In April, comedian-filmmaker-songwriter-actor Bo Burnham announced that he’d be returning with his first comedy special in five years, a special he performed and shot by himself in quarantine. Amid the success of “Bo Burnham: Inside,” the multi-hyphenate comic has released the songs from the special as an album.
On Thursday, Burnham dropped “Inside (The Songs)” on all streaming services. The album is not only a throwback to the cutting musical comedy tunes that propelled Burnham to YouTube stardom as a teenager but an insightful, meticulously crafted summation of everything that made 2020, well, 2020.
Let’s count down the album’s five best toe-tapping, existential crisis-inducing tracks.
5. “FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight)”
On the surface, this is an innocuous song about a mundane element of life in lockdown: FaceTiming with a parent. Burnham sings of clearing his schedule to call up his mother and chat about, really, nothing.
“She’ll hold her iPhone 5 no further than 6 inches from her face, yeah, Imma FaceTime with my mom tonight,” he sings over a midtempo beat.
Burnham pokes fun at his mom’s lack of technological prowess. He also notes that his dad butting in to ask, “How you doing, bud?” and him responding “Not so bad” is the deepest talk they’ve ever had.
“Watching as she looks for her glasses, Imma FaceTime with my mom tonight,” Burnham continues to sing, “She’ll tell me all about the Season 6 finale of ‘The Blacklist,’ Imma FaceTime with my mom tonight.”
FaceTime faux pas and quality of conversation aside, the song is about the lengths we went to connect with our loved ones during the pandemic, if only on the most basic level.
“My mother’s covering her camera with her thumb, I’ll waste my time FaceTiming with my mom.”
Burnham argues that, although technically a waste of time, the 40-minute call is essential, that the futility of the endeavor is exactly what makes the gesture meaningful.
This is Burnham’s ode to everyone that turned 30 in lockdown, and anyone who’s found themselves freshly excluded from the prevailing generational divide: boomers vs. zoomers. Sure, millennials already have plenty of their own anthems but Burnham adds depth to typical, but nonetheless relatable, gripes like, “My stupid friends are having stupid children.”
He taps into his own specific experience of once being heralded as a comic prodigy to reflect his generation’s sense of ennui.
“I used be the young one, got used to meeting people who weren’t used to meeting someone who was born in 1990,” he sings.
After years of stoking elders’ ire for their participation trophy upbringings and industry-killing spending habits, millennials are old news (and many them just plain old.) Now Gen Z are the ones supposedly ending society as we know it.
“I used to make fun of the boomers, in retrospect a bit too much, now all these f—ing zoomers are telling me that I’m out of touch?”
Burnham is alluding to the forgotten middle-child phenomenon that many millennials are experiencing as they join Gen X and simply age out of being remarkable.
“Oh yeah well your f—ing phones are poisoning your minds so when you develop a dissociative mental disorder in your late 20s, don’t come crawling back to me.” Burnham counters to these hypothetical zoomers, becoming the very thing he once ridiculed while also nodding to the themes he explored so beautifully in his directorial debut, “Eighth Grade.”
In his trademark self-aware style, the special’s opening parody song sees Burnham debating whether he should be “joking at a time like this,” and if he should just put his money where his mouth is instead.
“The world is so f—ed up. Systematic oppression, income inequality, the other stuff,” he sings, “And there’s only one thing that I can do about it, while being paid and being the center of attention.”
Stepping into the character of an egotistical white male comic, he decides on, “healing the world with comedy, making a literal difference, metaphorically,” as the driving techno beat grows peppier.
He questions that since American white guys have had the floor for at least 400 years, “maybe I should just shut the f— up?” After a pregnant pause he admits, “I’m bored,” and goes back to planning how his comedy will save the world.
In a similar way to the excellent “White Woman’s Instagram,” this song mocks white people’s tendency (especially wealthy white entertainers) to not just center themselves in cultural issues beyond their understanding but to use them as vehicles for their own advancement.
2. “How the World Works”
Later in the special, Burnham touches on similar themes in “How the World Works,” a “Sesame Street”-style ditty with far darker lyrics than the cheery piano accompaniment would suggest.
Still in the character of a liberally minded but ultimately self-centered white idealist, Burnham calls on a sock puppet to educate him on how the world actually works.
“Socko” explains how modern society was essentially, “built with blood and genocide and exploitation,” and that “every politician and every cop on the street protects the interests of the pedophilic corporate elite.”
Burnham then asks what he can do to help in the face of these systemic, seemingly insurmountable problems, to which Socko responds, “Why do you rich f—ing white people insist on seeing every sociopolitical conflict through the myopic lens of your own self-actualization?”
Now that Burnham has taken Socko’s criticism personally, he no longer has use from him, discarding the puppet and exemplifying how the ruling class continues to silence the oppressed, even while claiming to be fighting for the oppressed.
1. “Welcome to the Internet”
The “B-side”‘ track, “Welcome to the Internet,” feels like what Burnham’s 15-year career in the digital space has been leading up to.
The nearly five-minute segment sees Burnham playing the role of a deranged Disney villain of sorts, tempting us to sacrifice our souls to the world wide web.
“Be happy, be horny, be bursting with rage, we’ve got a million different ways to engage.” he promises.
The keyboard tune grows increasingly chaotic as our options become overwhelming.
“See a man beheaded, get offended, see a shrink,
Show us pictures of your children, tell us every thought you think,
Start a rumor, buy a broom, or send a death threat to a boomer.
Or DM a girl and groom her; do a Zoom or find a tumor…”
Not only is Burnham’s mastery of word play on full display in this song but his rapid fire delivery accurately evokes the sense of mania that makes the internet so poisonously addictive. Given the special’s two-part song dedicated to Jeff Bezos, you can interpret this character as Burnham’s indictment of the tech founders and engineers that profit off exploiting our brain chemistry.
Burnham ends the song on a chilling refrain that could serve as a thesis for the internet as a whole, “Could i interest you in everything all of the time? Apathy’s a tragedy and boredom is a crime, anything and everything, all of the time.”
Check out the full video for “Welcome to the Internet” here.