Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer” is the climate change anthem of 2018

In July, Childish Gambino (aka musician/actor/writer/force of nature Donald Glover) released a new single called “Feels Like Summer.” The animated video, released last month, features cameos, so to speak, from a wide range of hip-hop artists and—in a loaded moment—Michelle Obama.

There’s so much happening in the video that it’s easy to miss some of what Gambino is doing lyrically. This was true to an even greater extent, of course, for “This is America,” Gambino’s powerful meditation on gun violence, race, and the perception of black entertainers in America. There’s no shortage of complex, historically-informed lyrical and visual messages in “This is America.” So much has been written about the song and video that the New York Times actually published an article that aggregates some of the better analyses.

As a follow-up, “Feels Like Summer” is almost subdued and you could easily mistake it for a simple anthem celebrating the joys of the season (cue Will Smith wiping his car down in the video). But the more you listen to the lyrics, the clearer it is that this is a song about, among other things, climate change and the need to immediately shift our behavior in order to save each other and the planet.

In the first verse, you get a hint of what’s to come: Seven billion souls that move around the sun / Rolling faster, faster and not a chance to slow down / Slow down / Men who made machines that want what they decide

In the second verse, Gambino makes it clear that this song is about the ways in which we’re destroying the world around us. He touches on global warming, the lack of potable water in many parts of the world (see the recent water crisis in Cape Town), the ongoing decline in bee populations, and recent news of an uptick in bird extinctions: Every day gets hotter than the one before / Running out of water, it's about to go down / Go down / Air that kill the bees that we depend upon / Birds were made for singing / Waking up to no sound / No sound

Before the choruses, there’s a repeated set of lyrics that varies each time. It shifts between an acknowledgment that the world is changing no matter what we do and a message that we can have an impact by actively creating positive change:  

  • Oh, I know you know that pain / I'm hopin' that this world will change / But it just seems the same / (It is not the same)

  • Oh, I hope we change / I really thought this world would change / But it seems like the same

  • On the third repetition, as the song fades out, the final lyric is simple Oh, I hope we change

Now, I’m not claiming that this is the first or only song to address these issues. That said, to have someone with Donald Glover’s popularity and sheer lyrical intelligence dropping tracks about climate change is huge.

Climate change is already affecting day-to-day life for many people and it could reach catastrophic levels in the next 20 years. Despite all this, it’s often low on the list of issues that matter to people in the United States. It also doesn’t help that climate change has been framed repeatedly as scientifically contested (it’s not) and partisan (again, no).

If we continue to see and hear messages of urgency and hope from artists like Donald Glover, maybe climate change will become an issue that we all agree needs our immediate attention and action. Oh, I hope we change.