Was Childish Gambino’s pandemic album a misunderstood masterpiece? – Music news
Have you ever forgotten that Childish Gambino released an entire ass album in the middle of the pandemic?
We don’t blame you if you missed it. There was a PARCEL passes when Donald Glover first surprised us with 15.03.20 – named after the date it surfaced as a looping stream on donaldgloverpresents.com.
Pulled after 24 hours and later officially released on streaming services – two years ago this week – the outing felt overshadowed by the chaos of COVID-19, which had just been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, seeming to come and go amid doomscrolling with little fanfare.
15.03.20 should have been a major event – Glover’s first real outing since the 2016 Grammy-snatching Wake up, My Love!; full follow-up fans have been thirsty since 2018’s ‘This Is America’ catapulted him from arena-filling star to cultural author, and is rumored to be his last after years suggesting he retire the name of Childish Gambino.
So why do you feel like the album was more sleepy than widely celebrated?
15.03.20 was – and in many ways remains – a mysterious project that’s easy to ignore.
The record came after a period when Glover’s profile was inescapable – Lando Solo: A Star Wars StorySimba in The Lion Kinghis Guava Island film starring Rihanna, highly anticipated Aussie shows and a headliner at Splendor In The Grass. But there was no promotion or marketing around 15.03.20.
More importantly, Glover’s star presence — arguably his greatest strength and the supernova charisma at the heart of his live performances on stage and screen — was sorely absent.
The confusing rollout initially left fans wondering if it was a leak rather than a planned surprise drop. That, along with a bunch of timestamps for song titles, blank artwork, and even the lack of a physical release certainly didn’t help make it memorable.
Despite the appearance of “Feels Like Summer” and “Alogrhythm” in 2018 (which had been on the live show for some time), there were no real singles. Certainly nothing as sharp and punchy as “This Is America”, or addictive as “Redbone” or “Sober”.
15.03.20 obviously lacked catchy entry points, but there’s no denying that it was another bold musical expansion of Glover’s multi-hyphenated stylistic repertoire. It continued the experimental spirit of Wake up, My Love! but leaned towards more synthetic arrangements while incorporating a bit of everything Glover had done before: rap, futuristic RnB, self-tuned soul and psychedelic funk.
Filled with extended jams, mood-based grooves and inventive sequences, Glover sounded a lot like Outkast’s Prince or André 3000 (circa 2003 opus love from below). Especially on the climax of the album ‘12.38’, which merges the old ‘Ballad of Dorothy Parker‘with that of the latter’Vibrate‘ in a wild narrative montage of an episode of Glover’s award-winning TV series Atlanta.
The story of a drug-fueled tryst (‘Yes, I don’t know what psilocybin is. It’s better not to be molly’ Glover says comically), “12.38” nails its sexy, psychedelic record and 21 Savage even pops up with an equally witty and insightful verse, weaving lines about police harassment into the seductive mix.
Principally, 15.03.20 showed off the bold musical evolution he’s undergone in the decade since Gambino was derided as a Kanye West knockoff and dismissed as just the side hustle of “that guy from Community’.
Upon release, the album received mixed critical reception. Some reviewers gave rave reviews calling it “masterpiece…the definitive Childish Gambino album” and the “truly exceptional first album of the decade”. But some fans had a colder response, polarized by her lack of identity and indulgent tendencies, disappointed after years of hype.
Whatever star power or celebrity muscle Glover might have thrown on the album, he backed out. No videos, no tour (obviously), and no interviews around 15.03.20 release or follow it.
It’s certainly a common strategy for major artists – aligning Gambeezy with the Beyoncé, Frank Oceans and Kendrick Lamars of the world – but it’s a move that arguably backfired, especially in combination with bad timing. of competing for attention against a virus that has literally disrupted our entire lives.
15.03.20 certainly attempted to tap into the zeitgeist – the four-panel artwork that appeared along the musical stream depicted burning buildings and a mass gathering that reflected the panicked mood of the moment.
Left open to the listener’s interpretation, some of the eerie grooves and ominous lyrics on the record are certainly different.
‘Maybe the sky will fall tomorrow’ Glover purrs on the Ariana Grande-assisted “Time.” ‘But one thing is certain, baby / We’re running out of time”.
The dystopian ‘32.22’ (known as ‘Warlords’ when it debuted at Coachella 2019) channels the industrial aggression of Yeezus with over-the-top Travis Scott-esque chants about the scorching fire.
As simple as it was to perform this music in a coronavirus-ridden context, 15.03.20 was recorded over several years with longtime Glover collaborator, Oscar-winning Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, and LA producer DJ Dahi.
“There’s a few songs on there that we’ve had for a long time,” Dahi (whose resume includes Drake, Kendrick, and Vampire Weekend) Recount rolling stone in 2020. He confirmed that Glover didn’t “go in with the aim of giving people hits” and instead aimed for an ambiguous, timeless quality – compounded by the lack of song titles and even a track simply called ” Time”.
“It’s something we were looking for. A feeling of “I’ve heard this before” but you can’t say “this is from the 1960s, 1970s, 2000s”.
As 15.03.20 blurs the sounds between decades, lyrically, Glover tackles some universal themes, grounding big existential questions about society with deeply personal perspectives as father and son.
On the bouncy leg of ‘19.10’, he passes on the wisdom of his late father (who died in 2018. Glover revealed the news publicly during the last leg of a 2018 world tour). The ‘truth about the conception of the world, he reasons, doesn’t heBeing happy really means someone else isn’t.
He sums up this savage cultural scrutiny — of a system that seeks to marginalize black lives while capitalizing on their culture — in a sweet falsetto refrain:
‘To be beautiful is to be hunted / I can’t change the truth, I can’t get you used to it”.
This crisis is revisited on penultimate track ‘47.48’, a sultry funk meditation on ‘violence, violence — as Glover sings over and over again. It ends with a conversation where he teaches his own young son, Legend, a lesson in the importance of self-love.
This sweet conclusion is extended to a closing affirmation statement on the final track, “53.49”. ‘I said I love myself!’ Glover preaches, moving from breathless verses filled with manic rapping and gospel screams to a flowing chorus:
‘There’s love every moment under the sun, boy / I did what I wanted / Now I just move on ‘
Believe in yourself and you can do anything. In a world that seems increasingly lacking in compassion and a seemingly uncertain future, it is a statement of defiance.
It’s peak times like this that make 15.03.20 worth revisiting, especially if you – understandably – missed it the first time around.
Even though it came at a time in history when we all had many long to sit with the album and absorb what it had to offer, it’s fair to say 15.03.20 didn’t quite seize the moment the way you imagined Donald Glover – or his devoted fan base – had hoped.
Although he somehow functioned as a reflection of the world he was born into, perhaps we shouldn’t give so much importance to 15.03.20 as a cultural commentary on COVID-stricken times.
But perhaps he was meant to survive the pandemic rather than be defined by it, as DJ Dahli alluded to in his rolling stone maintenance.
“For me, it’s good to know that records can live beyond a moment. Sometimes you get excited about something, it looks cool, but the moment passes, the time and space you live in changes, and then it doesn’t sound so good. i lived with it [music] for a long time. But I still listen to the album.
Two years later, maybe we’re still too close to recognize 15.03.20 for the cult classic it is. Or maybe not…
Perhaps he will never escape the gravity of his bad timing to become anything more than an underrated chapter in Childish Gambino history.