Kelly Turner ’18
Horrible events which, to many, hint at an ever-looming dystopia, also have the capacity to inspire great reactionary work in the art world. Gorillaz, the brain child of musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, is an English animated band which has had great success with their reactionary, dystopian albums. The band’s animated characters were created to mock the trend of idolizing musicians – they serve as virtual masks which conceal the real team of musicians creating the music fans so adore. Humanz is the most recent album released by the eighteen-year-old band, and, like past releases, it focuses on a current event which threatens the world as we know it. This album predicts a world in which Donald Trump is elected president, which was a bleak prospect to the creative minds behind the band while they produced songs in 2016. In an interview with Billboard, Albarn explains that “Trump’s ascension was one of the sources of energy that we meditated on, when it was like, ‘Ahh, that’s ridiculous, that could never happen,’” he explains. Humanz, like past Gorillaz works, is infused with multiple genres and influences, taking the listener on a journey of controversial thought.
As they have done in the past, Gorillaz collaborated with big names in Hip Hop and R&B, such as Vince Staples, Pusha T, De La Sol, PopCaan, and Kelela. Throughout the album’s diverse list of tracks, synth beats string each concept together into a more cohesive storyline. With the multitude of different voices brought in for this project, Humanz comes across as more of a compilation of ideas and references.
Songs such as “Ascension” with Vince Staples and “Let Me Out” with Mavis Staples and Pusha T pulse with a palpable anger, tangible through the powerful lyrics in each. In “Ascension”, Staples sets the stage for dystopia as he raps “Heard the world is ending soon I assumes that they told ya, They tryna dinosaur us, So now it’s time to go up.” This dystopic vision is infused with jabs at racial tensions and police brutality, both current ailments of American society. Staples raps, “Police everywhere, It’s like a n***a killed a white man…They hated on us since days of Moses/ Let my people go crazy/ Them stars falling don’t chase ‘em.” “Let Me Out” is a cry for freedom, as the title suggests. The lyrics are similarly relevant, with lines such as “Look into my eyes, mama, tell me what you see/ Tell me there’s a chance for me to make it off the streets/ Tell me I won’t die at the hands of the police.” “Let Me Out” also directly addresses the – predicted – change in American leadership and how Gorillaz predict it would threaten the well being of many Americans.
Many interludes are layered between statement songs as statements of their own. In one such interlude, a man leads a “non-conformist oath”, as a crowd blindly repeats his statements of individuality. This irony is one of the clever ways in which Gorillaz analyze not just current events, but how modern humans – humanz – operate.
The dystopia being created by Gorillaz and their collaborators is one minted from these tensions which cause strife and hysteria today, making it more of a hyper-realistic vision into the future for many listeners.