March 9, 2018

Donald Glover’s personality turn


In Ross Simonini’s The Book of Formation, a “turn” is a drastic, purposeful shift in personality. This could be accomplished with the help of others, or on one’s own. After a turn, an introvert can become an extrovert, the naive daydreamer can be the salty grump. A vegetable-hater can be a vegetarian.

Two recent celebrity turns include Jim Carrey and Taylor Swift, who have altered their selves in severe and sudden ways to suit their new lifestyles and careers.

The recent New Yorker profile of Donald Glover suggests that he, too, has completed a long-time-coming turn, and he has done so by using the kind of willpower he’s been developing his entire life. Here’s Glover from the profile:

“I realized, if I want to be good at P.E. I have to be good at basketball. So I went home and shot baskets in our driveway for six hours, until my mother called me in. The next day, I was good enough that you wouldn’t notice I was bad. And I realized my superpower.”

This “power” is how he transformed his personality, from the grinning eager comedian to the refined movie star.

In 2010, when he was gaining some notice from his standup and his work on Community, he appeared on The Nerdist podcast. He giggled through the recording. He cited Looney Tunes and Monty Python as influences, and said he wanted to be a puppeteer growing up.  He recounted the Simpsons spec script he wrote about Hall & Oates, the one that got him his job as a writer for 30 Rock. At this time in his life, he was a talker.

In 2011, around the time of his “I Am Donald” Childish Gambino tour, Glover appeared on The Anytime Show With Dominic Dierkes. He remains goofy in thick black glasses, embodying and cementing his “black nerd” persona, a kind of personal brand he liked to talk about in stand-up routines. He mocked the “somber” attitude of rappers with the interviewer.

This was the Donald Glover we knew.

In 2012, on Twitter, he wrote:

“I don’t think I’m the best. I don’t think being the best comes from having a lot of money or saying ‘I’m the best’ all the time. But I’m also not looking to be ‘some dude’. I don’t do anything hoping to end it with being ‘some dude’. I don’t think anyone person on earth should strive to be ‘just some dude’. I don’t wanna be that.”

As Glover has refined his acting skills, he’s revealed the deeper, more nuanced layers to his personality. He became better at playing the role of star, the talk show guest, telling cute stories the way a celebrity should. “Your job is to be as interesting as possible without actually saying anything,” he told the New Yorker.

In 2013 he left Community and announced, on Instagram: “I wanted to be on my own. I’ve been sick this year. I’ve seen a bunch of people die this year. This is my first time I’ve felt helpless.”

Around this time, he made a short film “Clapping for the Wrong Reasons” in which he wanders around a mansion smoking weed. Here, he is shedding the “nerd” of Community, and becoming the “rapper” archetype. He’s developed a swagger, a lag to his speech, a penchant for facial hair after years of being defined by baby face looks. He is, by all definitions, cooler.

He writes and stars in the show Atlanta, creating a new setting for himself — a hazy, subdued place that will support his new moody persona.

In 2017, he released Awaken My Love, a minimal, throwback soul record, and a radical stylistic departure from his three clever, wordy hiphop albums. The album has been far more successful than his previous releases, and when he wins a Grammy (his first) he expresses measured cynicism where he had once been effusive and wide-eyed. He’s clearly learned how to deflect some questions, how to answer some with heavy lidded disinterest, and how to give the ego sermons that Kanye has made so popular.

“I feel like Jesus,” he told the New Yorker. “I do feel chosen. My struggle is to use my humanity to create a classic work — but I don’t know if humanity is worth it, or if we’re going to make it. I don’t know if there’s much time left.”

The dark side, it seems, is what we all want in Donald Glover, and so it’s what he gives us in return.

We are not here to criticize or question this evolution but to celebrate it. Let us welcome the new, healthy turn among us. Congratulations, Donald. You’re a star.





The Personality Movement is an entirely fictitious gathering of psychic potentialities. You can learn all about them in Ross Simonini’s debut novel, The Book of Formation, out now.