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Like many people I've had a fairly turbulent last couple of years. I do feel lucky in a sense as I know things have been a lot worse for a lot of people but even those of us that escaped 2020 relatively unscathed still didn't have a good time. The issue I find is that whilst people are losing jobs, their sanity and sometimes even their lives, social media remains a hive of bragging, fake sentiments and ideals. For me this is what was so appealing about the idea of Bo Burnham's Netflix special, 'Inside'. A dark and depressing view of someone slowly losing their mind whilst locked inside is hardly my idea of a pick-me-up, but the refreshing honesty and comforting reminder that it is OK to be going a little stir crazy is frankly quite refreshing.
What I find particularly genius about this weird and wonderful feature is the pure creativity on show. The set involves the interior of a small house or flat occupied by Bo. It is unclear whether this is his real living arrangement, but judging on his previous success I'd guess that in reality he lives somewhere a little bigger; but that simply wouldn't fit the show's dynamic. The house becomes increasingly messy as the show goes on with various cables, equipment and technical junk mixed in with random general clutter such as clothes, pots and bed sheets that have found their way onto the floor. I have to assume this was entirely deliberate to underline the increasingly unstable state of Bo's mind (either that or he is an appalling house guest). The premise of the project as a watchable commodity is meta in itself, in that the 'plot' (if you could call it that) is just us watching Bo create the special itself - as if we are observers at the zoo or in some sort of social experiment.
The music, however, is where my real admiration lies. A curious mix of short skits, modern comedic classics, show-tune like drama and classic pessimism.
'White Woman's Instagram' for example is just brilliant. Although it doesn't speak much to the climate or his state of mind (as many of the songs actually don't) it perfectly captures the same reason I found the show refreshing in the first place. Satirically picking apart all of the things you tend to see on Instagram such as cute dogs or sunny days out before asking "is this heaven?", Bo picks apart the facade of perfection that is social media bit by bit when he announces it is just a 'White Woman's Instagram'. Not only is it comedy gold but it's a cunning commentary on a world with social media at its centre.
'Unpaid Intern' is similarly hilarious. Sung in an upbeat and jazzy style the song once again takes aim and does serious damage. "Barely people, somehow legal" is the line that epitomises the short feature. Bo clearly takes issue with the way in which young students are put through their paces without getting any reward, whilst feeling more and more that their expensive education was not worthwhile. Delivering such serious and protesting lyrics in such a fun tune makes it just seem more funny and it cracks me up every time.
'How the World Works' is possibly the most scathing of all. Singing in the style of one of those fun and educational tracks presented to many kids, Bo begins by telling the textbook and often idealised version of how the world works, talking about nature and animals and how everything works together to keep the world spinning. He then introduces 'Socko' who after a fun intro begins to sing in the very same tune about genocide, peadophilia, politics and just about everything else that seems to be wrong with how our modern society functions. The way he is able to deliver such a burning assessment whilst also pretending to voice a sock puppet on a children's song is bizarre in itself, and despite the sour message you can't help but chuckle at the delivery. I also have to admire him for coming out with all the criticisms that he does, a lot of accusations are thrown and although I don't know enough to get behind any of them, it's interesting to see someone coming out and being so open with their criticisms in this way.
'Bezos 1' and 'Bezos 2' are just strange. Annoyingly catchy earworms that take the subject of Amazon's extremely wealthy owner, these songs are random and I'm not even sure how or why they are included. Whatever their purpose they are still hilariously funny and you'll be singing them for days after.
'Welcome to the Internet' is one of my favourites. The heavily repeated line "Can I interest you in everything all of the time" for me is an extremely clever commentary on the overload of content and information presented to us online. The song throughout presents an in-depth interpretation of all the weird and wonderful things to be found online whilst also talking about the way it has impacted our society. I find the end the most interesting. Addressed to the latest generation, Bo, speaking as almost a salesperson representing the Internet, as he has been the whole song, sings that this is the generation we have been waiting for. He sings about how they've been handed iPads as toddlers and have almost been handcrafted for a purpose. It is actually, once again, a very clever criticism of technology companies and big online corporations who Bo is making out are extremely excited at the idea of a new generation for whom the world revolves around the Internet.
'All Eyes on Me' is my absolute favourite, partly because it's actually just a good song to listen to. It's extremely atmospheric and catchy and I've spent a couple of car journeys already with it loaded on repeat. If you listen to it via watching the special or on Spotify, listen to the full version and not 'song only' as there is also an endearing, honest and interesting monologue from Bo himself in the middle. He discusses how he had decided to take a break for his mental health and that just as things had improved for him and he was planning to return to gigs Covid struck. It's a situation I'm sure a lot of people can relate to and after hearing a whole special full of not so serious songs and sentiments it was really interesting to hear at the end something which felt so honest and real.
'Inside' for me is probably one of the scariest things on Netflix, in the same way 'Black Mirror' makes for terrifying viewing. There aren't frightening monsters or jump scares but instead we are confronted with realism. A 'worst case' take on what has happened, could happen now or might happen in the distant future. For me, watching the decline of someone's mental state in lockdown, or indeed seeing how technology available to us now could result in our own downfall, is far more terrifying than giant aliens that (as far as I'm aware) don't exist. Whilst watching the special for the first time I must admit I was a little confused, but I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. It was only after I finished watching that I knew what I'd seen was really amazing. The fact that I felt simultaneously horrified, amused, entertained and bemused is a real credit to Bo's vision. I had this feeling that I'd just been involved in something great. The whole thing, including the music, was all written, produced and recorded by Bo himself and that just adds to my deep admiration for the talent and creativity on show. On top of the feature full of creative shots and lighting is the brilliant soundtrack. Funny enough to make you cry laughing and sad enough to make you just cry; it's a superb piece of art. The way Bo captures a lot of what people were feeling during lockdown (with some exaggeration for comedic affect) is brilliant and I implore you all to give it a watch, or even just to give the soundtrack a listen.
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