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.”
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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.
“Donald was like: just take it over the top times a hunna.”Göransson on “The Worst Guys” guitar solo
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.
“I wanted to make something that says, no matter how bad you fuck up, or mistakes you’ve made during the year, your life, your eternity. You’re always allowed to be better. You’re always allowed to grow up. If you want.”