Music videos tend to come in three different categories: By-the-numbers, blockbusters, or bait for controversy. The majority are just the former; fairly straightforward little clips to go alongside the music.
Nothing special, but no one expects them to be.
Unless there’s a real message in there, they should just aim to be a nice visual accompaniment to complement any given track. Other times, these straightforward videos inject a bit of comedy in too. ‘90s-era Eminem or Blink-182 were arguably the best at this.
Recently, the likes of Beyoncé with her visual album, Katy Perry’s star-studded Swish Swish and Taylor Swift’s Girl Squad in Bad Blood have brought increased production values. For Beyoncé and Taylor especially, this has led to increased views on YouTube, and the increased exposure and income that brings.
However, sometimes the most interesting music videos are the ones that court controversy. Either because of points they’re making, attitudes they seem to have or just a willingness to be outrageous, these videos have all led to uproar, debate, and most importantly, controversy amongst the listening public.
10. Childish Gambino - This Is America
Childish Gambino’s This Is America was dropped surprisingly in Summer 2018, with a music video that got everybody talking instantly.
The video was most controversial for showing a deadpan Gambino machine gun down an Episcopalian choir. However, to dismiss the video as simple violence avoids its key message, almost deliberately.
The whole thing is overflowing with imagery. The gunning down is clearly representative of the Charleston Massacre, but there’s also the fact the gun is handled with care in a velvet cloth. The bodies, contrastingly, are left to rot.
The music video begins with a delicately handled gun again, as Gambino strikes a famous Jim Crow pose and shoots a smiling guitarist. A bag is wrapped around the guitarist’s head and he is unceremoniously dragged off.
Add in the fact the happy guitarist is styled to look like Trayvon Martin’s father, and the layers get deeper.
Then there’s the police violence going on constantly in the background of the video. The schoolchildren present though just watch Gambino dancing, filming it on their phones. Whether this is a critique of youth or showing their only outlet is entertainment is left unclear.
Politics and music have always mixed, but that didn’t save This Is America from controversy.