This week, Donald Glover revealed several virtual reality elements to accompany the rollout of his new record, Awaken, My Love! (which drops on Friday, December 2). In addition to offering a VR vinyl edition of the record—whose VR element is currently unclear—the multi-hyphenate also released an in-concert style virtual experience, recorded during his live PHAROS event in Joshua Tree this past September.
And while it’s cool and all, is it at all necessary for Glover fans who have waited patiently for this record? Nah. Though I will obviously have to wait to test the VR album to see what that entails fully, I already know that I am not excited for new Childish Gambino music because of record label-approved marketing gimmicks—I’m interested in the new Childish Gambino album because of Glover’s media-defying M.O.. I am interested because he has become legitimately great as a musical artist throughout his short discography, moving from a corny punchline rapper to a thoughtful rapper to a heartfelt singer. I am interested because of Atlanta, which offered one of TV’s strangest, smartest perspectives on what black identity means in 2016. And mostly, I am interested to see how a new album that finds inspiration in Funkadelic and Herbie Hancock adds yet another layer of depth and dialogue to his vast web of creative output.
Nothing Glover makes stands alone, and that is the most compelling aspect of of his polymathic talents. The three dimensionality is already there.
Event albums and rollouts for larger cash-cow acts have hit such a saturation point since 2013, that it is beyond fashionable—it’s expected. Sometimes the quality justifies the method—Beyonce’s Lemonade was excellent; Frank Ocean’s messy double album and magazine rollout was also great—but more often than not, it just feels like the new normal when a bunch of music videos all drop on the same day or when a “surprise” album magically appears on a streaming service. Of course, none of that shit matters remotely if the art is low stakes or if the music is bad. The market floods and the dense, shiny objects sink to the bottom.
So while a VR experience for the new Childish Gambino is a cool idea—and by all means check out the live one to get a glimpse of what his PHAROS concert looked like—it also runs the risk of feeling like a hollow marketing effort within the current music release landscape. Like, will the VR album feel cool even in a world where Playstation VR is legitimately mind blowing? Or will it just be another disposable Google Cardboard-esque experience (I hope the former!!) The more unconventional thing for Glover to do here is just let the music do the work–his album rollout was a critically acclaimed television show. That is immersive in a real, substantial way–not “immersive” in a #brand way where an exec shows you a Prezi instead of a Powerpoint. There will always be this increasingly fine line between marketing and art, but that makes it increasingly important to remember why and how you are listening to an artist. Take Glover’s advice on “Redbone” and stay woke.
What do you all think? Let us know in the comments below.
Image: Glassnote Records
Matt Grosinger is the music editor for Nerdist and can’t wait to get his hands on the new Childish Gambino record.