That funny feeling

“You just like this song because it doesn’t make any sense” the accusation was leveled at me by my Zoomer friend over Discord as I tried to inexpertly play the tune for him on the guitar. It’s a little rich for a Zoomer, whose meme’s are intentionally uninteligible, complain about things not making sense, so I chuckled.

But it’s honestly hard to explain what a big impact this song has made on me and why. It manages to capture a whole moment in time. This time, our time. But also a feeling.

The song itself is “That funny feeling” from Bo Burnham’s new comedy special entitled “inside”. I encourage all of you to watch it, like and subscribe. Please please go watch that show before you continue reading this. It’s on Netflix… ironically.

Last weekend I was feeling a little down about lockdown here in Melbourne (lockdown 6 going on 7 at time of writing) and so idly picked up the guitar for another attempt. This song had been on my mind, so I started trying the chords and singing along…

Now, every break I get whether it be after a long meeting or before dinner, I am drawn to the guitar to play this and other songs.

Above is my best attempt at the song so far. I’d like to spend some time going through the lyrics and analysing them. As you listen to the song, imagine someone scrolling through Twitter on their phone.

One thing you don’t see in my rendition above is Bo’s visuals, which are important because this song sits itself in a context. It comes right after the super surreal “smile” gag and the stand up comedy where he says some pretty unhinged things about the “inside” digital life being more important than the outside one. All while sitting down on a bar stool in his undies.

The immediate next scene is a close up of a stage light, with the sound of a crackling fire, all meant to capture a campfire moment, a very distinctly “outside” experience. But it’s fake. It’s all obviously fake. So fake in fact that many people I have watched with this have laughed at this juxtaposition.

But this juxtaposition is (in my view) precisely what this song is all about. Throughout the lyrics we’re going to hear things that are incongruous, things that don’t fit. A general feeling of “fakeness” or insincerity. This fakeness is something Bo talks about a lot, he often comments on the “unreal” nature of para-social relationships (the relationship, for example between YouTube content creators such as himself and his audience). He often comments on the insincere way in which we are create a representation of ourselves on social media (see his other wonderful song, White Woman’s Instagram. But that’s not the kind of fakeness he means in this instance. In this instance, he means the world itself is fake.

He starts the song with an uncharacteristic preamble:

“I can’t really, uh, play the guitar very well, um, or sing, so, uh, a-apologies.”

This is, on the face of it, a lie. We have just heard him singing for almost an hour. He’s an accomplished musician who has curated every moment of this experience for us. The fact we saw a few beats of his lighting (the first time we have seen it) and the fact that he makes this claim that he can’t sing means something. These are both fake on face of them, we know they re fake, yet we’re invited to play along and to suspend our disbelief. To listen to an accomplished musician play and sing for us – something they say they can’t do very well.

This sets the tone for the whole song. It’s a song about this kind of creeping fakeness or unreality that we find ourselves in. Not necessarily caused by the Internet but pervasive in our culture in general. I argue that every single stanza in this song is about this uneasy juxtaposition, this unreal reality we find ourselves in. Every stanza is also something you might easily find on Twitter.

Stunning 8K-resolution meditation app

There’s that juxtaposition. Meditation is a very human, personal spiritual thing which has existed since people have existed. Apps exist too, but but 8k? stunning? Why? These are just adjectives we ascribe to technology products to make them sound cool. The number of pixels in your meditation app is not going to improve your meditation experience. Here we’re contrasting the very human and private thing this insincere technophile sales language.

In honor of the revolution, it’s half-off at the Gap

This could be referring to the app itself being on sale, or some other thing that honours the “revolution”. But nonetheless once again, the idea that anything in honour of a “revolution” be sold at a store is speaking to the idea of “manufactured consent”, the idea that even something that intends to fight against the system (such as a revolution) can itself be commodified into something to be sold.

Deadpool, self-awareness

Deadpool is a comic book character who continuously breaks the fourth wall. Deadpool often creates that uneasy feeling for the viewer, he breaks the spell of the suspension of disbelief and has us questioning the unreality of what we’re experiencing. Our own self-awareness is itself a contradiction because as Bo mentioned in another sketch, we sometimes use that self-awareness as a means of deflecting criticism.

loving parents

So, what the heck is this doing here in this rather morose song? I think this could be talking about the appearance of loving parents. The term “loving parents” sometimes used sarcastically to refer to people who have actually done harm to their kids.

harmless fun

Here, I think Bo invites us to consider that the term “harmless fun” can itself be a contradiction or an oxymoron. Usually when people use the term “harmless fun” it’s in the context of “just a joke bro”.

The backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun

This is a common experience on Twitter. People like to be outraged by something they see or hear, and the outrage itself produces more outrage. I think Bo is suggesting that the negative vitriolic commentary in response to the negative vitriolic commentary to some thing can nowadays happen at the same time as the thing. And in this case, it’s the backlash, or the backlash to the backlash that is more harmful (and faster to spread) than the thing in the first place.

There it is again
That funny feeling
That funny feeling
There it is again
That funny feeling
That funny feeling

I think that funny feeling is that uneasy sensation that the world around you is somehow wrong, without really being able to put your finger on it. The chorus kicks in as soon as he describes something unsettling, which every stanza is.

[Verse 2]
The surgeon general’s pop-up shop,

This seems to be referring to the testing clinics (vaccines hadn’t been invented yet) that “popped up” during the pandemic. “pop-up shop” however cheapens this idea somewhat from being something that’s for the public good to something that’s now a commodity, just like everything else.

Robert Iger’s face

Robert Iger was the head of Disney for quite some time. Perhaps this is referring to the incongruity of a man in charge of entertainment targeting children behaving the way Robert Iger does. Robert Iger’s face is also something you would likely see randomly pop up on Twitter.

Discount Etsy agitprop,

I adore this line. Etsy is a website where people can sell handcrafted things. Agitprop is specifically communist propaganda. So we have communist propaganda being sold at a discount through the capitalist system represented by Etsy. Even the propaganda has been commodified.

Bugles’ take on race

Bugles are chips, and their social media account on Twitter probably has made some takes on twitter. But that juxtaposition of a brand making social commentary about race is once again unsettling. Bo comments on this in another one of his sketches in the show.

Female Colonel Sanders,

Another brand comment. Reba McIntire was cast as Colonel Sanders in 2018 so it’s about the right time for Burnham to be singing about it. Taken along with the Bugles line, it’s likely that Bo is referring here to a bit of an insincere habit of companies to create representation for its own sake. Just like Bugles commenting on race to appeal to a market, so too might KFC switch the Colonel to be female in order to cynically appeal to that demographic for a purely marketing reason.

easy answers,

This kind of fake representation: chips commenting on race and gender swapping a company mascot in an insincere way are all easy answers to a real and growing problem of inequality. Easy answers are often the wrong ones, representation doesn’t necessary fix the underlying problems,

civil war

I think this refers to both the “culture war” underway in America but also the juxtaposition of these ideas. This war is a natural consequence of failure to address problems and using easy answers. Also, how can a war be civil anyway?

The whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door

The whole world at your fingertips referring of course to our mobile phones. In the context of “inside” this is presented as a good thing but also potentially harmful. The ocean at your door refers to the climate crisis, spurred on by our insatiable need for energy to run things like our phones and the Internet. We have traded convenience for potential existential threat. This is a theme throughout this song.

The live-action Lion King,

This movie has been criticised heavily for giving up the beauty of animation for “realistic” 3D. On the one hand, the characters look “more real” because the animation is more like real animals, but the characters are also “less real” because they are less expressive. This is a Disney movie, so relates to Robert Iger.

the Pepsi Halftime Show

I don’t really have any thought about this one, it’s a pretty American phenomenon.

Twenty-thousand years of this; seven more to go

This one bites for me. This is an obvious commentary on how we have been around as a species for a very long time, but if we’re not careful, we might not be around very much longer.

Carpool Karaoke,

A reference to the TV series by James Cordon. It’s set up to seem like a spontaneous unscripted show but it’s of course heavily scripted.

Steve Aoki, Logan Paul

Steve Aoki is a popular DJ and Logan Paul is a popular YouTube personality. I don’t know much about them but I assume this is a commentary on the nature of parasocial relationships and the insincerity we end up projecting into the world through social media.

A gift shop at the gun range, a mass shooting at the mall

These are both real things of course. I have been to a gift shop at a gun range. The juxtaposition here is that these things are obviously the wrong way around. You should be shooting at the range and buying gifts at the mall. We all intuitively understand, of course, the devastating impact of a “shooting at a mall”.

Reading Pornhub’s terms of service,

No one ever does this, no one reads the terms of service, but one might do if one was stuck home for months on end in a pandemic. Perhaps the juxtaposition here is the expectation that we might read the terms of service for something like Porn Hub.

going for a drive And obeying all the traffic laws in Grand Theft Auto V

GTA 5 is a game where you literally get paid when you run people over. Obeying the traffic laws is something you would do if you were extremely bored (similarly to reading the terms of service). It’s a weird thing to do, it feels weird and out of place.

Full agoraphobic, losing focus, cover blown

This could be referring to the experience within the game or in real life. Agoraphobes are afraid of “open spaces” and so tend to stay indoors. Given his history I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham was agoraphobic. “Cover blown” makes sense in the context of GTA 5 (your cover can be blown by the cops) but also could refer to an agoraphobe having a panic attack in a public space.

A book on getting better hand-delivered by a drone

Sweet sweet irony. A book on getting better so you can go outside delivered by a drone (so you don’t have to go outside). Also “hand-delivered by a drone” itself is a nice juxtaposition of a human hand with the action of a drone.

Total disassociation, fully out your mind

Dissociation is where you disconnect from your thoughts or feelings. It’s a very scary thing to have happen or to watch happen. This could be a developing panic attack from having your “cover blown” as an agoraphobe outside.

Googling derealization, hating what you find

Derealisation is that feeling that the world around you is “unreal”. I think this “unrealness” is that funny feeling Bo is singing about. All of the lines in the song refer to a fakeness or unrealness in the world.

That unapparent Summer air in early Fall

That funny feeling of summer during autumn, the forshadowing of climate change.

The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all

That funny feeling of dawning understanding of what everything will end like (through climate change), but also the ending of our own personal existence (suicidal ideation).

There it is again
That funny feeling
That funny feeling
There it is again
That funny feeling
That funny feeling

Chorus again

Hey, what can you say?
We were overdue

This was actually a commentary that we made to ourselves during the pandemic. “Oh yeah, we were overdue a global pandemic, about time for it”, but this could also refer to us being overdue the end of our civilisation.

But it’ll be over soon
You wait

It will be over soon, we have been telling ourselves this pandemic will be over soon. But it could refer to our civilisation being over soon.

To me then, that last lyric takes on a sinister and ominous tone “you wait”… for the end of our civilisation.

So, if I were to come to any kind of conclusion it’s that the song “that funny feeling” captures what it was like doomscrolling on Twitter in 2019.