S7E1 – The Transmedia World of Because The Internet

“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.”

Donald Glover’s open letter, posted to Instagram, describing his 2013 album, Because the Internet, released under his pseudonym “Childish Gambino”

Donald McKinley Glover Jr.

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.

mc DJ

Under the pseudonym “mc DJ,” chitown, Glover’s remix of Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago.

Click the image above for the full McDJ catalog.


Derrick Comedy and Beginnings

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.

After winning an Emmy as a writer on 30 Rock, Glover pursued formal stand-up comedy. Left, a clip from Glover’s 2011 Comedy Central special, Weirdo; right, a clip from Just for Laughs.

Glover’s work on 30 Rock and in standup landed him the role of Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community.


Mixtapes and EP

Top left to bottom right, Childish Gambino’s mixtapes Sick Boi, Poindexter, I Am Just a Rapper, I Am Just a Rapper 2, and Culdesac, which reached 5 figure downloads on datpiff.com in its first week.

Glover created his rap alias using a Wu-Tang Name Generator, which still exists today.

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.

ROYALTY was also accompanied by a series of portraits by artist Sam Spratt, titled American Royalty. Each single released featured a different portraint attached.


HIATUS

“After I came off tour, we went to Australia and I was just super depressed. I mean, I tried to kill myself. I was really fucked up after that, because I had this girl that I thought I was going to marry and we broke up. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t living up to my standard, I was living up to other people’s standards, and I just said ‘I don’t see the point.’”

Donald Glover in Noisey by Vice

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.”

“I don’t want to make albums anymore anyway…I feel like it’s just kinda silly, to make just albums. You gotta make worlds and lives.”

Donald Glover on TimWestwoodTV

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.

“Patterns.”

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.

Gambino also orchestrated a string of performances to create experiential dimensions of the Because the Internet world. Included in these performances was a set of shows that took place in mansions set up to look like The Boy’s house. Click the image above for the invitation from foreverchildish.com

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.

Aside from the Deep Web Tour, Gambino hosted a series of intimate performances in mansions across North America. He performed shows in the living rooms after confiscating the audience’s phones. Fans received movie posters for Because the Internet and could purchase limited merchandise along with the unique performance.

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.


Listening Parties

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.

“I’m probably not going to do set interviews anymore. It’s an old format. Not just interviews but even forced conversation – come to the hotel room, 20 minutes each. That feels like taking a piece of paper and punching the holes in it and sticking it into the computer.”

When the journalist speaking to him asked if that meant circumventing and avoiding reporting altogether, Glover clarified.

“I want to bring you. I don’t want to circumvent. People get so afraid when they hear that stuff like, ‘So, you want my job to go?’ No, I want you to better yourself and do this other things that’s better. I just want to make things easier so we can all eat more. I feel like when people hear progress they think ‘Oh, I’m going to lose my job.’ Well, only if you want to stay old.”

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.”


Yaphet Kotto

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.

And this is where Because The Internet begins.