Childish Gambino and the Metamodern Ennui: Why Because the Internet Is the Most Significant Album in Recent Memory

Or, 8 Reasons Why Because the Internet Will Change Your Life #Clickbait

This is the first in a series of four essays examining how Childish Gambino's Because the Internet functions as part of a new avant-garde in contemporary art.

Hey, did you know Childish Gambino is Troy from Community?! Did you know he got "Childish Gambino" by plugging "Donald Glover" into a Wu-Tang Clan name generator?! Camp SUCKED! And, for real, did that dude just lose it last year or what?! #breakdown What about that twitter BS he pulled with the "Sweatpants" video?! Who does this guy think he is?!


Ted Gioia's discussion of music criticism's shift toward "lifestyle reporting" in lieu of "the art" is sharp, thorough, and painfully accurate. Does lifestyle reporting alter which artists receive media attention? Yes. Will Gioia's call-to-arms be met with renewed focus on reviewing "just the art?" No. As our worlds fill up with more and more plays for our attention, our inherent barriers to investment grow. Bon Iver is without question an incredible talent, for instance, but would Justin Vernon & Co. be as popular as they are without the "holed up in a cabin in Wisconsin" image that virtually every review propped up alongside the re-release of For Emma, Forever Ago?

Part of the joy of engaging with music, like any art form, is the conversation it generates. This engagement is a chance to receive, interpret, and respond #thisarticle. The Internet, in its instantaneity, undercuts gatekeeper control of this conversation. While this has led to plenty of positive externalities (the unprecedented convergence and blurring of genre is one of the most remarkable aspects of contemporary music), it has created a scenario in which, if media outlets want to remain relevant, they need clicks. An article on @NME is no longer just competing with @RollingStone, but a torrent of blogs, vlogs, and tweets. And if these organizations need clicks to survive, they, by necessity, must post what they believe will generate them. The Internet is an ever-unfolding war for these clicks, and, as Cersei Lannister reminds us, "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."


Lifestyle reporting has existed as long as art -- what Gioia in fact resents is the feedback loop that's sprung up as a result of the click war, devaluing pesky critical arguments that require involved attention in favor of quick stats and gossip fodder. In other words, this is a feedback loop that can only exist, because, you guessed it, the Internet.

Of course, none of this is new information, it's just here to lay the groundwork for the discussion I'd like to have: the one about Childish Gambino, and how he's one of the most fascinating products of the Internet, how his awareness of that fact led him to craft one of the most culturally and artistically significant albums of the decade, how this astonishing sophomore effort was overlooked because of the very Internet that birthed it, and how the album lies at the vanguard of an exciting new artistic paradigm.

Earlier this year, Shia Laboeuf catapulted metamodernism into the national (and international) eye as one of the premiere theories seeking to capture the essence of the post-postmodern moment. Where modernism foregrounded the pursuit of meaning, postmodernism sought to undermine the idea that objective meaning could exist at all. Metamodernism casts these two ends as poles to oscillate between--incorporating both deconstruction (irony, pastiche) and pursuit-of-meaning (sincerity) in an attempt to simultaneously transcend both. This is all oversimplification for brevity's sake; more detailed reading can be found with the original text, the Metamodernist Manifesto, the essays at Notes on Metamodernism, and elsewhere.

The shift in music criticism as a result of the Internet solidifies the relevance of metamodernism as the de facto expressive mode for Generation Y (the oft-discussed "Millennials"). Which is where Because the Internet fits in.

The Internet allows us to live increasingly fractured, niche, performed lives -- no matter how consistent, we develop varied personae on social media, dependent upon the form -- but they are still our lives. We are aware that our brains are morphing and our attention spans shrinking alongside our empathy. In the way that important art should attempt to provide a more nuanced understanding of the human condition, metamodernsim (and by proxy Because the Internet #internetpun) aren't simply interested in calling attention to these ideas, but reconstructing something from the debris. In the following installments, I'll detail the ways that Because the Internet exhibits this ethos, filtered through the listed tenets of the Metamodernist Manifesto.