Just Thoughts On: The Sober Music Video
Sober has grown on me as a video. I was initially down on the video because it would drop the audio during the chorus and it was off-putting to have some parts of it lip-synced while the rest wasn’t. Yet there’s something captivating about the video. Sure, the dancing is fun and well-executed.
What I got from it is that it’s very similar to love. Moreso than the song would have initially suggested. The video starts out with Donald Glover noticing his next love. He’s playing up the drug addict angle here. Love has often been compared to a drug and this is merely a visual representation of the lasting effects it has had on him. He notices her and makes his intentions known. First, he does it meekly. That gets nothing but a glance. Timidness will not get the results that he wants.
So he proceeds with a more direct approach. He tries to not only get her attention but to also give off an air of both sincerity and playfulness. He sets out a basic proposal. All of this is seen through a slightly unfiltered viewpoint that makes each action off-putting even if only slightly. She rebukes this advance by showing disgust and moving away from him. This puts him at a crossroads. He sits staring at her as she leaves. Then he stares forwards as he contemplates his next course of action. After a few moments he looks at her again having made his choice as he moves his body to face her. His legs move up and down as he musters up the courage to try again. This is then visually represented by his outbreak of dancing. Already, this chase as become an exciting venture for him. He floats off screen as the chorus mentions how high he is.
This next scene is ambiguous for me. He sits in the seat directly behind her and starts addressing her with the next verse. His lip-syncing and fondness are exaggerated as he is talking about the wonders of love. Yet, she only seems to react when he first sits there. There’s twinges of reaction but not enough to convince me that this part is not also part of a visual representation of something happening in his mind.
He then stands up and essentially performs magic tricks. One of the most important parts of magic is having the attention of the audience. Clearly this is another ploy to get her to pay attention to him.
Here’s where things start to fall apart in how I interpret the video. His note to her about being so high is the start of a transition of the video into something more metaphorical that I grew attached to. Yet, it can also be read on a simpler level. Let’s start with the simple observation that it’s just a funny moment in this video. For all the nonsense I throw at Donald Glover, I’ve never considered him to not be funny.
The surface reading that this was his cute way of expressing his feelings. Saying he’s so high is saying that he really has feelings for this girl. It was initially meant to be a final statement as he walks away after delivering the egg. However, he feels the need to add more to his cause. The dance interlude directly after this part can be seen as the continuation of his efforts. They appear to be working as she doesn’t look at him like a threat while he is doing this routine. She actually smiles. She’s obviously entertained by his routine only jokingly rolling her eyes now. Despite herself, she decides to get up and dance with him. Sort of. She dances with him for a moment or two before she laughs off the thing and walks to get her food. He starts to follow her thinking he’s won her over but as he sees her walking to get the food he stops dancing. It’s not an instantaneous stop, but rather it tapers off as the realization washes over him. He stands in a dumbfounded position while she walks out but not before she gives him one last look. He gives makes one last rhythmic move before walking back to his previous position.
I liked to view it as more of a timeline of their relationship. He is already hurt from before so he’s still not quite sure how to approach things. He was still timid in his initial approach but then tried again while being off-putting entirely. He musters up the courage and tries again. The dancing in the background can also be seen as your attempts don’t matter if the other person doesn’t see them. He realizes this and gets closer to her. He goes bigger with it and wins her over. The dancing interlude can then be the relationship. He’s trying to be fun and get her out of her shell. She slowly warms up to him more and more but then decides that she doesn’t want him after all. She goes back to what she was originally working towards. This original goal is represented by the food. He thought her breakup was in jest as he went to follow her out the door thinking they could leave this attraction/chase phase and move on to the next step. When she heads towards her original goal, he realizes that it was just a small diversion. She leaves to her next step without him but not before looking back at him one last time. He has that one last rhythmic move as a nostalgic moment for what he just lost. He tries to keep it going but just like that it’s gone and it leaves him sullen and empty again. He then proceeds to go back right to where he was before having not learned anything from the experience.
Of course, having written all of that, I know that’s bull. While studying this video to write this article up, I paid attention to the beginning and ending of the video. The clock above Gambino is at the same position despite the time change that should have at least happened as a result of the song. So in the end I’ll just conclude it was all in his head. That alone leaves a lot of what happened up to interpretation. The initial surface reading feels more realistic with the cartoonish antics being simple exaggerations of what could have happened.
All in all, it’s actually a really strong video. I still feel like this song should be experienced as a song first so that the music is appreciated properly. But the video is an experience in its own right as well. I’m lucky this came out in 2015 so it already has a chance at being my top video for the year.