What was that about?: Childish Gambino and Telegraph Ave Music Video



There’s a moments silence and then… ” Why don’t you write about that on your blog?”

I do tend to get a sort of stunned silence after a rant, because I’m generally not a huge opinion sharer, but every now then I go for it. (I think, generally, in polite conversation, it’s boring for the other person to listen to you expound your opinions and secondly, no matter what you say, you’re never going to change someone’s opinion) But I wasn’t expecting to be told to write about it, though my blog is definitely about sharing my opinions.

Before I get into it, though, I’m a huge fan of Childish Gambino, and I’m not a music critic. So, there’ll be no Donald Glover bashing here, just me talking about the music video, because it’s kind of an odd one and I think it has an interesting lesson for film makers.

Childish Gambino’s videos are usually really visually and narratively interesting, sometimes with an important element of the story becoming clear at the end. They’re generally a bit unusual, one telling a ghost story, another showing the artist inhabiting every customer in a diner, which leads to some interesting theories online about how all the stories could be interconnected. I do love a bit of online theorizing.

That said, I’m not one to get into creating them, but after watching the video for Telegraph Ave the other day, and the link is above, I was kind of struck by the whole thing. Technically it all works, and it looks good, but there’s that bit on the end that feels kind of… tacked on. What just happened? He has tentacles coming out of his face?

SO, let’s go back to the beginning. The music video starts with the main character, Gambino, driving somewhere. The scenery is lush the tones dulled, and the general feeling is a bit like a perfume ad or any other romantic music video, as he meets up with a girl, they canoodle and end up at the beach. Night finds them still on the sand, and they wander back through a forest, only to have Gambino struck by an car, after which the drivers jump out and warn the girl that it’s dangerous and she shouldn’t be out in the dark woods alone. Then tentacles sprout from Gambinos face and the girl stares at him rather than running away screaming.

What just happened? How did our perfume ad suddenly become a monster flick?

It comes down to, and here’s the lesson kids, poor use of foreshadowing. Essentially, films use a kind of code and the audience reads them. If you show them that something is, for example, a western and then put aliens in at the end, without hinting before hand that there will be sci fi elements, then the viewer feels cheated or just confused. So you foreshadow events a little, and they won’t feel tacked on or like an afterthought.

To return to our music clip, watch it again: she’s leading him to the beach, there’s a man there who seems to have a negative reaction to Gambino’s female companion, she also doesn’t enter the water but stays watching on the sand. He enters the water during the day, but exits at night. He’s not alone in the water. She leads him from the ocean into the forest. There’s a shot of her finger twitching at the very end as Gambino’s tentacles emerge, as though the two are connected facts. She shows no fear or surprise at his change.  These fragments are there, but are not highlighted or clear enough as you are watching the clip to know that a different story is being told than a basic love story.


In fact, I was sitting there for a minute or two after the video ended before it suddenly clicked: boy meets girl, she draws him in, seduces him and leads  him to the water, where a man recognises that something is wrong with her. Gambino enters the water, apparently swimming with a dolphin, and he is “infected” with the monster which is revealed later, which is all part of her plan. Hours later he emerges from the water, where she has been waiting for him, and takes him  into the forest. Meanwhile, the man who recognised her has gone for help, and drives through the dark woods. The men mistake him for the monster that has been lurking in the woods, and hit him with the car to rescue the girl, and warn her about the danger in the woods. It backfires, because though his infection with the tentacled creature is revealed to us, she was actually the one who tricked him into being infected, presumably so she could have a companion. So she does not react to his change or the events unfolding.

I think that’s actually a great story, but by trying to keep the audience guessing as to what will happen, the film maker has kind of shot himself in the foot by withholding too much, and not showing us any signs of what will occur at the end. Sure, you don’t want your audience to find your films predictable, but it would be nice if people didn’t find them incomprehensible too, right?



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