Could I interest you in everything about "Inside"?
July 21, 2021 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Bo Burnham started out as a geeky kid writing parody songs in his room, but the success of his work on YouTube soon launched him into a career in comedy, where he quickly won the respect of comics thrice his age. Three innovative specials and one acclaimed coming-of-age film later, Bo seemed to disappear from the scene for years... only to return in spring 2021 with INSIDE [trailer], a striking one-man/one-room pandemic comedy masterpiece, inventively cinematic in style, which devolves from clever social media parody to incisive sociopolitical critique to dystopian internet horror to a heartbreaking elegy for a dying world as it parallels his own emotional breakdown. Two months later, with six Emmy nominations and a nationwide theatrical release this weekend, there's plenty of Content to chew on -- a full track breakdown, lyrics, commentary, analysis, and beyond. Want it? Good. There's

Watch INSIDE on Netflix

The full album free on YouTube

A full instrumental playlist

Release-day discussion on FanFare

Video essays: Text essays: Some highlights from previous specials as an appetizer for the main course:
Words, Words, Words (2010): Art is Dead - Rant

what. (2013): From God's Perspective - Repeat Stuff (music video version) - We Think We Know You

Make Happy (2016): Country Song - Can't Handle This - Are You Happy? (which takes place in the same room as Inside, and so in a way leads directly into...)
INSIDE: The Songs

1 | Content [official audio - lyrics breakdown - commentary from /r/boburnham]
Robert's been a little depressed

A headlamp on a disco ball is the first of many striking visual effects, as Bo talks about the power of Content coming to the rescue of everyone trapped inside like him.
2 | Comedy [audio - lyrics - commentary]
If you see white men dressed in white cloaks
Don't panic -- call me and I'll tell you a joke.
Oh shit... should I be joking at a time like this?

A somber ballad about the impotence of comedy in troubled times is dispelled by a divine intervention, launching into a manic inspirational ditty on how one comedian can save the world... "while being paid and being the center of attention"

A closer look at the "Is It Funny?" flowchart, the comedy/tragedy/time equation, and the relational comedy chart
    >> Intro - Talking through how important making the special has been to his mental health
3 | FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight) [audio - lyrics - commentary]
She says, "Oh, look who's here. Say hi to Dad!"
He says, "How ya doing, bud?", I say, "I'm not so bad"
And that's the deepest talk we've ever had

An increasingly vexing conversation with tech-illiterate family illustrates the hollowness and difficulty of emotional connection in occasional long-distance video chats
4 | How the World Works [audio - lyrics - commentary]
"That's pretty intense."
"No shit."

A stereotypically cheery children's song is derailed by up-and-coming leftist firebrand Socko the sockpuppet, though his righteous diatribe soon collides with the reality of making radical left views heard in a media landscape controlled by "rich fucking white people."

Counterpunch: Long Live, Socko! Radical Reflections on Bo Burnham’s Inside

Fan animatic

Possibly inspired by Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen's avant-garde sockpuppet routine, whose work Burnham has admired.
    >> Social Brand Consultant - a pitch-perfect parody of corporate brands trying to cash in on appearing socially conscious In These Times
5 | White Woman's Instagram [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Latte foam art... tiny pumpkins... fuzzy, comfy socks
Coffee table made out of driftwood... a bobblehead of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
A needlepoint of a fox...

A visually kaleidoscopic parody of vapid Instagram trends, interrupted by a moment of raw humanity breaking through the social media clichés (and expanding the aspect ratio in the process)

Den of Geek: Inside’s Moment of Breathtaking Empathy
    >> Review - pensively watching the previous song on a laptop in a darkened room, a whiteboard full of ideas in the foreground
    >>STFU - a traditional stand-up routine on the possibility of anyone shutting the fuck up about anything
6 | Unpaid Intern [audio - lyrics - commentary]
You work all day, go back to your dorm
And since you can't afford a mortgage, you just torrent a porn
Cause you're an intern (unpaid)

A brief jazzy black-and-white number that serves as fodder for the following vignette.
7 | Bezos I [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Zuckerberg and Gates and Buffett
Amateurs can fucking suck it
Fuck their wives, drink their blood
Come on, Jeff, get 'em!

A bitingly sarcastic paean to the Amazon CEO devolves into wicked synths and a primal scream, which seems especially relevant after he spent millions to go to space and gloat about it the other day.
    >> Pillow talk - Bo sleepily muses into a microphone about the wisdom of late capitalism and social media
8 | Sexting [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Emojis only, we don't need phonetical diction
We'll talk dirty like we're ancient Egyptians

Projected emoji patterns frame a digital tryst gone south, leaving Bo "stuck in my home, sitting alone, one hand on my dick and one hand on my phone." Fun fact: the air conditioner in the room is set to 69° (nice)

The paragraph-length background text
    >> Thank You - A knife-wielding YouTube influencer type fawns over his audience before settling into a long, unsettling rictus grin
9 | Look Who's Inside Again [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Well, well, look who's inside again
Went out to look for a reason to hide again
Well, well, buddy, you found it...
Now come out with your hands up, we've got you surrounded

A song about quarantine? Childhood repression? Feeling trapped by the pressures of fame? You decide.
10 | Problematic [audio - lyrics - commentary]
I started doing comedy when I was just a sheltered kid
I wrote offensive shit, and I said it
Father, please forgive me, for I did not realize what I did
Or that I'd live to regret it

Confronting the tastelessness of his teenage YouTube videos with a ludicrously over-the-top workout/Madonna music video mashup, complete with whip cracks, lion roars, a giant projected cross, and some very literal navelgazing.

The 2006 video he's shown to be watching in the run-up to the song

Burnham speaking about old material, apologies, and growth during press for “Eighth Grade”

AV Club: Bo Burnham owns up to his “Problematic” origins in comedy special Inside

Insider: Bo Burnham's growth shows the painfully low bar for white men
    >>Midnight - talking about wanting to finish the special before his 30th birthday, two minutes before it starts. Fun fact: the clock strikes midnight at the exact halfway point of the special -- to the second.
11 | 30 [audio - lyrics - commentary]
I used to make fun of the boomers; in retrospect, a bit too much
Now all these fucking zoomers are telling me that I'm out of touch?

The former wunderkind agonizes over mortality, maturity, and the galling knowledge that "his stupid friends are having stupid children."

The Telegraph: Generation Angst: Bo Burnham’s Inside and the horror of turning 30 in lockdown


12 | Don't Wanna Know [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Is there anyone out there? Or am I all alone?
It wouldn’t make a difference -- still, I don’t wanna know

A brief, lonesome-feeling commentary on putting yourself out there without knowing if anyone can really see you.
13 | Shit [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Are you feeling what I'm feeling?
I haven't had a shower in the last nine days
Staring at the ceiling and waiting for this feeling to go away
But it won't go away!

A funkadelic banger about feeling like a depressive useless sack of shit all day, every day.
14 | All Time Low [audio - lyrics - commentary]
So, um... uh, my current mental health is is rapidly approaching, um... an ATL...
which is, um... That's an all-time low. Not... not Atlanta.

A fidgety, gloomy description of depression smash-cuts into a wondrous, rainbow-soaked description of depression.
15 | Welcome to the Internet [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Could I interest you in everything, all of the time?
A little bit of everything, all of the time
Apathy's a tragedy, and boredom is a crime
Anything and everything, all of the time

The internet's own villain song. A carnival barker-like personification of social media feverishly expounds on the increasingly disturbing ocean of content available online, before taking a break to describe the pre-9/11 Before Times of static blogs and chat rooms for all the zoomers out there who were raised on algorithmic addiction from birth.

Oodles of fan covers and animatics

Tor: Can I Interest You in a Dark Carnival? Bo Burnham, Ray Bradbury, and Our Modern Hall of Mirrors

Rolling Stone: Bo Burnham on ‘Eighth Grade,’ Anxiety and Why Social Media Is a Curse

Forbes: YouTube's "Elsagate" Illuminates The Unintended Horrors Of The Digital Age
    >> Forever - talking about the anxiety of finishing the special and wanting to continue working on it indefinitely
16 | Bezos II [audio - lyrics - commentary]

An eccentric reprise of the Bezos song, complete with ghillie suit and laser lightshow.
    >> Audience - boredom slowly morphing into horror and then joy in front of an invisible cheering crowd
    >>Outside - musing on the dangers of the physical world for the safety and comfort of the digital space
17 | That Funny Feeling [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Female Colonel Sanders, easy answers, civil war
The whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door
The live-action Lion King, the Pepsi Halftime Show
Twenty-thousand years of this, seven more to go

Strumming an acoustic by the digital campfire. A laundry list of absurd late-capitalist images juxtaposed with glimpses of civil war and climate collapse, and the surreal feeling of dissociation it invites. Ends up moving past denial and grief to a hollow acceptance of the looming end of life as we know it.

Notably, the song sparked a TikTok trend that led to hundreds of amateur covers describing "that funny feeling" in their own words


Decider: Bo Burnham’s “Funny Feeling” Acts as the Emotional Centerpiece Of His Netflix Special ‘Inside’

EW: Did Bo Burnham: Inside wreck you? Let's talk about it

Insider: Bo Burnham's new special has a lot of people Googling 'derealization'

Other context: Deadpool's self-awareness - Female Col. Sanders - the live-action Lion King - 20,000 years of this, 7 more to go - Pornhub's terms of service - obeying all the traffic laws in Grand Theft Auto V - full agoraphobic - derealization - that unapparent summer air in early fall - the quiet comprehending of the ending of it all
    >> Anniversary - trying and failing to note the one-year mark of making the special, before having a breakdown in front of the camera's unblinking eye
18 | All Eyes On Me [audio - lyrics - commentary]
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

Standing under an ominously maxed-out digicam timer and dying battery, Bo sings a moodily auto-tuned song to an artificial crowd about accepting the world's disastrous course and going "where everybody knows." Interrupting with a personal account of managing his mental health struggles shortly before the pandemic hit, before launching into a delirious shakeycam whirl around the room.

Insider: Why 'All Eyes on Me' is such a powerful climactic moment in Bo Burnham's 'Inside'

"All Eyes on Me" transposed to Bo's normal voice

A powerful orchestral version
    >> Done - starting the day and fiddling with equipment before deciding that the special is finally finished.
19 | Goodbye [audio - lyrics - commentary]
Does anybody want to joke
When no one's laughing in the background?

A "possible ending song" written early in the process, a melancholy medley of previous songs paired with behind-the-scenes flashbacks, is overdubbed by his haggard year-later self.

The Cinemaholic: Bo Burnham’s Inside Ending, Explained
    >> Open door - slowly emerging from the room, only to find himself in a theatrical spotlight, the door locked behind him. As he struggles comically to get back inside, the footage turns into a projection on the wall as he watches himself with a faint smile.
20 | Any Day Now [audio - lyrics - commentary]
It'll stop any day now
Any day now
Any day now

As the credits roll, Bo and Socko sing an ambiguous refrain over and over and over and over and over and over again.
posted by Rhaomi (56 comments total) 117 users marked this as a favorite
but is it any good?
posted by philip-random at 12:40 PM on July 21, 2021 [15 favorites]

I know part of this is a coping/enabling mechanism on his part, so I'm not trying to give him grief...but to me this was just doomscrolling set to show tune melody.

The lyrics made me cringe more than they made me tickled.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:41 PM on July 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm not generally a fan of Burnham, but this was a really standout performance. Not really comparable to stand-up specials or even typical one-man shows (which I generally hate, probably a reason I'm not generally a fan of his). Hope he's doing well.

I don't think I will ever rewatch Inside, but it has stuck with me pretty well for around two months now, more than I can say for most comedy specials, or even movies. I have listened to the album a few times. "Welcome to the Internet", "Funny Feeling", and "All Eyes on Me" are pretty memorable.

One thing I think is funny is that he's 30 and has no kids, but his worries about internet culture pretty closely mirror typical parent anxiety about screen time. Singing in character to a young child about the dangers of devices in "Welcome to the Internet": It was always the plan, to put the world in your hands.

This is a really well put together post, by the way.
posted by skewed at 12:49 PM on July 21, 2021 [11 favorites]

I hear this is great but I can't watch it. I can't! I listened to "Welcome to the Internet." It is a terrific villain song -- my favorite kind -- and I don't plan to listen to it again. I am not in a good place for this right now. Give me ten years and a world safe to breathe in again, and if that happens, then I can revisit it. In the meantime, I hope he does well.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:50 PM on July 21, 2021 [13 favorites]

but is it any good?

yes. it's great! it's clever and relevant. i watched it twice in three days shortly after it came out (having never seen his standup, but having seen and loved his film "Eighth Grade") and would watch it again.
posted by The Minotaur at 1:06 PM on July 21, 2021 [8 favorites]

I kinda hate that Slate essay. Just because he wasn't actually locked into the room, the whole special lacked impact because he was making a "forced comparison to crappy conditions that people really lived with"? And then the author concludes with the tired trolling method of "I'm just asking questions here. Maybe you all like terrible things. Maybe it's bad for society. Maybe it's blah blah blah". (Sea-lioning?)

It reads like an obvious way to drive traffic by shitting on something which touched a lot of people.

Is every lie or half-truth during a comedy special going to be something we should point at and say "how dare they!?"
Am I supposed to be upset that Hannah Gadsby claimed Nanette was her goodbye to comedy and then went and made Douglas like some hypocrite? And then point at that and say "Maybe the appreciative audience and happy critics don't value honesty as much as I do."
posted by Anonymous Function at 1:33 PM on July 21, 2021 [11 favorites]

yes: excellent post.

haven't seen the show. have watched some of the videos. the songs are excellent and well-performed. alas, i also am not the best audience just now.
posted by 20 year lurk at 1:38 PM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Entirely against my will, I have had the Jeff Bezos songs stuck in my head since the Virgin billionaire's space launch. (It got worse this week, obviously.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 1:38 PM on July 21, 2021 [11 favorites]

Just watched this last night! I completely lost it at Bezos I, and then again during Bezos II. Congratulations!!

The rest was really funny to (Welcome to the Internet especially) but it had more emotional range than I expected from a comedy special. I actually kinda teared up during his monologue near the end, where he describes quitting standup due to panic attacks, working on his mental health for years, and then getting ready to go back on stage at the beginning of 2020.
posted by TurnKey at 2:38 PM on July 21, 2021

My favorite coverage was from Reductress
posted by antinomia at 2:55 PM on July 21, 2021 [10 favorites]

I love the special. This post is a perfect homage, given the care and obsession that it took to make it.
posted by Gorgik at 3:13 PM on July 21, 2021

I may have listened to this (One Hour Extended Version) of All Eyes On Me to end more than once.
posted by art.bikes at 3:38 PM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

"How the World Works" is so good. So. Good. That's all I have to add.
posted by supercres at 3:56 PM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

bravo on the post! very well done Rhaomi!

i hadn't heard of bo burnham until i watched Eighth Grade, which was a film that stuck with me for days after. (i still think of it from time to time, tbh). i didn't really watch any of his standup or videos after, so jumped into Inside with not a ton of context for who he is.

this film also stayed with me after watching it, and is absolutely worth watching imho.

one aspect i haven't really seen addressed in reviews or articles is bo's gender presentation, which struck me as refreshingly outside of the typical cishet white man norm. there are moments where it feels like to me he's feminizing himself by using the camera to focus on his body in a very male-gazey way, if that makes sense--particularly on Problematic. anyone else notice that? thoughts?
posted by too bad you're not me at 4:56 PM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

"How the World Works" is so good. So. Good. That's all I have to add.

Heh, to expand (now that I've watched that segment again): the Counterpunch article linked is also very good. I haven't dived into the discourse around it, but yeah, it reflects a lot of my own thoughts. It's kind of incredible how it works on whatever level you want to approach it from-- for the I-can't-see-satire centrist it's "lol angry commie got what was coming to him" (got to be a minority, right?), for the very common "not my job to educate you" twitter leftist it's entirely sympathetic, for less-terminally-online leftists (often activists and educators) it's reflective of the tendency of the prior group to alienate progressives with any sort of political capital. Maybe I'm giving it too much credit, but that it straddles the line so well (mostly viewpoint B, sly hints at C) suggests that Bo is way into The Discourse. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Also (see username), I can't help but love the sock puppet framing.

Great post, can't wait to do some more reading.
posted by supercres at 5:00 PM on July 21, 2021

Could I interest you in beat saber all of the time?
posted by kaibutsu at 5:15 PM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I keep getting different bits of different songs stuck. Today it's "making a literal difference, metaphorically" because yeah that is how people use the word "literally" in social media posts about making a difference.
posted by subdee at 5:18 PM on July 21, 2021

My husband likes "we'll use emojis, we don't need phonetical diction/we'll talk dirty like we're ancient Egyptians" and is working on an acoustic guitar cover of "Sexting" right now.
posted by subdee at 5:19 PM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe we shouldn't let giant media corporations exploit the neurochemical drama of our children for profit and flatten all of human experience into a lifeless exchange of value. Maybe that, as a way of life forever, is ..... Bad. 🤔
posted by subdee at 5:21 PM on July 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

Anyway inside reminds me a bit of Tom Leher's That Was The Year That Was in how on the nose the social commentary is. Bo Burnham incidentally also has a song called "New Math".
posted by subdee at 5:22 PM on July 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

one aspect i haven't really seen addressed in reviews or articles is bo's gender presentation, which struck me as refreshingly outside of the typical cishet white man norm.

Yes, I noticed this! Especially during White Woman Instagram (where he is the white woman), Sexting, and Problematic (which becomes a day-long earworm every time I think about it). I found it striking that his posing and movements never seem to be done in a camp or mocking way. It's especially notable in Problematic, where he could have taken a more macho, exercise-bro approach to his dance moves. Maybe he just really wanted an excuse to channel Madonna?

Fabulous post!
posted by Rora at 5:31 PM on July 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

one aspect i haven't really seen addressed in reviews or articles is bo's gender presentation, which struck me as refreshingly outside of the typical cishet white man norm.

Trans people are definitely talking about this, a friend told me the other day they disagree with the plurality of people in the community who want to claim Bo Burnham as one of theirs. It's something that crossed my mind a couple times as I watched Inside.
posted by subdee at 5:52 PM on July 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

I just watched "All Eyes on Me", then "Can't Handle This", it got dusty in here.

I'm thinking of going to see "Inside" in the theater; it seems like both the best and the worst idea.
posted by Pronoiac at 6:25 PM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

thank you kaibutsu. I forgot about that vid. I love the intersection of beatsaber and anything so much.
posted by RobertFrost at 9:01 PM on July 21, 2021

As a piece of comedic work, it's really really good. Very funny and scathing throughout! He really did a great job.

However, I really disliked it for personal reasons. Mainly, that I'm pretty sure a lot or most of the isolation stuff is entirely fabricated. The base palette of the special is not necessarily a lie anymore than a work of fiction is a lie, but the framework that he uses to base his "authentic" character is materially inauthentic. He's got a long term girlfriend, he probably rented the unit used to film his special away from his nice apartment/house. The fictional aspects of the special put me on guard against the real things he was showing, making me suspect that he was just playing someone who was dealing with major depression, occasional suicidal ideation, SSRI fuckery, and the worst effects of isolation that I and a lot of my friends and family suffered. It personally felt weird and bad to see a representation of the depths of shittiness I felt during the quarantine played out by someone who seemed to be milking it for dramatic effect to add more weight to their very funny songs.

I do not claim to know his internal state, nor exactly what aspects of the special were fabricated. But I definitely left it feeling very reminded of the hell I'd been going through, and that's about as cathartic for me as ripping a bandage off of a fresh wound.
posted by Philipschall at 10:33 PM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah, @Philipschall, I had a very similar hard time enjoying it. Every time he took a break from the comedy to examine and display his depression about being locked inside, I couldn't help but feel really weird dissonance, and thinking "But... you did this to you? You decided to stay inside until you were finished, this is all self-inflicted!"

I don't think he was playing at any of the awful depression on display, he definitely went into a lot of meta stuff around how he'd been "inside" for years already anyhow. But it felt like watching someone go survival camping in their backyard. Yes, there's inclement weather and maybe an adventurous coyote wanders too close, and maybe you really get hurt! But you put yourself out there in the first place, and you have a home you could return to in a moment's notice, if you ever wanted to stop killing yourself for your art.

I dunno, maybe he originally did assume he'd get his special completed in three months or whatever, and didn't expect the spiral he ended up in. But at some point, he had to have known that he was putting his own mental health and distress at the mercy of this arbitrary project he'd started, and I got really uncomfortable at the idea that just by watching, I was helping to glorify the idea of artists sacrificing their mental health for their art. I don't need to be entertained so badly that it causes someone a nervous breakdown.
posted by Imperfect at 11:26 PM on July 21, 2021

I don't think it's important whether he was literally trapped in his room or not. It's a work of art. It can be emotionally honest without being a documentary.
posted by starfishprime at 12:50 AM on July 22, 2021 [32 favorites]

I tried listening to the music, but it really isn't for me. Very, very tedious.

But respect on the well researched and organised post. More of this kind of thing please.
posted by 0bvious at 3:14 AM on July 22, 2021

> I don't think it's important whether he was literally trapped in his room or not. It's a work of art. It can be emotionally honest without being a documentary.
I think the point isn't that it needs to be a documentary, but that these things makes you (or at least me) doubt the emotional honesty as well. Because it is all presented as real, as Bo the person and not Bo the character, and because this directly ties into the emotional aspect.

I didn't take him being a year-long prisoner in that room and never ever going outside as literal, but if I find out that Bo (the person) is only doing physical and social isolation for this special it does make me wonder which feelings he's only doing for this special as well, and I can't help but feel manipulated in some way.
posted by bjrn at 3:14 AM on July 22, 2021

All Eyes On Me (Song Only)—minus the monologue—was also released as a single on Apple Music. Plus there is also a "clean" version of the song.

It made The Best Comedy Specials of 2021 (So Far) by Kathryn VanArendonk and you can listen to her discuss her list with Jesse David Fox on Vulture’s Good One podcast (Spotify or Apple Podcasts). The Good One, interviewed Bo Burnham in 2018 about "Can't Handle This" when he was promoting Eighth Grade.

For a deeper dive, there's an entire episode of The Specials (Patreon) devoted to this show (The Specials and Jason Zinoman cover Bo Burnham's 2021 Netflix special Inside) and a follow-up conversation (The Specials Live! - Bo Burnham).
posted by boost ventilator at 6:25 AM on July 22, 2021

this is all self-inflicted!

I would get that if the film was trying to say something about how depressing the pandemic was. It's not at all, though. It's a film depicting someone who's trapped in a claustrophobic room with a tiny door, as a metaphor for the author's lifelong anxiety and depression.

And what he's talking about here is exactly that you can't magic that away. The plot summary is: sure the internet is exacerbating your anxiety and the systemic problems that are depressing you are real, but if you're dealing with a brain that works a certain way then expecting it to change when your external conditions change is just going to break your heart again and again. It's "all self-inflicted!" in some sense, because it's your own human brain that is strangling you and all you need to do is relax your own linguistic processes until your body can breathe again, but it's so so hard.

(What I'm really hoping for is that he comes back in a few years with a story that's more about how he succeeded; this stuff is hard but he's young, and we know more about what works than he's depicting so far.)

it does make me wonder which feelings he's only doing for this special as well

He's spoken in the past about anxiety running in his family and how that impacted his career -- I don't think you need to worry that the broad thrust of the film is made up. He also said in the same interview:
Q: Bo Burnham, do you still stand by everything you said in that [previous standup set]?

A: Theatrically, sure, yeah (laughter). There was a sort of element of definitely dramatizing the feelings to express them. But yeah, I think so.
So you might have to settle for "he was really depicting something that matters to him" instead of "each moment was a normal authentic thing for him to do off-camera."
posted by john hadron collider at 6:29 AM on July 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

I was quite surprised to have some conflicting feelings about "White Woman's Instagram". Because - on the one hand, that whole carefully-curated-cliche'd-poses-for-the-image thing is annoying as hell.

....But on the other hand - some of the stuff he's listing (freshly fallen snow, fuzzy socks) are nice things, and why are we shaming women for liking them and wanting to share "hey this is a small thing that is making me happy"? I recently joined a Facebook group all about "Hygge Style" and it's all people sharing their own little shots of "this is the cake I just made" or "here's the view out my window where I'm sitting with a book and a cup of tea while it rains" or "look at the wildflowers I just picked" or whatever. What makes that different from "check out the new rims on my Trans-Am" or "look at this steak I just grilled" or "here's the view from my corner office"?

I was not expecting to have both of those reactions and it surprised me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:11 AM on July 22, 2021 [13 favorites]

Fully agree EmpressCallipygos. To me it’s more egregious because a lot of (straight) white men in my life just aren’t on Instagram at all while their wives and girlfriends are; the partners are doing all the social emotional relational work in the relationship and IG posting is part of that! So it’s a classic “need something from women but shame them for how they do it” situation. And in general shaming people for having common taste is incredibly silly and arrogant.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:35 AM on July 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

he probably rented the unit used to film his special away from his nice apartment/house

It is literally the same backyard unit where he ended his LAST special, and the narrative arc of all of us getting stuck wherever we were when the pandemic hit is, uh, perhaps not meant to be literal.

why are we shaming women for liking them and wanting to share "hey this is a small thing that is making me happy"

I actually don't read the song as shaming people for liking things, but about the impossibility of experiencing or expressing true human emotion or messiness in an arena that purports to be about living a life, but is instead relentlessly commodified and sexualized to the point that anything that falls outside of the grid's aesthetic materially damages the business of being an influencer. The verse about the woman talking about her dead mother informs the rest of the jokes in the song, for me. It isn't that you can't like cute or fun things, but that somehow the act of liking and sharing cute and nice things has turned into something (often a literal business!) that precludes the expression of full humanity. I know of MANY influencers who have said that when they tried to post about something genuine or painful, just one time, they began hemorrhaging followers. Escapism isn't bad, but when it becomes a trap of its own that needs escaping, that is something else entirely, and that critique is more in line with what he's doing in the larger project.

Anyway, when the song started I expected to be annoyed by it after initial amusement, but that verse really changed things for me-- and there is a reason that Netflix tends to avoid including it in their promo pieces.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:07 AM on July 22, 2021 [25 favorites]

Full disclosure, the middle part of "White Woman's Instagram" made me fully weep, and I'm tearing up thinking about the lyrics again right now, but for me that song was basically in defense of all those corny things he listed.

He draws you in with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge "hey, we've all seen a stupid IG feed like this, right? So annoying!" and then recontextualizes it within that vulnerable, hurt person who lost their mother.

That line "it's a bit better but it's still hard" or whatever was telling because to me, that's the character in the song saying that things like tiny pumpkins and incredibly derivative street art DO bring them comfort, haters be damned, and reducing something to the flat affect of Instagram is almost necessarily going to gloss over the fact that there's a real person with real emotions behind every screen.

And then on the other hand it was just a funny and incredibly accurate breakdown of entire swathes of North American Instagram users.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 8:42 AM on July 22, 2021 [21 favorites]

"....But on the other hand - some of the stuff he's listing (freshly fallen snow, fuzzy socks) are nice things, and why are we shaming women for liking them and wanting to share "hey this is a small thing that is making me happy"?"

I guess there's a line between cliché and shaming, I don't hear it as saying you suck for liking something, everyone loves comfy socks! It's more like a well worn meme. In biking it'd be the perfectly staged coffee-stop with espresso and cake-- it's funny because it's such a meme. It's not loving socks that's worth teasing-- it's the picture (you know it!) of the catalog-quality perfectly framed warm lit shot, probably cappuccino in frame, socks to the fore with a tight f-stop blurring the background. It's the staged photo to be Instagram worthy, rather then the life that is-- y'know?

I felt the mother reference was less emotive then other's readings-- I guess I'm still wired to the idea that Instagram is performative. It's hard for me to read an Instagram of "Your kid didn't do too bad" as being posted to earnestly share the vibe and rather than feed the engagement monster, but I suspect the dissolution of private vs. personal (and this then ties into his other songs and heck-- the idea of a world where one person can put something as well produced as this together for an audience) is putting me ever more wrong on that scale.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:08 AM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Burnham is new to me, so I appreciate this post.
posted by doctornemo at 10:10 AM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos and wemayfreeze, for what it's worth I took White Women's Instagram as a self-aware indictment of himself for being a jaded jerk - hence the jarring moment of raw emotion in the middle.
posted by ecreeves at 10:27 AM on July 22, 2021 [11 favorites]

This special has been hugely important to me, so I was delighted to see such a lovingly detailed post about it. Thank you, rhaomi! I have tickets for the balcony at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver tonight.

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, and because I was already familiar with Bo's past work so I knew not to trust anything onscreen because "art is a lie, nothing is real," but also knew that his experience with anxiety and depression was all too true, this special scratched a very deep pandemic/climate/internet/creator itch that I didn't know I had. I listen to the album constantly, especially late at night when I can't sleep, and I feel less alone, comforted that the music and lyrics can hold all of my self-love and self-loathing at the same time. Sometimes I'm chair-dancing and sometimes I'm crying. Whatever I feel at a certain moment, despair or delight, there's space for it.

I think the key is, as Jesse David Fox put it, to read all of it both sincerely and ironically at the same time. The musical format can deliver two entirely different moods simultaneously in a way that traditional stand-up cannot. (I'm thinking of "a few things start to happen/my vision starts to flatten/my heart, it starts to tappin'/and I think I'm gonna die" which is a chilling description of a panic attack set to the peppiest beat imaginable.)

The fact that the special lends itself to such deep wide-ranging discussion and dissection speaks to that both/and nature. Everyone's interpretation and response is well-grounded in the text. I see just as much validity in the more critical race-informed reading from Cassie da Costa and Chris Murphy in Vanity Fair as I do in, say, a guitar teacher's reaction video.

And I love that Bo has done virtually no press or interviews, no tweets, nothing that would confirm or deny or add a jot or tittle to the special. He is sitting on the couch watching us now.
posted by alicat at 10:56 AM on July 22, 2021 [14 favorites]

Ooh, I also forgot to say, that both/and approach reminds me a lot of Stephen Sondheim, who is constantly presenting two contradictory feelings and refusing to resolve them. For example, from Company:

You're sorry-grateful
Why look for answers
Where none occur?
You always are
What you always were
Which has nothing to do with
All to do with her
posted by alicat at 11:09 AM on July 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

The great Demi Adejuyigbe wrote this review of Inside which I found more insightful than any of the "explainers" etc cropping up, which I find too often mix surface-level observations on technique with kinda patronizing explanations of what things "mean" that fall somewhere between "subjective" and, you know, "wrong". I guess as long as there's moving pictures being created there'll always be a market for that genre on YouTube, but I'll never like how they flatten the experience of a good piece of creative work.

If I had my druthers and I was trying to get someone into Burnham, I probably wouldn't start with Inside. It stands alone fine, so I'm not saying it's "wrong" to watch it first, but it's so interwoven with new takes on different aspects of old work, it's so steeped in the identity-as-performer versus identity-as-real-human-behind-the-performer-who's-also-performing-the-real-human-part, and it's so rewarding to see how he gets where he gets to in Inside before he gets there.

I'd start by watching one or two of his short (& rough) pre-discovery youtube videos for background, then skip Words Words Words, and go straight to the perfect trilogy of what., then Make Happy, then Inside. That'd be my Bo Burnham Machete Order, personally. But YMMV!
posted by churl at 3:05 PM on July 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

^ I don't know if you are right, wrong, or a madman but what you've contributed here looks to these eyes like the god's own truth
posted by elkevelvet at 3:15 PM on July 22, 2021

"White Women's Instagram" also has another level of meaning. The "Beyoncé is my spirit animal" mug and the words written on his face photoshoot are direct Gabby Hanna references. Gabby stalked Bo on social media to the point where she pretended she was in a relationship with him.

So the song is about how social media can make people feel like the only way they can express themselves is through performative gestures, pointing out how instagram is awash in cultural appropriation (the coffee mug, the head dress, the Buddha statue), a real gut punch of actual grief in the bridge, and him calling out a stalker.

Bo understands his core audience of teens will obsess over this stuff and it is impressive how many easter eggs he can fit into some of these songs.
posted by zymil at 10:13 PM on July 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

I love everything about Shit, so very much. Incredibly catchy funky one-minute tune about the joys of depression that I've had on loop all day. I'm happy to have personally moved beyond these vibes but I understand so very hard. *slow clap* *chef's kiss*
posted by neon909 at 1:16 AM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Please start with what. or earlier material rather than Inside, Bo Burngins.
posted by neon909 at 1:20 AM on July 23, 2021

I'm a bit sheepish to admit that I am finally driven to watch "Inside" because the music is ubiquitous on TikTok. Sheepish because as a person who is, uhhhh, much older than the average TikTok audience, I let a lot of the replicating in-jokes and trends just superficially glide past my curiosity, but I just can't stand not having the full context for these sounds anymore.

Anyway, I'm about a third of the way through Inside and I'm more impressed than I expected to be.
posted by desuetude at 8:08 AM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't have much to add as there's been much smarter and considered takes on this above (y'all are very erudite) but the feeling I got from this is: "I have a lot of feelings and don't exactly know what to do with them or where to put them".

That's the past 16 months for me. This special feels like Burnham externalising the same feelings in the way he knows how.

I just got fat, into morbid media and drinking too much.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:44 AM on July 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

I seem to have viewed the middle segment of "White Woman's Instagram" differently than most, because for me it felt just like an additional layer of artifice, exploiting a personal loss for hits and likes. Though I guess the change from the 1:1 ratio meant that segment wasn't supposed to be on Instagram?
posted by ymgve at 2:59 AM on July 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I guess the main reason this struck a chord with me is that I spent the last year working in isolation, making an online college course. There was a period where I was sleeping in my home office so as not to bug my wife (and also we thought maybe I had covid, good times!) Like with Bo, there are hours and hours of recordings of me cursing into a microphone, because I couldn't pronounce words right or my voice sounded shitty.

Anyway, it is a brilliant concept to just fucking own the whole "working from home" concept and show yourself DIYing it, and the projections and stuff that he designed are really wonderful. Personally I hope he directs some more movies (beyond Eighth Grade which is excellent.)
posted by anhedonic at 4:36 PM on July 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Though I guess the change from the 1:1 ratio meant that segment wasn't supposed to be on Instagram?

That's how I took it - something real escaped from the 1:1 square crop boundary, but was quickly reined back in. Maybe out of avoidance of the raw emotion, or because it doesn't belong in a performative medium, or because it'd ruin the illusion that people are there to like & subscribe to.
posted by harriet vane at 10:30 PM on August 1, 2021

This really is difficult to recommend to people as a comedy special. Hannah Gadsby's Nannette was easy by comparison - it has more rage in it, and some gestures to a path forward. But a lot of people are still stuck with lockdowns as well as pre-existing mental health issues, so it's hard to tell if they'll find Inside cathartic or distressing.

I loved it though. Id never heard of Burnham before, and I'd heard some of the criticisms on authenticity and about White Woman's Instagram. But I'd also seen a lot of mental-health TikTok showing enjoyment of it, so I figured I'd give it a go. As someone who lives an Extremely Online life, who has mental health issues and who struggled during the early stages of the pandemic even though I am objectively in a very privileged and safe position - I get where Burnham is coming from. I don't think it's for everyone, and I've got no beef with people who find it doesn't resonate with them.

The only lingering doubts I had about authenticity were resolved by the Art Is A Lie clip (linked by Grammar Moses earlier in this thread, I saw it while reading critiques). Burnham knows that anything he makes can't ever be purely literally true, so he highlights the artificiality and carries on anyway.

And I loved how he presented himself in some stereotypically feminine ways. The whole thing is about showing vulnerability and flaws and how we deal with the whole spectrum of error (from minor mistakes to colossal fuck-ups on a societal scale), so an ultra-masculine vibe wouldn't work for a lot of the material. I felt like it supported the content, especially in the turning 30 song and Problematic.
posted by harriet vane at 11:00 PM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just finally watched it, and wow. Y'know, it's entirely possible that it was entirely made up, that he isn't actually depressed or suicidal, that he had lots of people around, that it was on a sound stage, that it was pretend. But what it was to me was a perfect encapsulation of isolation. I've been a guy living in a studio by myself. I had jobs where I had to get on a bus with a bunch of other people and go work in places with a bunch of other people and supply customer service to a bunch of other people, then I'd go out with my girlfriend amongst other people, then she'd come back to my place and we'd have sex and hang out (not always with other people), then at the end of the day she'd go home and I'd be in my apartment alone, and I realized one day that with all the people I was around, none of them were really with me, because I wasn't with any of them. I lived for a year in that studio, lots of highs and lows, and lots of time just spent existing. It was a welcome change from living with my family and constantly having to walk on eggshells to keep from setting my mom off, and I liked having my own toothpaste that nobody would fuck with, but it was also isolating in a really peculiar way that I don't think I'd ever seen described the way that this did.

Was he really emotionally honest here? I give zero fucks about that. This spoke to me about that critical year of my life and it's going to take me a long time to process that. That year was over 30 years ago, and I think I'm finally ready to figure it out.
posted by disconnect at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Dropping back in before the thread closes to tease an Inside-related fan project I'm working on: a book! Kind of. It's not quite ready for prime-time yet, but I'll post it here on Projects when it's done (hopefully in the next couple of weeks). I'll also post updates in the two really interesting FPPs that have gone up since this one:

F.D Signifier on Bo Burnham's Inside and "White Liberal Performative Art" : White Habitus, Performative Wokeness and Existential Dread. by simmering octagon

Bo Burnham vs. Jeff Bezos - 2.5 Hour Video Essay by bbqturtle

Lastly, I just wanted to take this moment to say thank you. Thank you for reading my post.

As you guys know, I work really hard to try to bring you guys high-quality posts that I think you’ll enjoy. So the fact that you are enjoying it, means everything to me. So thank you! And also: keep reading. 'Cause there’s a lot more posts where that came from.

Alright guys, see you later!

posted by Rhaomi at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

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