When Bo Burnham broke out again within the early days of YouTube — his first viral video, from 2006, confirmed him in his childhood bed room, performing an unique tune about how his entire household thinks he’s homosexual — his music hardly ever felt like greater than a automobile designed to hold his comedy.
A sort of rinky-dink present tune minus the present, “My Entire Household…” provided little in the way in which of a memorable melody, nor was its association, plunked out by the teenage comic on an inexpensive keyboard, something to savor. The tune had intelligent (if callow) rhymes, to make certain, however even these relied on the clip’s grainy pre-iPhone footage to recover from: You needed to see Burnham arching his eyebrows to know precisely when he was making a very cringe-y joke.
The formal relationship in Burnham’s work — music within the service of comedy — was roughly maintained as he ascended from YouTube glory to Comedy Central stardom, which is one purpose his 2010 album was known as “Phrases Phrases Phrases” and never “Notes Notes Notes.” (Burnham’s rise was so speedy that he turned down an invite to review experimental theater at NYU to go professional at age 18.) However the relationship reveals indicators of change with “Inside,” his much-discussed Netflix particular that dropped over Memorial Day weekend and final week spawned a standalone assortment of songs accessible on streaming platforms together with Spotify.
For the primary time, you possibly can credibly argue that Burnham, now 30, has used comedy as a automobile to ship music.
Conceived and nearly completely executed, we’re advised, by Burnham on his personal throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “Inside” charts the sluggish coming-apart of a humorist self-isolating in a small guesthouse scenario. There’s no reside viewers, in fact, however we the tv viewers watch as he does bits — and writes, tries out and discards different bits — about expertise and racism and psychological well being, almost all of that are offered as songs in kinds as diverse as synth-pop, doo-wop and campfire folks.
A few of it depends, at least the outdated YouTube stuff did, on Burnham’s visuals. He performs the scalding “How the World Works” as a duet with a woke sock puppet, as an example, and makes use of a 30-second snippet known as “Unpaid Intern” as the premise for an extended phase skewering web response movies (and the self-obsession they foster).
But lots of “Inside’s” 20 tunes play outdoors the particular — and never solely in an inventive sense. In response to knowledge printed Wednesday by the music-biz commerce journal Hits, sales-and-streaming exercise for the “Inside” album has it operating neck-and-neck with Maroon 5’s new LP within the race for subsequent week’s album chart.
“Inside (The Songs)” has already topped Billboard’s comedy tally, and certainly Burnham’s songs are comedic in nature, which little question will lead some listeners to dismiss them out of hand as novelty tunes that couldn’t probably have something severe to say. What different narrative mode, although, would higher go well with the grim absurdity of Burnham’s subject material?
In “That Humorous Feeling” and “White Girl’s Instagram” and “Welcome to the Web,” he describes the dehumanizing expertise of an internet life with good jokes about corporate-virtue signaling and how-to-build-a-bomb movies; you chuckle, sure, as a result of the jokes are humorous. However they’re additionally masterfully organized in a manner that catches the sickening rhythm of a digital content material move sure sometime to drown us:
“The surgeon common’s pop-up store, Robert Iger’s face/ Low cost Etsy agitprop, Bugles’ tackle race/ Feminine Colonel Sanders, simple solutions, civil warfare/ The entire world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door.”
That’s songwriting as sharp as something by such revered social satirists as Randy Newman or Father John Misty, and that’s earlier than Burnham has even gotten to the tip of the verse in query, the place he rhymes “‘Carpool Karaoke,’ Steve Aoki, Logan Paul” with “A present store on the gun vary, a mass taking pictures on the mall.”
Comedy rock, or no matter we would name it, faces a built-in sturdiness problem, which is offering a purpose to maintain listening after you’ve heard the punch line. Jokes are constructed to take advantage of the truth that you don’t know the place they’re going; nice pop songs are speculated to be skilled repeatedly. Threading that needle is hard work: For each Tenacious D, whose mock-hair-metal jams ooze meathead sincerity, you get a Flight of the Conchords, whose arch acoustic ditties want some dramatic scaffolding; for each “I’m on a Boat” by the Lonely Island, you get … all the opposite songs by the Lonely Island.
Burnham succeeds by creating songs that don’t require the context of a sitcom or a video or perhaps a familiarity with the main points of his life and profession (although every of these definitely provides worth); at his greatest, he’s merely doing what songwriters do in inspecting sophisticated concepts with humor and knowledge.
Hooks, too: Burnham’s composition and manufacturing expertise — evidently he features as a one-man band — have expanded and improved alongside together with his writing. The place his early songs felt skinny each texturally and harmonically, right here he will get actual emotion out of the pulsating synths in “FaceTime With My Mother (Tonight)” and the throbbing beat in “Sexting,” which is about 85% towards being a Put up Malone tune. (Crucially, Burnham by no means appears to be condescending to the varied pop idioms he takes up all through “Inside.”) The sensation in these tunes isn’t simply within the lyrics however within the music — an necessary distinction from, say, “Bizarre Al” Yankovic’s comedic parodies, during which the music is supposed to get out of the way in which of the phrases. If something, the end result has extra in frequent with somebody just like the late Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, whose wit all the time rivaled his ease in any style.
What nonetheless constrains Burnham is his voice; it stays the brittle, considerably pinched instrument he started utilizing greater than a decade in the past on YouTube. But even that would-be legal responsibility feels someway important to his deeply private music, as key to “Inside” because the goofy exuberance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rapping was to “Hamilton” (whose songs had been improved under no circumstances when well-known hip-hop and R&B stars lower them for “The Hamilton Mixtape”).
Listening to “Inside (The Songs),” you possibly can marvel what it would sound like to listen to a “actual” singer do “That Humorous Feeling” or “White Girl’s Instagram” or “All Eyes on Me,” a bleary and haunting trap-soul ballad about Burnham’s struggles with anxiousness. Maybe they’d sound extra muscular; for certain they’d get nearer to the radio. However then you definately understand that what offers these songs their weight is the presence of the man dying to make us chuckle.