks directly at “us.” She is the future, occupying a space of the past, in this present moment.
Beyoncé at her most vulnerable, inside an intimate apartment, recording the song “Sandcastles” seated on the floor at a keyboard.
Beyoncé reunited with her husband, confronting the tears and scars and reconciling through forgiveness. Having restored her relationship, she will turn to healing communal wounds.
CH. 9 – RESURRECTION
A large tree covered in Spanish moss at Destrehan Plantation, a setting previously seen in Lemonade’s opening chapter. The site holds the memory of communal resistance and horrific violence, as the site of the trial for the 1811 German Coast Uprising.
An assembly of women in front of the tree at Destrehan, similar to images from Chapter 1.
A collection of shots from Chapter 1, the “unknown women” intended to symbolize Beyoncé’s forebears and an acknowledgement of her ancestry.