Aday before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Gorillaz released a song and music video, “Hallelujah Money,” featuring British artist and musician Benjamin Clementine. The song, a slow-paced, majestic lamentation on America’s current political situation, has a profound, gloomy message and eerily alarming visuals.
Created by lead singer Damon Albarn, Gorillaz are a British band known for their indescribably cool, dark songs that come in the form of stunningly beautiful elegies to faster-paced raps with angst-filled lyrics. The band’s music is so diverse and unique that Gorillaz’s collection has been characterized as everything from hip-hop to indie. And their peculiarity doesn’t stop at their music—Gorillaz are a virtual band comprised of four animated characters named 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russell who each contribute different sounds, vocals and instruments to songs and are also featured in the band’s music videos. “Hallelujah Money” is the band’s latest release in six years—and it has been much anticipated. The song and video begin with a static beep and an odd, otherworldly tune. The camera zooms in on a golden hallway with elevators that resemble those of Trump Tower. In an elevator, Clementine stands facing the camera with wide, disappointed eyes, clenching his fists, and at some points hiding behind a book. Behind him on a screen flashes cartoons of pigs, close-ups of eyes, horror-filled scenes of people screaming and even footage of the KKK.
With lyrics that mention Jerry Brown and building walls, the song is clearly anti-Trump, making a statement on the president’s power-hungriness, greed and complete and utter lack of compassion. Making a play off the Bible passage that proclaims that money is the root of evil, Clementine cleverly remarks on Trump’s antipathy, singing with his rich voice, “It is love, that is the root of all evil,” while the background church choir track echoes, “Hallelujah money.”
Indeed, the song is strikingly poignant, so there was no surprise when it sparked a huge reaction on Twitter and throughout social media. Gorillaz tweeted the day they dropped the single, “Here’s a lightning bolt of truth in a black night.” On board with that idea, many people applauded the track. An article in the UK Independent wrote, “A stuttering, ever-shifting return, Gorillaz’s first song in seven years is just as musically uncertain as the current outside world” (“Hallelujah Money: Gorillaz’s anti-Trump track puts a playful spin on dark times,” 01.19.2017). However, others were unimpressed—one review said, “[A]lmost none of the unique strengths of the band are highlighted” (Redbrick, “Single Review: Gorillaz – Hallelujah Money,” 01.25.2017).
As an avid fan, I was beyond excited for this release. Since I was a child, the Gorillaz has always been one of my favorite bands, and I emphatically believe that they have some of the most interesting music in the world. When “Hallelujah Money” came out I was ecstatic, but then after watching it, I was a little disappointed. Perhaps it was the fact that I have such high expectations for the band, but I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted more from their long-awaited comeback.
Most of my displeasure lied in the fact that I felt that “Hallelujah Money” wasn’t even a true taste of the Gorillaz. While I thought Clementine had a great voice and an eerie but powerful presence that matched the video’s ambiance, I missed Damon Albarn’s distant vocals, the beautiful but weird overlapping tunes and the intricate raps I always try to memorize but can never get exactly right. In other words, I wanted a fiery Gorillaz song and got a dirge starring someone else.
However, reflecting on this, I had to remind myself that the song was released a day before the inauguration, and therefore, it perhaps was not supposed to center solely around the Gorillaz and to merely serve as their brilliant comeback song. Instead, the song’s main purpose was to be a political statement. Taking this into account, I realized I was unfairly judging the track. The song isn’t only the Gorillaz’s new single—it’s protest art—which, to me, means it should be reviewed in a different context and not necessarily considered as a representation of the band’s collection.
Nevertheless, the way the song asserted its political dissent made me feel hopeless rather than riled up and ready for action. There is no doubt that the song is bold, disturbing and even beautiful. I loved that it attacked Trump so directly and featured distinctly rattling images and lyrics. However, I was taken aback by its slow, odd pace and sad vibe. In fact, Albarn drearily sings, “When the morning comes / We are still human / How will we know? / How will we dream? / How will we love?” The Gorillaz has always been a very critical band, but to me this song had more elements of grief than the outright sarcastic anger I was expecting from them. I wanted the song to cultivate more of a dynamic feeling of rebellion in me instead of a gloomy meditative mindset.
Regardless of the type of music you like, I would definitely give the song a listen. It has a firm anti-Trump sentiment and very bizarre, but interesting visuals that most people would find captivating. As for Gorillaz fans, I think we just need to wait a little longer, as excruciating as that is, until the new album comes out. Then, we can truly evaluate whether the band’s comeback is triumphant.