It’s hard to say that Donald Glover is a “tortured artist” when he’s netting festival spots and Grammy nominations as Childish Gambino and building a writing/producing/acting showcase in a TV pilot for FX. But 2013’s Because The Internet was a noticeably darker jump from his half punchline-laden, half-sort-of-serious debut, Camp – the kind of album that raised emotional red flags even by its cover. Was he crying before the picture was taken? Was he just supremely high? Maybe both, and he’s not afraid to show it?
A cut like “Sober” from the mixtape/EP combo pack, STN MTN/Kauai, shouldn’t have to be dissected in such debate though. In fact, it’s a story as old as time: he dated a girl. They stopped dating. Now he’s going to buy the entire liquor store, get twice as high as he looked on that album cover, and make a spacey funk-pop jam that gives his sugary falsetto the spotlight. The new Gambino model, though, seems to be if a song doesn’t come off as a cry for help, make it one in the music video. “Sweatpants” is pure braggadocio over a standard issue trap beat, but the video insists he’s having a mental breakdown where everyone has stolen his face. The video for “Telegraph Ave” couldn’t possibly be a downer with its Hawaiian setting and Jhene Aiko by his side. But womp womp, it turns out that Gambino was an unlovable tentacle monster all along.
On “Sober”, the clear and present danger is just by how Glover looks. Enrolled in the Michael Jackson/“The Way You Make Me Feel” school of pursuing a disinterested girl by dance, without consent, Gambino erratically sways his way into the girl’s booth, looking convincingly coked up and emaciated. After an initial flop where he can’t even get the words out, he puts on a bizarre magic show (favorite part: he materializes a cracked egg on the table with the profound message, “I’m so high,” scrolled inside) that brings the girl to jokingly dance with him before picking up her food and bailing. Gambino should’ve taken the hint that it’s a bit creepy to be picking up a girl in a diner after hours, but beyond that, it might be time somebody called up Glover and asked if he needs a shoulder to cry on for a while.