“They say that I am the sick boy, easy to say when you don’t take the risk boy. Welcome to the narcissism! We’re united under our indifference!”
“This is America. Don’t catch you slippin’ up. Look how I’m livin’ now. Police be trippin’ now.”
“This is America” by Childish Gambino and “Sick Boy” by the Chainsmokers. Two uniquely different musical pieces from two polar opposite artists, both attempting to capture the universal feelings of twenty-first century America. Which one is better? Is it even possible to determine? Let’s examine them both.
“This is America,” is a song written by American rap artist and actor, Donald Glover (stage-name, Childish Gambino). Glover has a broad resume including work as a writer on hit shows like 30 Rock and Community, which he also cameoed and starred in; winning the Writers Guild of America award for best work in a comedy series. He has also done work in stand-up and has acted in several blockbuster hits. He is also, as stated previously, a rap artist. Ironically, he released a mixtape called Sick Boi in June 2008. His song, This is America, also features background vocals by rappers Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage, Quavo, and Offset. The song is accompanied by a provocative music video in that Gambino stars in. The song is essentially addressing the lives of African Americans within the bounds of the current political environment. There are references within the song to past injustices (e.g. slavery and segregation). The song however, also notes the rise of police violence, stereotyping, and a continuity of inequality, that even today, people are still unable to rise above. The lyrics are cutting, edgy, and don’t pull any punches. “This is America.” The song is occasionally punctuated with shotgun noises. The accompanying video only serves to elevate the message. In the video, Gambino guns down a church choir, most likely in reference to the Charleston massacre. That is just one of the many chaotic scenes that the video lays before our eyes. Gambino does everything in his power to create a message that encapsulates the feelings of Black America. The only downside to the song, is that it does not pack the same punch without the video. Without the video, the music comes across as sloppy and lacking in direction. The message is still there; but without the visuals to empower it and bring life to it, it falls a little flat.
“Sick Boy” is a song written by the Chainsmokers. You know the Chainsmokers, right? They’ve written several of the top pop hits in the past couple years. “Closer”, “Paris”, “Roses”, “Don’t Let me Down”, “Inside Out”, “New York City”, and “Something Just like This”, all featuring prominent artists such as Coldplay, Halsey, and Daya. You also might remember them for what most considered the most annoying song of the decade, “#Selfie”. The Chainsmokers are two American DJs, Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart. “#Selfie” was their first big hit but their song, “Roses,” put them on the map. “Roses” ended up in the top 10 in the Billboard Top 100. The groups name came from the fact that Alex Pall liked to smoke weed in college. With their catchy earworm beats, yet shallow and insipid lyrics, it was difficult to take the Chainsmokers seriously. They certainly redeemed themselves from “#Selfie” with their pop hits; but like many pop songs, they lacked a certain depth. All of the songs seemed to be about running into exes, smoking weed, living life to the fullest, be happy, let’s run away to Paris on a spontaneous trip, typical first world issues. Yet the songs were upbeat, fun to sing along to, and generally harmless.
I was content to write the Chainsmokers off as a guilty pleasure artist that had a home in my Spotify playlists, until I listened to one of their newest songs, “Sick Boy”. I have never heard a song that better captures the problems of our current decade better than this song. There are very little details about actual issues, but the emotions are all there. “Don’t believe the narcissism where everyone projects and expects you to listen to them.” “I’m from the East Side of America where we choose pride over character. We can pick sides but this is us.” “We desensitize by hysteria.” “Feed yourself with my life’s work. How many likes is my life worth?” Every single lyric is jam packed with the emotions that most of us face when discovering a new continent-wide problem. It hits the nail on the head. We get angry, but do nothing. We hear a problem; react, and then forget about it. We picks sides and pretend that it makes us a better person, because we’re on the side of good. Our talking does nothing, our anger does nothing, until we take action, we are useless. “Sick Boy” is the most culturally relevant song of the year, possibly the decade.
It is very difficult for me to go back and forth between these two songs and say definitively which is better. What I have come to, is that they are both critiques of American in their own ways. They address different issues yet both encompass the emotional turmoil of the times. However, I will stand by this, Sick Boy by the Chainsmokers is the better song. It is lyrically simple yet emotionally charged. This is America is edgy but it only really works as a performance piece when it shown with the video. It loses its message as a stand-alone song. Therefore, while I think that “This is America” is better as a whole, “Sick Boy” is the one that is the better stand alone song. Either way, they both convey a message and feeling that is desperately needed in these times.