Donald Glover strides onto the stage, looking every inch like he owns it. Eyes wide, grinning, he surveys the Lovebox crowd – huge, and growing – before belting out the opening scream of ‘Me and Your Mama’. If anyone was in doubt before, their minds are now at ease: Childish Gambino is a headline act.
Glover is everywhere. As the driving force behind Atlanta, he’s responsible for the best thing on TV now, period. In Solo, his smooth take on Lando Calrissian was the highlight. Soon, he’ll be voicing Simba in the live-action remake of The Lion King. There’s even talk of him landing the role of Willy Wonka in a big-budget prequel film that could kick off a cinematic universe.
However, on that warm July evening in Gunnersbury Park, Donald Glover felt more there than anywhere else. As rap alter-ego Childish Gambino the 34-year-old performed a set that fluctuated from the gorgeous falsettos of ‘Redbone’ to the thumping aggression of ‘Sweatpants’, before ending – of course – on ‘This Is America’, the song that broke the internet back in May.
In a world where everyone’s a polymath (here’s looking at you, James Franco’s poetry), Glover’s presence cuts a unique figure: a true multi-disciplinarian, at the top of the game in all of his chosen mediums. As an actor, writer, director and musician, his output – in terms of both quantity and quality – is unrivalled. If he were to turn around tomorrow and reveal a hidden talented for oil painting, nobody at this stage would bat an eyelid.
Until this year, the Chidlish Gambino project felt like the little brother in that family. Though respected, Glover’s music always seemed to fall just shy of the critical acclaim usually reserved for his creative endeavours. However, following from the success of Awaken My Love!, Glover’s summer festival circuit seems to have capitulated Gambino to new heights. Chuck in the aforementioned ‘This Is America’, and it’s difficult to see him as anything other than one of the most exciting musicians currently working.
So, back on that warm July evening, when Donald Glover entered the stage looking every inch like he owned it, that’s because he did. If anyone in the Lovebox crowd was in doubt before, they were a minority. And that minority left with their heads turned. Nobody could even hope to guess where he’ll take things next, but we can all agree: it’s going to be exciting as hell watching him do it.
Words by Niall Flynn