A year ago, Donald Glover was an inescapable pop-culture presence. The 29-year-old Stone Mountain, GA native was starring in NBC‘s cult hit Community, performing stand-up routines and dropping tracks and albums under his hip-hop pseudonym Childish Gambino. He maintained a remarkably active Twitter account, frequently updated his own wide-ranging website and was a frequent guest on talk shows and podcasts. He even found time to shoot two episodes of of the HBO series Girls (that aired in January) and a supporting role in the teen comedy The To-Do List (which just hit theaters) .
Now, Glover has all but vanished from the public eye.
Earlier this month, Vulture reported that Glover will appear in just five of 13 episodes in the upcoming fifth season of Community. (And there was a recent announcement that he had joined the cast of Lionsgate’s horror-thriller Reawakening.) Until last week, he hadn’t released any new music (save for a few guest spots) since his mixtape album Royalty dropped on July 4, 2012, and has scaled back his touring dates. And his social-media output—once a flood of ideas and witicisms—has been reduced to a trickle.
It’s certainly possible that he’s taking a break. He maintained a schedule that would tire any average performer — but, as Glover once explained while parodying Tiger Woods, he’s anything but average (NSFW).
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No less than Tina Fey herself was responsible for giving Glover his big break, hiring him as a writer for 30 Rock in 2006 before he had graduated from NYU. He taped a half-hour comedy special for Comedy Central in 2010 (which they liked so much that they asked him to do a full hour the next year.) By 2011, his Derrick Comedy viral videos had been viewed more than 200 million times. He has released no fewer than eight albums as Childish Gambino.
Looking to broaden his resume, he quit his Emmy Award-winning 30 Rock writing gig and left New York City to move to Los Angeles. Within months, despite having hardly any TV acting experience, he was cast to play Troy Barnes on Community. As the Village Voice declared in 2011, Donald Glover is more talented than you.
But those many accomplishments don’t fully explain Glover’s meteoric rise to stardom—Glover’s web presence and constant Twitter banter also played a crucial role. His iamdonald.com website was thorough and robust, complete with regularly updated sections for “clothes,” “sex,” “foodandrink” and “generaldopeness,” as well as one for tour dates. Save for that last category, it looked like the site of your typically avid blogger. And as was well-documented in the 2011 Voice profile, Glover was a Twitter junkie, constantly checking the social networking platform (where he has nearly a million followers) and using it to interact with fans at all hours of the day and night.
In short, Glover was remarkably accessible for a celebrity—even a fledgling one. Because he shared so much of himself, and shared it so freely, his following expanded rapidly and grew increasingly devoted. After Glover whimsically tweeted that he wanted to audition for the role of Peter Parker in the latest reboot of the Spiderman franchise, his followers started an Internet campaign so large that creator Stan Lee himself addressed it, saying that Glover should have the opportunity to audition. Though Glover ultimately did not get that chance (the part went to Andrew Garfield),
he had established an enviable online presence.
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That’s what made it so curious when — earlier this year — he suddenly, and without explanation, withdrew from social media. Updates to his website slowed to a crawl before it became a landing page for Royalty. It now has just the title of the website at the top of the page and a blank text box in which you’re able to enter an email address. All previous entries have been deleted. Glover’s beloved Twitter account grew increasingly esoteric before being scrubbed entirely earlier this year. Earlier photos from his Instagram account were also deleted. And just like that, Donald Glover, Internet darling, had effectively disappeared from the medium that had won him his rabid following.
These developments seem all the stranger given Glover’s previous ubiquity and his relentless pursuit of so many opportunities that were set before him. “You don’t get to where all my heroes were without giving up a part of who you are,” he told the Voice in 2011. “Right now, I refuse to even have a dog. No girlfriend. I don’t want anything tying me down. I want to be everywhere. I don’t see a limit for me. I want to do everything.” That same profile described how even three hours of sleep in a night was a lucky break for Glover. So maybe that seemingly endless pursuit of “everything” helps explain Glover’s drastic shift in the last year.
Anyone can burn out, and it’s especially true for those who push themselves to their limits mentally and physically every day for as long as Glover has. Or maybe there’s another reason—or reasons—entirely. In any case, the decision to do whatever possible to erase Glover’s earlier Internet footprint is a curious one. (Representatives for Glover did not respond to an interview request for this story.)
It’s also possible that Glover’s “break,” if you consider that a fair characterization, is coming to a close. Last week his Twitter account showed signs of life as he tweeted links to iamdonald.com, his revived Instagram account (which now has two brief videos) and a new track, “Centipede,” on SoundCloud. There’s been widespread speculation that the reason Glover is leaving Community is to focus more on his hip-hop career, but there’s been no confirmation from Glover himself. Whatever the reason, there’s little doubt that Glover’s fans are eager to see what the talented entertainer does next—both online and off.