It seems to be the onus of an artist: to be relevant, their music has a demand to be political – any less, and it stands accused of being prosaic. Childish Gambino, with the release of two-track Summertime Pack, exemplifies this strange polemic on the pop culture of today. Summertime Pack and its predecessor This is America are two conflicting extremes: the latter a nuanced, yet nonetheless venomous criticism of the state of America; the former a splash of cool water, a fleeting relief from the stifling political climate bleeding into our music.
Summertime Magic, the A-side, is set to be the lead single from Glover’s forthcoming album, and allegedly the last under the moniker Childish Gambino. Deliciously sultry, with its peppering of steel drums and grenadine syrup-sweet lyrics, “You feel like summertime / You took this heart of mine / You’ll be my valentine in the summer, in the summer”, Summertime Magic chooses style over substance. It sounds just fine: that’s what Gambino fans are going to find so difficult to reconcile themselves with. It’s just fine. At times it seems like Donald Glover never truly decided just who Childish Gambino is. For an artist who is almost shamanic, showing his listeners the path to “wokeness”, he seems to take many a wrong turn. It leaves you scratching your head thinking “Who are you, really? What exactly do you want to be?”
The B-side, Feels Like Summer, seems to take a more kicked back tone, lightly tropical, with a Marvin Gaye-esque falsetto. The vocoder vocals coupled with the repetitive instrumental feel tepid and lacking in some variety to arrest your attention for its five-minute duration. The two tracks feel a little air-headed and vacant. They ultimately lack the progressive intelligence and individuality that we’ve fallen in love with when it comes to Gambino. Summertime Pack is so lacklustre, it wouldn’t be shocking if it were deliberate; perhaps there’s some higher meaning to it than this? One could only hope. It’s a shame that “hollow” and “retiring” are words that here, you could describe an artist who is one of the greatest creatives of our generation.