No one really likes to talk anymore about the time period where Bo Burnham’s “Inside” came out. It came out on May 30th 2021 and was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic slowly came to an end it seemed like everyone wanted to forget about it, which is very understandable. However, a lot of the intricacies about our digital culture were exposed in ways we hadn’t realized before. Inside is one of the greatest pieces of art that came out during the pandemic and it should be studied by anyone who is interested in our digital culture. It brings out a lot of sociological topics, discusses mental health and philosophizes about our self-identity in the modern age.
Inside was created, directed, edited and performed by Bo Burnham in his guest house in Los Angeles. It is a 87 minutes long television special that released on Netflix. It consists of several songs and skits written by Bo himself. As a musical comedian he managed to create a variety of songs that are about a plethora of different subjects, but they all are linked together in the end. The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on our social lives and Bo was able to capture that exact feeling with Inside. It is also worth noting that Bo started his career on YouTube, and it is safe to say that this made sure that Bo has a deep understanding of internet culture and how it personally affects our well-being.
There it is again, that funny feeling
With the song “That Funny Feeling”, Bo managed to expose some of our societal issues and the ways in which we deal with them. It is one of the most soothing yet slightly disturbing songs on Inside. In the song he juxtaposes a societal issue with numerous ways how we are dealing with or ignoring the issue. For example, in the song he mentions “The whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door”. We have everything we need and we can explore the whole world using our phones and that’s why we have the whole world at our fingertips. But, we seem to ignore the bigger issues we are facing such as climate change and that’s how the ocean is at our door. The rest of the song also similarly juxtaposes other societal issues such as mass shootings, mental health and the increasing societal division. All of this is is wrapped together with a sense of doom as Bo sings that “We were overdue, but it’ll be over soon”
All eyes on me
One of the most striking songs on Inside is the song “All Eyes On Me”. In this song Bo discusses his struggles as an artist and how he has been dealing with the mental health issues that came with it. In the song, he seems to be saying all of his thoughts out loud which gives you an idea of his anxiety. As an artist, it is very hard to keep your spirits up, even if you are not feeling up for it at the moment. This comes with self doubts about the artist’s profession, and this is highlighted with the line “Are you feeling nervous? Are you having fun?”. This feeling is heightened even more by being stuck inside as an entertainer. During the pandemic, it was very hard for artists to make a meaningful connection with their audience, and this caused artists’ mental health to decline.
Could I interest you in everything, all of the time?
Arguably the most popular song of Inside is the song “Welcome to the Internet”. It depicts the seemingly chaotic nature of the content on the internet. The song is almost a personification of the internet and how it reels us in. The bridge of the song highlights the innocence of the internet in it’s early stages, but snaps back abruptly to highlight its almost destructive nature. “See a man beheaded. Get offended, see a shrink. Show us pictures of your children. Tell us every thought you think” is a perfect example of the chaos that is the internet. In one moment you can see disturbing content and in the other you expose your personal thoughts. It is pretty weird that we regularly do this on the internet, but we don’t always seem to acknowledge this.
Overall, Inside has perfectly captured the zeitgeist of our digital culture during the pandemic. Not only is it a social commentary, but also a way to peek back into our lives during the pandemic. Now that the pandemic seems to be over, we tend to suppress this time period from our memories, but it would be foolish to ignore the ways in which it exposed the social issues we face on a daily basis.
First of all, extremely good post, I completely forgot how much I actually enjoyed and was amazed at that masterpiece of a… musical? documentary? As a big Bo fan ever since What. came out, I always enjoyed his music, but Inside really felt different. It showcased, I think, a lot of the darker undertones and consequences of living in a highly digitalised society and how actually it is harder to connect to others also because of it.
I completely agree with your description of Welcome to the Internet, the switches in content and tone really catch you by surprise exactly like when something changes abruptly in a twitter thread or youtube comments. Thanks for writing this! I will definitely rewatch Inside again soon during winter break haha
Thank you for this post! I remember my friends peak pandemic quoting this album right after it came out and it now feels like yesterday and ten thousand yesterdays away at the same time.
I relistened to my favorite tracks on the allbum (“Bezos I” and “Welcome to The Internet”) and discovered there is now a deluxe version of Inside with 4 versions of “Bezos” (time to listen to during the break). I envision the narrator in “Welcome to the Internet” as the voice of a company preying on user data, exemplified with the lines “This isn’t a test, haha,
Just nod or shake your head and we’ll do the rest” and “We got a million different ways to engage” but that could my paranoid brain. The lines “Apathy’s a tragedy, And boredom is a crime” make me realize that prolonged use of the internet has on the contrary desensitized me to many topics and easily bored. I wholeheartedly agree with you saying that the album captures the mood of the period and how it exposes the societal issues we face in today’s day and time: hopefully this becomes a classic if it isn’t already!
Interesting musical/documentary. I also think that learning of the things the pandemic has exposed would be beneficial. I will try to watch it over the christmas break.
Interesting blog post! It reminded me of how much I enjoyed Inside when it came out, so I immediately went to put on the album 😀
Your commentary is very on point and I definitely think part of the success of Inside was the relatability it had, but also the way it was easy to distract yourself from its core message through fun beats and witty one-liners.
It was surprising to see how many viral TikTok sounds came out of Inside and were often used completely outside of their original context.
I think that just illustrates your point even more.
All of the pandemic feels like such a blur to me, it’s crazy to think it start only/just 3 years ago and Bo captures those complicated, forgotten feelings perfectly.
I’ll definitely watch the special again sometime soon with the new experiences and perspectives in mind.
Thank you for the post!