Zealots of Stockholm begins and ends with a cold, somber sonic environment, fitting The Boy’s emotional state after the loss of his father, and reflective of his new environment in Stockholm, a notoriously cold city where it’s dark most of the day in the winter.
“When we were coming down, they left us all alone, / we’re headed nowhere.”
It seems The Boy is grappling with the loneliness of death and the isolation he feels in his grief. It’s a feeling that closely resembles something Glover himself wrote in his Instagram note above.
Note above, The Boy’s strained conversation with his father after driving home from camp and the mysterious calls from the Califax Collection Agency in Clapping for the Wrong Reasons as evidence of The Boy’s tense relationship with his father.
If we look at the movie poster made for BTI, done as a near-perfect-match to the first Star Wars poster, we see that Ross holds the same position as Darth Vader – an ominous, imposing father figure, whose identity and influence on his son are central to the development of the story.
In the screenplay, The Boy uses the “Free Information” of the internet to search for a follower online who lives in Stockholm to escape his loneliness. He ends up connecting with someone on twitter under the handle @Hello_Pity_.
Her avatar is an inverted photo of Hello Kitty, and he searches for her Instagram, which is private.
“We’re not together. But it’s a relationship, for sure.”
@Hello_Pity_’s real name is Alyssa. She asks The Boy about the longest relationship he’s ever been, and he reveals that it’s been 5 years – and he’s still in it. He goes on to describe a girl who does private web shows, who is almost undoubtedly referring to the characters played by former adult actress Abella Anderson throughout BTI. Most notably, she appears as a mystery figure in Clapping for the Wrong Reasons.
Anderson is also the subject of the lyric video for “3005,” wherein she performs a webcam show while chatting with Childish Gambino. Ticket sales Ticket sales for Gambino’s Deep Web Tour were ‘unlocked’ for presale by accessing a website called abella.xxx and using a similar chat function inside to ask Abella for tickets.
The chat also contained other functions, and the Abella algorithm would respond differently to lyrics from BTI as well as questions about different characters.
“She’s just chilled, a really cool person. The reason we liked her so much is that we all felt like we knew her in the back of our heads because she’s really good at making dudes feel like they have a girlfriend.”Glover in GQ regarding Anderson’s casting
“Is it real cause you’re online?”
At each of the timestamped videos above, Glover discusses what is “real” and isn’t as the idea pertains to life on and off the internet.
At each of the timestamped videos above, Glover responds to a journalist who voiced frustration with not being able to determine exactly what the lyrics throughout the album were by discussing the subjectivity of every moment.
A YouTube creator who goes by the name Miss Aaron, or AARONE99, is the source of the sample in Zealots at about the 3-minute mark.
This sample’s connection to online fabrications is solidified in the live shows. In contrast to the mother’s monologues, which are represented by projections of glowing orbs, Miss Aaron’s passage is conveyed with a vibrating cube. Opposed to the natural shape of the orb, the geometric edges of the cube reflect the digital influence on any attempts at communicating an authentic self online.
it seems the situations of Abella Anderson and Miss Aaron convey a similar message – we need to be mindful of our consumption of people, and remember the human beings on the other side of our screens. Glover discussed this sort of situation through the lens of the infamous Vine star, TerRio.
“Fame is not really cool at all. People don’t realize how dangerous it is. Everyone knows what TerRio looks like. And he’s a kid. Everyone knows who he is. And for some reason, people still equate fame with money. So people think this kid has a bunch of money. When, really, his face is everywhere and people are making money off his face by making TerRio T-shirts. It’s scary to be famous. They know everything about you.”Glover on Vine star TerRio
“Craftmatic, making moves but they sleeping on me / we can kick it like its FIFA homie.”
Here, we see the drug metaphor extend with “craftmatic” – which likely references OJ da Juiceman’s song No Hook.
This song was used as the first musical cue in the first episode of Glover’s show, Atlanta. Glover also included it in a Spotify playlist he created in 2013 titled “the temple,” which highlighted songs that were played in the mansion when they created BTI.
Also, given that this line falls in the middle of clear references to other iconic hip hop songs, we have to consider the line being a possible allusion to A Tribe Called Quest’s classic, Can I Kick It?
“Nevertheless I got that fresh like it was Crest, grind ‘cause I’m stressed.”
The line alludes to another hip hop classic, the Luniz’ I Got 5 On It.
We also have to wonder about the extended references to teeth here — Crest toothpaste, grinding teeth, and TMJ. We’re reminded of The Boy’s twitter handle, @thegoldmolar – which is a reference to the scene in Clapping for the Wrong Reasons where Gambino grossly pulls a long string out of his nose, eventually revealing a bloody, golden molar.
We might associate a gold molar or teeth as status symbols that cover up bad dental health. Since the gold molar is also tied to The Boy’s trolling online persona, the link to fabricated identity is clear – a gold tooth is an attempt to cover up something unsavory with a display of wealth and prosperity, just as Gambino has throughout the album and The Boy has done throughout the script.
“Lost God, never pray / forgotten us, lost love, never say just like our parents.”
These lines also convey the immense loss Gambino feels, especially with this song grappling with the death of his father, who we already noted might be a larger metaphor for society’s loss of God. This seems similar to existentialist Fredrich Nietzche’s infamous claim that “God is dead” and the general loss of purpose and structure that society would endure in the aftermath of this death.
All this talk about loss also reminds us of Glover’s instagram notes when he said, “I got really lost last year. But I can’t be lonely tho. Cause we’re all here.” Gambino touched on this above when reflecting on posting those notes.
“Too much power ain’t enough power”
If knowledge is power, then we have tons at this point, but it’s still not enough, exemplifying human nature’s tendency to never be satisfied, especially when it comes to the pursuit of power. Generally speaking, power is a concept that’s preoccupied Glover for years. He has “Truth is a power” tattooed on his bicep.
“Power is what allows you to do whatever you want… I’m in it for the power.”Glover in the Village Voice, 2011
And don’t forget, he covered this same topic on his Sway Freestyle as well.
“Brain splattered like I’ve fallen off a watchtower”
This line seems to reference both Glover’s suicide attempt and the Jehovah’s Witness monthly religious magazine, The Watchtower, one of their primary tools for circulating free information. Given Gambino’s continued worries over disappointing his parents, this nod to Glover’s childhood faith ties in his real-life parents, and his worries that his life of celebrity and art, which fails to adhere to the Jehovah’s Witness faith, has removed him from their lifestyle, perhaps for good.
“Kinison said if you gon’ miss heaven, why do it by two inches? Old money and new bitches.”
This is a reference to a quote from stand up comedian Sam Kinison, a boisterous and primal performer whose history of being a pentecostal preacher before turning to hedonism and the entertainment industry reflects the thematic content of the track.
“Getting next level in a hotel / ain’t shit that we don’t need, [n-word] oh well”
This passage stands in stark contrast to the script, where The Boy and Alyssa sit in a bit of awkward silence staring at the urn holding his father’s ashes in his hotel room. Alyssa asks if they were close, or if The Boy wants to talk about it, and he responds “no” to both. When The Boy gets up to make a drink, Alyssa takes the urn and walks out, aligning with the sounds of passing cars we hear at the end of “Zealots of Stockholm.”