Donald Glover is no longer a blerd
OPINION: He was one of the leaders of the blerd tribe, but with his new Amazon Prime series, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," he's too cool to still be a blerd.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Donald Glover has long been one of the patron saints of Black nerds. He, along with De La Soul, Andre 3000, Questlove, Issa Rae and Jordan Peele, have been some of the leaders of the blerd tribe. But in Glover’s new TV show “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” on Amazon Prime, he’s a spy who’s suave, smart and tough. He’s an ex-military man who’s just as comfortable wielding a gun as he is opening his shirt to his navel. He spends a lot of time in the early episodes with his chest all the way out like he’s proud of how much time he spent in the gym. You can be a nerd or a blerd if your shirt is buttoned all the way up and you’re working inside a CIA office shuffling papers, but when you’re out in the field, wearing your shirts wide open, killing people with machetes and handling all of this with aplomb, I’m sorry you aren’t a blerd anymore. The cool Black nerd vibe Glover was giving us for years is gone. RIP.
I’ve always been a sucker for the blerd vibe. Those are my people. When I first heard De La Soul, the kings of hip-hop blerd, I realized that within the world of ’80s hip-hop, they represented me. When I first saw Glover on “Community,” I realized he, too, was one of us.
Let me take a step back. When I was growing up, being considered a nerd was one of the ultimate disses — it meant you were really smart but, also, interpersonally inept. Nerds were ridiculed for their inability to express themselves with the ease of the cooler people. But millennials reclaimed and recontextualized the word. They had to — in a world where computer nerds from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg were changing the world, it was no longer an insult to be a nerd. Nerds were among the most powerful people in the world, so for millennials, being a nerd became something people were proud to be. It no longer meant you were socially inept; it meant you were smart and deeply interested in some area of knowledge that many others weren’t into. It became cool to be a nerd.
Also, Black people are generally assumed to be cool. We usually seem at home in our own skin and most of us are generally so chill that anything we do or say might become a crossover trend. So to be a Black nerd — a blerd— is kind of against nature. Like, it’s a challenge to the boundaries of nerdom to even put a Black person in that category. But the way that De La, 3K and others embodied nerdom made being a blerd seem really cool in a way that exploded the definition of nerd.
Glover was always part of that cool-to-be-a-nerd movement. He made us proud to be blerds. Like a proud blerd uncle, I loved watching him as a standup comedian (you gotta hear his bit about his adopted brother pooping in a toilet at Home Depot). He took that blerd vibe further on “Community,” and it was there in “Atlanta,” one of the best shows in TV history. But we started to see him shed the blerd vibe in his music.
Glover has had a career where he continuously grows. Many stars find their thing and keep on giving you that. Glover has surprised us repeatedly — when he went into rapping as Childish Gambino it was like, what? An actor-comedian who raps? Will this be another joke? But his early hip-hop stuff was great, and it was overtly blerdy. I still have “Bonfire” on my workout playlist, and I love it when he says “Shout out to my blerds, they represent the realness.” But then he moved into music like “Redbone,” which was much more serious and soulful and reminiscent of Parliament and Curtis Mayfield. No longer was he relying on comedy to get over. With “This Is America,” he took another leap forward into music that was modern soul that critiqued his country in a danceable way.
His acting choices have given us similar growth — in “Atlanta,” he starts off as broke and begging his cousin for crumbs. It ends with him becoming a successful manager in his own right. Throughout “Atlanta” he was a blerd. An increasingly cool blerd but still part of the tribe. But when he played Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” he was unabashedly cool and suave. There was no nerdy molecule whatsoever. And when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” to promote Solo, he showed up to do the opening monologue in a gorgeous tan velvet blazer from Gucci that made him look suave as hell. I said he’s not a blerd anymore.
It’s hard to maintain the nerd aesthetic as you become grown and rich and famous and show us that you’re able to do absolutely anything creatively. In “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” he shows us that he’s far too cool to still be a blerd. But that’s OK. I miss the blerd he used to be, but I love seeing him flower into someone who’s showing us what modern Black cool is all about.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.
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