Artist: Bo Burnham
Distributed By: Netflix
Released: 30 May 2021
3. FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight)
4. How the World Works
5. White Woman's Instagram
6. Unpaid Intern
7. Bezos I
9. Look Who's Inside Again
12. Don't Wanna Know
14. All Time Low
15. Welcome to the Internet
16. Bezos II
17. That Funny Feeling
18. All Eyes On Me
20. Any Day Now
"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"
When I started this website around two years ago, it was designed as a means to channel my creativity into something productive; something that would help quench my thirst for accomplishment. I can be a pretty anxious person, and productivity really helps to absolve me of those feelings when I get stuck in a rut. Initially, I just wanted to learn how to code a website, with music reviewing being only secondary. But over time, I found more and more enjoyment in thinking and writing about albums, eventually shifting my focus entirely onto creating reviews. And while this gave me bursts of achievement that would be extremely beneficial for my mental health at the time, it ended up becoming a necessity once 2020 came around.
I find a lot of comfort in filling my week with things to do. So, when my calendar was cleared indefinitely in March of last year, I didn’t cope particularly well. Every day that I didn’t spend working or studying for uni, I tried to occupy by doing this. The short spikes of dopamine that the project gave me basically dragged me from one end of lockdown to the other, and this is something that I find I still rely on for fulfilment, especially now that I’m once again stuck inside for weeks on end. My point is that, needless to say, when Bo Burnham released his new special “INSIDE” a few months ago, it struck a nerve.
If you haven’t seen “INSIDE”, then I’ll get this review immediately to the point. It’s fantastic. Go watch it, it’s on Netflix. It’s probably the most impressive special that I’ve ever seen, although it’s honestly more comparable to a full-length movie than a comedy special. I’m not going to review this as a collection of songs, as I think that would greatly diminish the project as a whole. Instead, this is going to be more my overall thoughts on the special, from the music, the filmmaking, and the overarching themes that Bo presents here. I’d recommend watching the special in full before reading any more of this, since this will otherwise spoil the majority of the show for you. But if you’ve seen “INSIDE”, feel free to read on.
In order to tick all the boxes that could qualify this as a review before it inevitably devolves into an incoherent ramble, I should mention right off the bat that this special is beautifully put together. I’m not particularly well versed in film-techniques, but the level of creativity that Bo displays throughout “INSIDE” using such a limited amount of equipment is insanely impressive. His live shows have always shown a passion for presentation, something more apparent than ever on his final performance of ‘Can’t Handle This’ in “Make Happy”. But here, he brings this to an entirely new level, integrating his recent experiences in filmmaking and using them to explore some extremely interesting and novel techniques. Although he’s confined in such a small amount of space, with a restrictive number of tools, it’s these limitations which help Burnham’s artistry to flourish. And the results are genuinely stunning; the hilarious use of the headlamp on the disco ball in the opening moments of ‘Content’, the various creative portraits taken during ‘White Woman’s Instagram’, and of course, the gorgeous double-exposure effect made by the projector in ‘All Eyes on Me’. It’s a visually striking special, and it’s obvious that this is where much of Burnham’s passion lies.
The other major aspect of the special is, of course, the songs. Having been released to Spotify shortly after “INSIDE” came out, the album has quickly become one of my most listened to of the year so far. While almost an hour long, occupying most of the runtime of the special itself, the record is incredibly digestible. And a lot of this is due to the fact that it’s pretty inseparable from the actual show; if you’ve watched “INSIDE”, you’ll know whether or not you’ll want to relisten to each of the songs. But this also doesn’t change the fact that most of the tracks here are absolutely fantastic. It’s quite dense, at 20 songs, and because of this, it manages to cover a lot of ground, exploring various subject matters and displaying a wide palette of sounds. And although I think there are a few misses throughout the first half, notably the light, R&B centred ‘FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight)’, and the sensual ‘Sexting’, this is still a remarkably consistent record. There’s a surprising amount of variety, and Bo manages to create incredibly addictive songs in even the most unlikely places. I would have found it hard to believe at the beginning of this year that one of the catchiest hooks to come out of 2021 would be in reference to Jeff Bezos, sarcastically egging him to ‘fuck their wives’ and ‘drink their blood’. But somehow, Burnham did it. Alongside this, of course, is the inclusion of a singing anti-capitalist sock puppet, a menacing ode to the effects of the internet, and, as the show goes on, a growing sense of unease and anxiety. And this is much due to the fact that, as many people have stated at this point, “INSIDE” isn’t really a comedy special. There are some extremely funny moments throughout it, which shouldn’t at all be discounted, but if you expect a comedy show going into this, you’re going to be somewhat disappointed. While the first half is relatively conventional in terms of content for a live comedy special, in the same vein as what Burnham has done in the past, the last half hour of the special takes a much darker turn, exploring his own mental state as the effects of isolation begin to take their toll on him.
Bo has been quite open about his struggle with mental health issues in the past, and around five years ago, after the release of ‘Make Happy’, he decided to stop doing live performances altogether, due to experiencing intense panic attacks while on stage. And while he would continue to stretch his creative muscles after this while working in film and television, even going on to direct his first feature film with the excellent ‘Eighth Grade’, he wouldn’t decide to return to live comedy until January of 2020. Of course, this didn’t end up happening, and while my fulfilment project of reviewing music has been self-perpetuating (thankfully, music didn’t stop releasing despite the circumstances), Burnham’s decision to create a new comedy special was not. This was something with a singular end-goal; one that was designed to last him to the end of the lockdown period and nothing more. But as the special continues, with the situation extending far longer than he’d originally anticipated, he prolongs the show itself, attempting to continue finding comfort by exercising his creativity. While the project was initially designed as a coping mechanism for isolation, it slowly becomes an avoidance strategy against the depression brought about by completing it. By the final stretch of the show, he even toys with the idea of refusing to release it; because he understands that once it’s out there, he’s back to square one.
This dread of letting the project go is something that he clearly struggles with throughout the entirety of “INSIDE”. At multiple points throughout the special, he provides milestones that indicate just how long he’s been working. Six months pass, then a year; he reluctantly celebrates his 30th birthday, a deadline he mentions that he never wanted to reach, and in turn, the tone of the special begins to shift. It’s clear that much of the material in the first half was designed to be performed in a live setting, having been at least somewhat conceived before the pandemic began. These include tracks such as ‘White Woman’s Instagram’, ‘How the World Works’, and ‘Sexting’. And while the first half still discusses the lockdown during many other tracks, it’s at around the midpoint in which “INSIDE” starts to feel more and more claustrophobic. The songs become more serious and introspective, and Bo’s frustration becomes increasingly apparent. The aforementioned moment in which he angrily refuses to finish the special, in the fear that he’ll then have to ‘go back to living his life’, is immediately followed by a reprisal of a sketch from the first half. ‘Bezos II’ is just as funny and ridiculous as the first is, but in the context of the special, it feels like a cry for help. He’s desperate to prolong the show by any means necessary, even if it means recycling the same ideas from the first act.
But as the special progresses even further, this layer of comedy that Burnham uses to keep the show afloat disappears altogether. ‘That Funny Feeling’ marks a moment of pure despondence, as Bo reflects on the absurdities of living in isolation, as well as his feelings of dissociation that have developed over time; yet another thing that hit me like a brick the first time I saw “INSIDE”. And, after a genuinely devastating moment in which he acknowledges the extent of his depression, the show reaches its moment of catharsis. ‘All Eyes on Me’ is beautiful, heart-breaking, and freeing, all at once. It’s a strangely comforting track to listen to, despite the lyrics reflecting his feelings of futility and defeat, but it’s also the emotional climax of all the turmoil that he’s experienced over the course of the special. It’s received the most attention of any of the songs from “INSIDE”, and that’s for good reason; it’s an absolutely stunning song, highlighted even further by the sublime performance that Burnham delivers. And once it’s over, the narrative of the film reaches its inevitable end, with Bo realising he’s finished working on the project and reluctantly delivering an epilogue. It’s bittersweet, knowing that he’s struggled with completing the special for such a long time, but regardless, ‘Goodbye’ is a beautiful closing track that integrates several other songs into a fantastic conclusion.
Watching this special has been an extremely therapeutic experience for me. Like most people, my mental health took a huge nosedive over lockdown, and working on this website, among other hobbies, was an integral part of coping with that for me. Seeing Bo Burnham express what it felt like to rely on that productivity in such a profound way was an emotional experience, to say the least. And while it feels uncomfortable and voyeuristic at times to witness what is essentially a man experiencing a mental breakdown, I’m immensely grateful for it, nonetheless. “INSIDE” is a triumph. Besides being a fantastic album and special, it’s also arguably one of the best films of the year so far. And all I have else to say is that now that it’s finished and has been released, I just hope that Bo is okay.
"Total disassociation, fully out your mind
Googling "derealization," hating what you find
That unapparent summer air in early fall
The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all
There it is again
That funny feeling"
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 31/07/2021
6/9/21, 8:39 am
Loved it 😍
5/9/21, 8:53 am
another great review, so proud of u x
31/8/21, 3:24 am
25/8/21, 11:55 am
yay!!! i love this review 🤍
12/8/21, 11:55 am
yay another great review!!! i love it!!!
5/8/21, 9:00 am
a very thoughtful and great review!!!
31/7/21, 12:55 am
such a good review!!!
31/7/21, 12:53 am
God I have been waiting on this review since I first watched Inside and you put it in words perfectly! (I personally would've rated it a 10/10) This review and this special are both amazing!! love love LOVE it!!
27/7/21, 8:56 am
yay!!! love olivia and this review!!!🤍
27/7/21, 6:40 am
Love your reviews! Keep em coming