May 2018 saw Childish Gambino release ‘This is America’ to an unexpected audience. Already amassing a cult following as a rapper (Grammy Award Winner and nominee), Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover is also known as an actor (Atlantic), comedian and writer (three times Writers Guild of America Awards winner).
‘This is America’ featured strong messages regarding the state of American politics, as told by Glover. Initially he refused to explain the video. When asked in interviews, he loosely replied that the video explains itself.
That response seemed to cause a barrage of excitable responses from writers, who hurriedly spewed out in- depth reviews and depictions on what they thought the video was about, conspiracy theories, hidden meanings and conclusions. Everybody seemed to have something to say on the visual impact of the video and the simplistic, cleverly written lyrics that married the two together powerfully.
Notching up over 360 million views on YouTube alone, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this body of work is timely/timeless. The effects didn’t remain at the writers’ tables or finger tips. Inspired to also ‘have a say’, artists, amateurs and comedians from around the world picked up the #challenge and released their own parody reflecting generalist perceptions on the state of politics in their country. From BREXIT woes, to feminism, negligence, racism, violence - the overarching message was failure of leaders to listen, acknowledge and act on key social issues:
Through musical history, musicians have always used art to express their politic views.
Some other favourites include:
• Lesley Gore – ‘You Don’t Own me’ – Female empowerment
• Bob Marley and the Wailers – ‘War’ – humanity
• Bob Dylan – ‘When the Ships Come in’ – stereotypes
• Billie Holiday ‘Stranger Fruit’ – American racism
• Public Enemy – ‘Fight the Power’ – revolution and resisting the class system
I suppose using an available creative outlet is perhaps one of the best non-threatening ways to make a political point. Yes we can rally, yes we can strike, yes we can write open letters and yes we can use art to make leaders take notice. Hopefully the visuals and lyrics live on and continue to be a voice of the people to get leaders to listen, take notice, and act.
It’s about listening and responding
While ‘This is America’ taps into sensitive and political issues, there is a core truth that when voices are being ignored and views are not valued, there will be a reaction. Different avenues will be explored to generate a response. The emulators and parodies of the song encompass a diverse set of issues; subjects which are humorous, some which are perhaps trivial, and many which are important for society and culture.
Your customers won’t necessarily release a viral video, though many have done and caused significant reputational damage – for United Airlines in 2009 there was a memorable United Breaks Guitars song resulting from a 2008 incident. In that Wikipedia article about that incident, there is reference to a similar event for Republic Airways as far back as 1985. While there is debate over the financial cost of these events, it is likely to influence customers who have a choice of who they buy from. Employee audiences are no less likely to rebel and create an issue – some shocking incidents have been shared on social media.
The common thread is a lack of willingness to listen. Of course, there is no point in listening if there is no intention of responding – that would potentially make matters worse.
Can you really afford not to listen to your stakeholders? To wait until there is an outburst, a result of pent-up frustration that no-one cares or is willing to address concerns?