Photo By: Noah Nickel via Netflix
Bo Burnham’s Inside remains a cultural powerhouse well after its release in late spring, and with a physical release date for the special’s songs just announced, it begs the question: does it deserve the hype?
Burnham, 31, started his rise to fame on YouTube in 2006 and since then has been all over the map doing stand-up comedy, acting, writing and producing original music; he even wrote a book of poetry and directed an award-winning film. His latest Emmy nominated Netflix Original comedy-special, Inside, is a project that obscures genre just as much as it plays with it.
The project was created during the early parts of the pandemic and uses the backdrop of COVID-19 to touch on themes of isolation, boredom and communicative technology. Bo has proven to be especially sensitive to the comedic tastes and general plight of disillusioned teenagers and young adults, his core audience. His message of communicative overload and cultural nihilism hits home, especially for Zoomers, as he uses imagery of screens within screens, exposing a constant overload of stimulus interjected with cynical reminders of pressing issues such as climate change and social inequality.
Proof of this lies in the special’s success beyond its intended viewing format; having had multiple audio bits go viral on the social media platform TikTok. A portion of audio from the special wherein Burnham is mocking Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, has seen huge success on TikTok with users playfully recording over it. The songs from Inside — making up the subsequently released digital album, Inside (The Songs) — also charted after release. Most notably, the song “All Eyes on Me” reached No. 178 on Billboard’s Global 200 chart in July 2021, and is sitting at 13 million views on YouTube as of Sept. 10, 2021.
Burnham’s style of standup comedy has always featured satirical music. However, this special is different in that, well, it’s inside (duh), but that the ‘inside’ concept allows the viewer to see the process instead of only the finished product of the well-produced comedy show. The very medium of a comedy special is deconstructed through meta “behind-the-scenes” detours between the meat of the songs that are often framed in artsy ways. The project is hard to categorize because of this: is it mostly a comedy? An art film masquerading as a comedy? Or vice-versa? It often feels that Burnham doesn’t have the answer either and this identity conflict becomes the point of the special.
The actual comedy of Inside is drenched in self-deprecation, dark humour, and jaded irony. Burnham is grappling with his success as a “straight white male,” and the confusion in understanding his place in the current socio-political climate. He seems painfully aware of recent social movements such as the massive Black Lives Matter protests of last year, and the paradox of his wanting to be on the side of social change, yet being the centre of attention as a white dude who has profited off the system he is attempting to attack.
There is a political statement at the centre of the project. A leftist sock puppet drops class consciousness on the audience out of nowhere, for one thing. Of course, everything that’s politically charged is also made fun of for being so serious. It’s as if these moments are always reflexively treated as Burnham’s ego wanting to jump into the picture.
Nevertheless, the songs fully warrant a vinyl and CD release, as the music on Inside is clever, funny, and well composed. Enough so that alternative singer/songwriter Phoebe Bridgers covered “That Funny Feeling” from the special at a live event earlier this month.
Yes, there’s the occasional dud, like the song “White Woman’s Instagram,” which was low hanging fruit for critiquing social media clichés. Luckily, the blemishes are few and far between, with most of the songs feeling current and smartly written.
Regardless, Inside is a wonderfully-tragic project that’s chock full of ambition, even when its statement isn’t the clearest. The album’s physical release date is slated for Dec. 3, 2021. It is available for pre-order on Burnham’s website with different coloured vinyl editions available.