Bo Burnham Taunts Commercialism in Music With New Music Video ‘Repeat Stuff’
The kid has chops, I’ll say it. Hell, I’ll say it to pretty much anyone I know: there’s something interesting, striking, and a little (okay, a lot) absurd about Bo. His comedy has gained quite a following in the last few years, and he continues to impress as he breaks out new material, like his latest special “what.” which took a lot of the same stylistic choices from his first special and turned them on their heads.
His brand of comedy is obviously not everyone’s cup of tea – I’ve met a few people who can’t get passed his “stage persona” – but even if you’re not a fan, I’m sure you can appreciate the awesome ways in which Burnham uses his quick wit and sharp tongue to school pretty much anyone in his path about the little (and big) things we humans choose to ignore, which is where the brilliance lies in this here new music video of his, titled “Repeat Stuff.”
Of course, the text is there, and it’s catchy, yet blunt and all around pretty impressive and intelligent. The lyrics have always been what makes this song shine, even with its minimalistic debut in “what.” During that debut, the song was not accompanied by frills or fancy on stage tricks as Burnham sometimes uses in his pieces. It was just his voice and the piano, and maybe a few comedic voices here and there. And truthfully, the song works just like that, simply with the lyrics and stage presence. The words are direct enough that you don’t need the fancy visuals the music video provides. But yet, once you see the video and laugh with it, you realize its the perfect counterpart to the song itself.
The video starts with a poignant introduction, Burnham breaking the fourth wall and talking to us as audience, inviting us to find out how “great” a modern day love song really is… as he puts on a ski mask, in true Burnham fashion, and enters a house, leaving us wondering where this is going from the beginning. We are then quite quickly thrown into a world where four alternate Bo Burnhams exist as per the story he’s trying to convey – the original aka masked Bo starts the story off for us, then we’re introduced to stereotypical letterman jock Bo in the parking lot with his stereotypical friends, leaning on his stereotypical car, and holding his stereotypical girlfriend who looks on, stereotypically adoring the ever-living crap out of him.
It at first almost seems too self-serving, how simple the cliche can be conveyed, but it works in their favor once mid-video hits. We then meet a Justin Bieber-esque pop star Bo, wearing an outfit I could almost swear to you Justin Bieber has actually worn, doing his typical pop star thing. Hoping girls don’t think he’s rude for saying he loves them without knowing them, and of course, calling them boo. Checking his emails, ignoring his manager. Its another cliche well achieved. Pretty much any viewer could see the accuracy, with much of the latest entertainment headlines today detailing how much of a diva Ariana Grande has turned out to be, among other celebrities. And in that way, things start out kind of tame for these guys – they’re popular, they seem successful in their own ways, they’re douches but they’re doing alright by the current American pop love song standards. And of course, every once in a while, we check in with masked Bo, creeping around a house that presumably isn’t his own.
Then, around 2:20, we start seeing some satanic imagery. Yes, you read that right. Some pentagrams, some fire. And a satanic voice proclaiming “I am the Servant of Darkness,” over the bridge of the song, among other descriptions of virgin sacrifices and a loud declaration of the word “swag.” Typical satan-y stuff. We also see what stereotypical letterman jock Bo truly is made of – his eyes glow white and it’s pretty clear he’s the devil when we see a shot of him and his cronies in the daytime that switches over to night, his followers in black and a female sacrifice at their feet.
We talked about masked Bo, jock Bo, and Bieber Bo – devil Bo is the final Bo we add to our list. And with the introduction of Devil Bo, the satire kicks in, but so does the true meaning of the song. The main fault in the music industry lies in the kind of cult-ish (read; the absurd “subliminal” messages in the frames of the video like “God died in 1993,” among others) way they do business – their artists aren’t allowed to get personal, to get deep, to cultivate a song that is original to them, because god forbid you don’t relate to every single person who has twenty bucks in their pocket, twenty bucks that could potentially be spent on your album. The chorus of the song pretty much sums up how the music industry feels about not only their rosters, but their consumers as well:
America says we love a chorus
But don’t get complicated and bore us
Though meaning might be missin’
We need to know the words after just one listen so
So, not only do the artist have to appeal to the broadest masses as well as humanly possible, but the music industry is also under the assumption that we’d rather have mindless drivel force-fed to us because we’re too lazy to follow something more complex, even in the span of a 5 minute song. Or, we’re just too young, in which case they’re hoping to cash out victimizing the typical and desperate romantic feelings that come with puberty. Great, glad we’re clear on that.
Now that we’re aware of the function of jock Bo, Bieber Bo, and Devil Bo, whatever happened to masked Bo? Intermittent cuts of masked Bo looking at photos framed and hung on a wall, messing with the blinds, dramatically holding framed photos litter the footage of the other Bos up until this point; and after he (unmasked original Bo) has a heartfelt piano solo about the subtle eeriness of pre-pubescent pop star obsessions, masked Bo finally removes that mask in the bedroom of a little girl sleeping in a Bo Burnham t-shirt with a Bo Burnham poster on her wall, the exact kind of pre-teen victim he speaks of throughout. And when she wakes up to see him in her room, she doesn’t have much time to get excited before he suffocates her with a pillow. And then of course, how else could it end OTHER than with him pulling her heart out of her chest with his bare hands and eating it? All in all it shows that not only should we be offended as consumers of this “product” being pedaled by the music industry, but artists like Burnham aren’t very happy they have to play along either.
And with a wink from Devil Bo, the video is complete, and while partially you’re probably questioning what you just watched, you’re also partially applauding Burnham for making such a both brutal and comical attack on the music industry and its overwhelmingly negative influence in our world. Ultimately, if anything, music videos give Burnham the ability to get even more ridiculous than he can onstage. Editing, mixing, all of it allows him to go a little deeper than he could with just himself at the piano. and the work benefits from that – a Justin Bieber-esque character working for the Devil who corrupts the music industry with his generic swill disguised as a love song would work on stage, no question. But what has always been the benefit of film is that, because of the ability to craft cuts and edits, it needs no introduction, no preface. You show what you show and the audience has an instantaneous reaction. and that’s what happens with this video – there’s a visual for you to tie in with the lyrics, already powerful in their own right. Burnham knows how to get a point across, and he knows one other thing: knowledge is power and, power and comedy are… well, powerful when put together.
Lex Briscuso | News Cult