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Childish Gambino – Heartbeat

Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover just released his newest video for his album Camp. There has been mixed reaction to the video as some people expected an over the top visual feat. The visuals that his techno-fused track and reflective lyrics suggest may be one of a crowded rave full of dancing hipsters but what he delivered was something more nuanced. This was a video that really rewarded those of us that are moved by style over substance. If you’re more about grand gestures you may find the “Niggas in Paris” video to be a bit more to your liking.

Now look I might just be stupid. Remember that for later because you might’ve picked all this up from the original song “Heart Beat” on Donald Glover’s “Camp” album. While I love the song and picked up all the clever bars I don’t think I truly had an understanding for the changing dynamic of the romantic relationship the song is centered around until I saw this video.

At its heart Heartbeat is a song about control. Upon first listen it may come off as a song about a couple who just needs to break up. At least that’s how I took it. It was about a couple who needed to move on but was stuck in that awkward phase of “what are we?” They were driven by familiarity of their past involvement and unable to move on completely from each other. We’ve all been there.

But the song is actually much more complex than that. It’s about Donald Glover’s realization that he’s actually not as in control of this relationship as he’d like to think. The video is a perfect illustration of that. Often the symbolism for control in American metaphors is “being in the driver’s seat” right?

Well in the video Glover starts off in the driver’s seat as he’s chauffeuring this woman around. His swagger in the front seat is one of cockiness. Not a brash heavy handed approach but a coy self assured flirtation that takes place in subtle glance and eventually is requited by the girl sharing her food with him.

Juxtapose this action with that of the actual verse on the song and you can see that he’s clearly under the assumption that he’d dictating his terms to his lover. Lines like:

  • “I come around when you least expect me. I’m sitting at the bar when your glass is empty.”

He’s coordinating what looks like a chance encounter but clearly he’s orchestrated these circumstances to approach his ex for a meet up.

  • “You start calling. You start crying. I come over. I’m inside you.”

So his earlier text messages and tactics at the club worked to break her down to where he could come over and rekindle that passion while still seeming disinterested to boot.

  • “And I’ma flirt with this new girl. And I’ma call if it don’t work.”

So his ex is his fall back plan for a late night booty call but nothing more to him at this point.

  • “I’m a ghost and you know this. That’s why we broke up in the first place.”

So he’s basically saying he wasn’t around emotionally and that’s why they aren’t together. This passive aggressively implies he was in control of the relationship.

During the second stanza of the song the video takes a twist as Glover and the woman he’s been chauffeuring both make out in the back seat. I think this symbolizes the passion of their complicated relationship. You see Donald is obviously lost in the emotion and intensity of rekindling this relationship. It’s evidenced in the second verse that he’s beginning to lose the illusion of control over his ex. Here are some lines from the verse.

  • “It’s late night Thursday. I KNOW that you heard me. But you don’t want the same thing. Well two can play that game. So I’m chilling with my girlfriend but she’s not my real girlfriend. She got a key to my place but she’s not my  REAL girlfriend!”

Now Donald is trying to make her jealous of him moving on. But the entire time he’s simply doing this to get the attention of his ex. This is another sign that he’s not really in control as he’d like to think.

  • “I’m paranoid that these girls want something from me and it’s hard to make a dime go 100!”

Right there he’s saying now that he realizes that he can’t trust other women and he’s longing for the love of his ex.

  • “I miss the sex where you kiss when you’re through. 69 is the only dinner for two. I was wrong but would you have listened to you?”

So now he’s finally admitting they shouldn’t have broken up and he’s still crazy about her and misses genuine intimacy.

As the second verse wraps up the girl hops up from the back seat make out session while Donald clearly wants to continue. She then hops in the driver’s seat and begins driving him to an unknown destination. Remember what we said about the driver’s seat symbolizing control right? And to top it off Donald Glover is clearly upset about this. He’s not being chauffeured like she was in the start of the video. He’s being DRIVEN to somewhere he obviously doesn’t want to go. I think this is symbolic of her actually breaking it off officially with him. The verse of the song becomes angrier as he’s stewing over his new realization that he was NEVER actually in control of this relationship. Lines from the 3rd verse:

  • “So we’re done? Is this the real shit? We used to hold hands like field trips!”

So now he’s mad that she’s decided to move on from him and he’s missing that connection.

  • “I’m a jerk but your man is a real dick! I see his post on your wall and I feel sick!”

Yep the guy that Donald Glover was laughing at in the first verse has actually “won” the affections of Glover’s ex. So now he’s just hating on him like a petty child.

  • “I’m the best that you had face it! J and Keysha are related? Racist! I gave you money and you burnie’d and you made off! She ain’t a killer but she’ll fucking blow your head up! I know he’s wondering what the fuck we’re hiding. That we dated like raps about Bin Laden!”

These are all personal attacks against her. He’s calling her a racist for thinking J Cole and Keysha Cole were related because they have the same last name. Then he accuses her of being a gold digger. Finally, he threatens to reveal their past to her man.

At the end of the video she gets out the car and leaves him alone in the car. She’s obviously moving on and not even concerned about him any more. And he’s reduced to begging and hoping she’ll come back. He even has a line in the song. “But not really. You say the nastiest things in bed and it’s fucking awesome.” He’s been reduced to a shell of the confident dude who was driving her around in the first verse.

And thanks to this excellent video I now fully realize the true narrative of the song. Genius!

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  1. Miss Krysable

    02/29/2012 at 10:53 AM

    I love the song, I love the video. You’re right it is all about control and being in the drivers seat. But do you want to know my favorite part of the video, the Hot Cheetos Mr Glover was eating.

  2. RichJones15

    02/22/2012 at 8:13 AM

    Awesome breakdown sir!!!

  3. Everest Arnstrong

    02/19/2012 at 4:32 PM

    Rod this was a great read!!! I love how you broke down the video and ur explanation gave me a btr understanding of the song and the video. Childish gambino is a really artistic dude and this makes me more excited to see him live.

  4. had one of those moments reading this post “you know what, you know you right” great post man

  5. Awesome interpretation Rod. It’s much better than my own. I thought that it was a reinactment of the “Eddie Murphy picking up transsexuals” scandal. That was based upon the dated clothes and car.

  6. Regine Gustave

    02/15/2012 at 5:25 PM

    great post! i totally didn’t get that video before

  7. Fantastic analysis of the video and getting a deeper meaning of a good song. Good work man.

  8. I would expect this from CG. Bouncing around in a nightclub or soundstage wouldn’t have done this song justice. The storytelling video is a lost art.

  9. I, like you, did not fully understand this song until after seeing the video. A lightbulb went off like “hey! THAT’S what he’s talking about!” I love your analysis.

  10. hey Rod!! you were the salt in my pot of water that led to my boiling affection for Donald Glover… love your analysis!! You should do more posts like this one =]

    bye Rod!!

    Hey Karen!!

  11. Rod your breakdown is excellent. Most insightful dude I that I (fake) know. And this vid is simply genius. When I posted the Heartbreak vid on my blog a few days ago, I only put one word: Genius. This is a great explanation of that. I fux wit you dude. For real.

  12. I agree, the video adds to the depth of the song. Great post

  13. Tye Diamond

    02/14/2012 at 5:27 PM

    Great post and hopefully more people can get and appreciate the genius of Mr. Gambino. I kinda got some of the tones from the music but the video went over my head. Glad you broke it down.

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