Today I’m gonna try just getting up, sitting down, going back to work.

Artist: Bo Burnham

Album: Inside (The Songs)

Label: Republic Records

Released: May 30th, 2021 | on streaming June 9th, 2021

Listen: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube Music | Watch the special on Netflix

Should I be joking in a time like this?

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30th 2020 and a pandemic on March 11th 2020. As of January 8th 2022 (when I am writing this initial blurb), the pandemic had caused more than 303 million cases and 5.48 million deaths, making it one of the deadliest in history. In my country, over 600 thousand people have died of it, and more than 22 million cases have been registered.

The president of my country has gone on record as to diminish the pandemic as only ‘a small cold’ and that the ‘media is using it as a scare tactic’, while also minimizing the efforts of the vaccine and openly spreading misinformation about it, like that it might turn you into an alligator, or that it’s the same as just taking medicine that you regularly would for a headache.

I would not normally point something out like this at the very start, but I find this information to be integral into both the album I will be talking about, and my views on the themes that are portrayed throughout.

Artist Breakdown

Bo Burnham is an american comedian with- frankly, a really long career for how young he is. He started out by accident in 2006, being yet another kid who went viral on really early YouTube with My Whole Family… and just- kept going with momentum, being the youngest person to record a special for Comedy Central’s ‘The World Stands Up’ at only 17, and proceeded to film four specials for the channel as well as Netflix: Words Words Words, what, Make Happy and

Inside

Bo Burnham’s most acclaimed special by far, it was basically the Tiger King for the part of quarentine where we all slowly started losing our minds and became more and more despaired with how the world was coming to. The concept of it is pretty simple: he wished to film a special, but since it was all during lockdown, it meant he had to do it himself. Throughout it, we see footage of him writing, recording, editing, making the music (which I swear we are going to get to very soon but in case you’re one of the few people who weren’t on twitter for the three months after this came out, this one is for you) and his own reactions to the art he has produced. Being happy with how it turns out, being annoyed it’s not turning out well- or at one point I found particularly stuck with me, showing all-out anger at his own creation, knocking aside his filming equipment in a fit of rage.

But that is the interesting part of that, that both has been pointed out by many critics as well as Bo himself- he edited that scene, just like any other in the special. Althought his feeling are real, they are also performative, and this relation between him creating content and the audience that receives this content is pointed out many times, not only in the special but throughout his career. To bring yet another topic that seemed to fill discourse these past few years, the parasocial relationship between creator and audience is one he is aware of, and has a very strong stance on: he is there for your entertainment.

There is a descent from ‘this is a comedy special’ to ‘oh god I am having a mental breakdown get me outside of this room’ in Inside, and it is not quite in chronological order. There are also twenty song in this and, while I don’t think they all need the same amount of context/reference behind them, I think organizing them in the way I’m going to makes the most sense for going down the tracklist. It also adds up to a funny joke I’m going to make, so don’t mind me.

Denial

But look, I made you some content

Daddy made you your favorite, open wide

Here comes the content

It’s a beautiful day to stay inside

Content | Comedy

I mean, yeah, the world is shit, but it’s all taken as a joke- yeah, things are always shitty. In fact, things are only getting better for Bo- he reveals later on the special that he was planning on returning to live comedy after a five year hiatus, and being able to do it from the comfort of your own home, when people need it the most? That’s the best reason to come back! People need something to laugh at in these dire times, so he’ll be here to deliver.

In the first two tracks (which also serve as the opening of the special) we set the scene: lockdown, Bo is alone, he’s back to writing, he’s back to making jokes. The funny man returns to much acclaim, when people need him most. As he calls it, he’ll be healing the world in comedy.

Bargaining

If you wake up in a house that’s full of smoke

Don’t panic—call me and I’ll tell you a joke

FaceTime with My Mom | How the World Works | White Woman’s Instagram | Sexting | Problematic | Welcome to the Internet

Yes, I’m putting all the ‘funny’ songs in the comedy special under the same category, because they all serve the same purpose: be funny. Bo is a comedian, these should be the main goal of the special- and in my opinion, he knocks it out of the park! Welcome to the Internet was the first stand out of the special, charting in the Billboard Bubbling Under for a few weeks, with references to plenty of things in internet culture or that people in internet culture would understand, it was described as almost Disney villain-esque, with the almost polka-like rhythm and multitude of shift between light and hard topics, detailing the sheer absurdity of the variety of content you can find on the internet.

But me putting them all here doesn’t mean they aren’t connected to the main themes of the special. The way technology has shaped the world is the constant between all of them- between the generational divide of people who grew up with it to those who it had to be taught to, from the way it has influenced the ways we interact with others. Bringing back Bo’s thoughts about performativity in social media, the video for White Woman’s Instagram uses its cinematography in a way to show that even grief, when in a public space such as this, becomes content, soemwhat performative. Others have somewhat turned that interpretation on its head, however- arguing that instead of a jab at people, it is actually a call for sympathy, that no matter how much someone puts of themselves online, that behind the screen there is still a person, who lives their life with their own hardships and victories.

Another highlight of this stretch (and a fan favorite, from what I can tell) is the performance with Socko the sock puppet, during How the World Works. It is by far the most political song in the album, characterized as a number in a children’s education block. Paraphrased with the many times Bo comments on his priviledge (ironically or not (most of the time ironically)) the radical comments provided are- I am not going to go full political science graduate on the words of a fucking sock puppet in a comedy skit. Read the lyrics, make up your own conclusions, this is not my area of expertise.

Interludes + Intermission

How are you feeling?

Do you like the show?

Are you tired of it?

Never mind, I don’t wanna know

Don’t Wanna Know | Bezos I and II

I’m not grouping these three up because I find them similar, I just didn’t think I could fit the interludes anywhere else, and I wanted to isolate this one song but thought that maybe giving it its own part alone would be too much. So, rapid fire: the interludes are fine. Dunno why they’re so talked about, I could go with or without them. Don’t quite know why they’re about Jeff Bezos either.

The intermission song, however? Holy shit.

I call it an ‘intermission’ but I don’t know if it’s officially one, I just compare it to one in theater- after the break, this is the song that gets you back in the gist of things. Sometimes it’s a catch-up, sometimes it introduces the new conflict, sometimes it’s just a slow number to get people back on their seats. And in theory, this song is all that: a slow, piano-led number, that marks the shift into arc 2. It’s how it’s in the album too, the first song of the second disc.

The issue is that ‘the shift into arc 2’ is just a mental breakdown.

Anger

Well, well

Look who’s inside again

Went out to look for a reason to hide again

Look Who’s Inside Again | 30 | Shit | All Time Low | Unpaid Intern*

Hey besties! We’re not having a good time!

This is the sequence where things take a true shift in the special. As lockdown continues, the general mental health of – I think I can safely say the entire world – was getting worse and worse, and these are portrayed in this stretch of songs. The * goes because while the song ‘Unpaid Intern’ would casually go on the funny segment, the meta commentary of the reaction, being unhappy with the content that was coming from, is extremely relatable (at least to me) and helps showcase the shift from the happy, funny songs to the ones that crack deeper at Bo as a person.

These songs here don’t have much substance, but let me talk about them a small bit: For one, funnily enough, Shit is my favorite song on the album. It’s far from the best song, but I find it extremely catchy and while being far from the deepest song on the album (trust me we are getting to those very soon!) I do find the sarcastic happiness even when, as he says, you’re feeling like shit, is an extremely relatable mood. It’s also very visually interesting, if that matters in the slightest.

I genuinely find both Look Who’s Inside Again and All Time Low to be very funny, with once more, playing with the meta-ness of writing, recording and editing the musical numbers, and how the visuals are used- one from you almost peeking into something private, the other clearly showing the performance on having this pre-planned light show ready in case you just broke out into song. Both are opposite sides of the ‘realness’ aspect of Inside, but I find them both very amusing.

This is only the start of it, but the main theme that we come across in this stretch is the simplified vision on mental health we put across when not wishing to speak on it (‘I feel like shit’, ‘I feel like I’m gonna die’). It’s much more of a transitional part of the album, that leads us straight into

Acceptance

You say the ocean’s rising like I give a shit

You say the whole world’s ending, honey, it already did

You’re not gonna slow it, Heaven knows you tried

Got it? Good, now get inside.

If I wake up in a house that’s full of smoke

I’ll panic, so call me up and tell me a joke

That Funny Feeling | All Eyes on Me | Goodbye | Anyday Now

These are, in my opinion, the four heavy hitters on the album/special. Three and a half horsemen of the apocalypse, but I’m already drowning in metaphors and analogies, so I’ll just break them down one by one just like they broke me down one by one!

That Funny Feeling was the other initial stand-out of the special between audiences, and I’ve seen it show up in plenty of song of the year lists (or the Phoebe Bridgers cover, which I find equally as good as the original) for covering- well, everything. The funny feeling the song presents is dread, both for struggles of the inside and of the outside. The world is fucked, but at the same time, Bo’s world is fucked, and there isn’t much he can do about it. The more media we consume, the more we learn? The worse things are made out to be. This is the start of the road to nihilism the last fifth of the special takes, with its biggest contender coming up next.

In my opinion, All Eyes on Me is the best song on the album, and it’s not even close. While I haven’t commented much on the musical aspect of many of these songs, I find the extreme use of reverb and almost water-like imagery to be very poignant. Lyrically, this is the conclusion to Bo as a performer on the special- he’s a performer, he’s performing, so focus on him. It doesn’t matter what is happening around, everything is fucked and we’re all gonna die- but don’t think about that, because there is a performance going on. In a twisted way, this is what he set out to do at the very start, distract from what was going on with comedy. But it has turned into an obsession, because it’s not something that is directed only to the audience: Bo is also using this to distract himself from everything that is going on not only in the world, but with himself. His demons and insecurities don’t matter, because right now he is performing, and all eyes are on him. It is an extremely haunting song,

Goodbye is the retrospective where we go back and look at everything we’ve been through. It’s not a happy ending, and I think that is very fitting because not only it’s a story we are still living, it’s not a story that will naturally resolve itself. Three songs have their motifs used for this song, and I think it’s the core of the special: Comedy, Welcome to the Internet, and Look Who’s Inside Again. Comedy is the mission statement. This is what he set out to do, what he wanted this special to be: give people some release while they were having a bad time in quarentine. Welcome to the Internet is the expectation: this is what this special was supposed to be, twenty songs of this. Joke after joke, quip after quip. Relevant, funny, impersonal. However, Look Who’s Inside Again is what this special became. A deep look back into his own psyche, and the deterioration that public life has caused him and quarentine has only accentuated.

Any Day Now is the song that literally plays over the credits. It’s almost a plead, in my opinion: it’ll stop any day now. These thoughts will stop any day now. These bad things that are happening will stop any day now. Maybe because things get better. Maybe because we die. Maybe things get better and then we die. But they’ll stop any day now. That is what we end on- not a resolution, just the knowledge that nothing ever goes on forever.

Depression

Hey, what can you say?

We were overdue

But it’ll be over soon

[x]

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

I’ll be honest, this write-up was really hard. I’m currently typing this blurb the day of, powering through it with an energy drink and some pizza, because I needed some comfort food, especially for the last few paragraphs. I wish I could say I left this album with any hopeful message, but- I didn’t. This album doesn’t have a ‘things will get better :)’ moment, because I don’t think Bo Burnham thinks things will get better. And not to say I can now see how it was like, but even if in these fourteen days, having to relisten and think over and over these songs already was extremely draining emotionally, I cannot imagine how it was to actually write it, record it- live it.

When I first watched Inside I wasn’t paying much attention, it was with friends over voice chat in Discord (which is NOT THE RIGHT SETTING FOR IT), and I liked it well enough. It had some funny bits, it had some bits that made me think, I got out of it happy. Some time went by and I didn’t think much upon it, but after discussing it with some other friends, I decided to watch it a second time, on my own, at like two in the morning.

And then, I wept my fucking eyes out.

I don’t know what happened, it all just- kinda clicked when I watched it alone in a way that just… didn’t in a group. And I watched it a third time, and it had a very similar effect. (I didn’t cry the fourth time I watched it, if you were wondering). As much as the ‘oh, Bo Burnham really GETS IT’ joke was run to the ground somewhat, I think there is truth to it for one reason: I don’t think he thinks he gets it. And that’s life, man. You don’t think you get it, and people just assume you have your shit together because you hide it better than everyone else, but you also compare yourself to everyone else because they’re also hiding that they don’t have every answer. If anything, this special somewhat had the opposite effect I think it was intended, because many came out of this praising the emotional strenght of him to publish this, when I think the true point he wished to make was that no one has life figured out, especially in these uncertain, fucked up times we are living in right now.

And that’s ok, I think. Because I’m still kicking, and you’re still kicking. So even if it’ll be over soon, it’s not over yet.

Discussion

  1. Is Inside a comedy special? If not, what is it?
  2. What is your favorite song on the album? Do you have a favorite joke on the special?
  3. Do you think the experience of only listening to the soundtrack is better or worse then fully watching the special? Do you think the special is required to fully enjoy the songs?
  4. Will Bo Burnham ever perform live again? What do you think is the right thing to do in this scenario?
  5. Do you think Bo will ever make a non-comedic album? If so, would you listen to it?
  6. Which version is better, the original or Phoebe Bridgers’ cover?

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