Songs tend to have underlying meanings and themes that can be looked at from various perspectives. This article compiles a list of 10 pieces, eight by Bo Burnham and two by Jake Panten, and analyses them from a sociological point of view. Bo’s themes are discussed first, followed by Jake’s.
#1 Art is dead- Bo Burnham
Burnham steps away from his usual comedic style of songwriting and instead performs a depressive commentary on what he feels about the commercialisation of the performing arts industry.
Celebrities and superiority complexes
Entertainers especially like to see more profound than they are. They feed off the attention and produce remotely funny and vaguely profound content. According to Bo, everyone famous is wearing makeup that is there fake.
He recognises that he shows similar traits and apologises for it. He doesn’t want to feel this way, and he doesn’t want attention as his drug, but he can’t help but feel this way. His guilt for this pushed him into writing this song, and he hopes that he’ll grow out of this.
Celebrities and privilege.
For the people who work minimally and only provide base-level entertainment. Bo feels that entertainers[including himself] are not worthy of the fame and money they earn. Some people are more deserving of this money, like people working 9 to 5 corporate jobs or waitstaff such as waiters and cashiers who work at minimum wage.
Millions by doing the bare minimum, comedy legends like George Carlin would be disgusted by this. Capitalism is plaguing the performance art industry, and Bo acknowledges this. According to him, artists should be contributing to helping society instead of pampering themselves and renting out luxurious arenas for their shows.
Comedy was never meant to be so commercialised. The entire purpose was supposed to appeal to the masses at the most affordable price.
#2 Unpaid Intern- Bo Burnham
Unpaid internships epitomise exploitative capitalism, and the song attempts to explore this theme. It highlights how capitalism exploits workers by convincing them that they’ll be paid with experience and instead make them do menial tasks that don’t benefit the individual.
How the exploitation takes place
Interns are made to do basic tasks that other employees aren’t paid enough to do, like making coffee or sorting out papers. They’re treated as barely people, and their ideas are rarely (in some cases, never) taken into account because they don’t have any experience; on the other hand, companies do nothing to change that by giving them little to no work experience.
Corporate workplaces are very unscrupulous environments and don’t try to hide it because they know that there is nothing any challenging authority can do about it.
#3 How the world works- Bo Burnham
This song mimics a children’s song about how the world works using a sock puppet named Socko. Bo is the white oppressor in the music video, and Socko is the suppressed minority who tries to stand up to Bo.
Socko states numerous points that, in the end, cause his death for challenging the oppressor’s authority. They are as follows-
Pretentious white people
Rich white people see every conflict through the lens of their actualisation.
For example, when the BLM was taking the world by storm, white people participated but only to the extent that would make them look good or feel like a better person. This point can be inferred for all privileged people; corporate elites care about catering to the LGBT+ community only when pride month comes around. When confronted about this, they get defensive with the use of threats.
History lectures in schools blatantly ignore the billions of working-class people who contributed to the development of the state and only educate students about powerful and influential leaders by romanticising their achievements and escapades.
Whether it be genocide against natives, slavery, war or capitalist exploitation, the textbooks teach a basic and simplified version by conveniently forgetting the most important details.
The corporate world’s agendas
Every law enforcer and politician aims to protect the interests of the corporate elites. According to the Marxist point of view, laws are a part of governing the forces and relations of production. Rules and regulations are set by these high officials and are enforced with violence [to safeguard the right of personal property].
#4 Bezos 1- Bo Burnham
This song mocks the famous billionaire Jeffrey Bezos for his ‘never-ending’ wealth due to capitalism. Everyone has heard stories about how Amazon employees are treated, so it’s fascinating to observe, in contrast to them, how Jeff pampers himself with luxury. The song presents itself as if it’s advocating Jeff with its upbeat style of singing and music, but the lyrics prove otherwise.
The main motive of this song is to expose Jeff for the lies he spread about how he grew his business. Jeff preaches this exaggerated narrative of how he made it out of poverty by starting Amazon in a garage. However, a Business Insider article exposed that Jeff’s parents invested roughly $250,000 in his business. His maternal grandmother owned a massive acre of land, debunking his claim that he “came up from nothing”.
Jeff spreading this propaganda s harmful on two accounts-
- Capitalists try not to seem evil by selling relatability as a source of false motivation.
- The public can get brainwashed by this and idolise such nefarious figures. Mike Tyson doesn’t get even half of the backlash he deserves for being a convicted rapist who served jail time.
#5- Sunday School- Bo Burnham
This song is written and sung from the perspective of Bobby Johnson, a pastor who teaches children about Christianity in Sunday School. Bo aims to ridicule religious preachers for their attempts at brainwashing young minds and claims that their passionate feelings towards their God are because they’re attracted to them; in this case, Bobby Johnson is gay for Jesus.
Critique of religious teachers
Religion is a vital force of social cohesion, and clerics want to start indoctrination and brainwashing at the youngest age, and school children are the perfect target demographic. Since science has advanced so much, pastors struggle to keep people as believers, so they try to counter this by conducting ‘Sunday schools’, a religious training school that operates on Sundays.
#6 That Funny Feeling- Bo Burnham
Here, Bo throws light on what the world has become today, pointing out its ironies, contradictions, and inappropriate happenings. He covers almost every problem in the world through this calming acoustic song.
The first issue Bo brings up is of consumerism. He uses the example of a hi-fi meditation app  and The GAP , a clothing brand that notoriously releases clothing lines and gives discounts when a tragedy occurs.
- Meditation is supposed to connect you with nature and make you more grounded, not spend money on an overpriced monthly subscription for an app that teaches you basic breathing exercises.
- While the BLM was starting to have a widespread effect on the world, GAP began selling T-shirts and other gratuitous merchandise to profit from George Floyd’s murder.
Cancel Culture and celebrities selling relatability
The song elaborates on consumerism by bringing up the point of celebrities trying to cater to the masses by selling relatability. For example, television show hosts like James Cordon do segments like ‘Fill your guts or spill your guts’ or ‘Carpool karaoke’.
Along with this forced relatability comes the aspects of cancel culture. When celebrities try to act too relatable, they often work in unethical and ridiculous ways, which calls for the public to expose them. For example, Logan Paul, who went to the extent of filming a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest to get attention.
The end of humanity
The song concludes by talking about how the human race will end soon due to the damage they’ve done. The human race’s eradication is overdue, considering the amount of mayhem we’ve caused through global warming.
#7 Channel 5 news- Bo Burnham
This song provides commentary on attention and profit-hungry news outlets.
The type of context news channels show
Nowadays, news outlets are backed by corporate elites who pay the news channels to push their agenda to the public. An example of this is “health washing”, which is essentially gaslighting the customer and downplaying the dangers of their products. For instance, sodas are safe to consume if the consumer doesn’t ingest more than 500 ml a day, but companies know that their customers won’t follow these guidelines. They also mainly broadcast tragedies and negative news since that tends to get the most attention from the public and try to act progressively in front of the crowd while being subliminally sexist.
Sometimes the news channels try to provoke people to create news themselves. Notoriously the paparazzi harass celebrities by showing up at their houses at odd hours, swarming them in public and continuously taking pictures of them. When the stars try to stand up to them, the media paints them as perpetrators. An example of this is the paparazzi showing up at Kanye West’s house at 4:30 am. When Kanye rebuked them, the paparazzi shamelessly recorded the entire conversation on video even after being told to stop and then showed it on their site that Kanye was wrong to lash out at them.
News outlets treat situations on the news as drama or soap operas instead of feeling any empathy towards the incident victim.
In this hunt for attention, news channels pump out fake news. They give the illusion of spreading authentic information whereas, in reality, they alter reality and cause more harm than good. Consequently, the views the public acquires are just of the corporate elites that even run the news channels, which are rarely ever accurate.
#8 Repeat Stuff
This song exposes pop stars for getting their young teenage fans stuck in a cycle of low self-esteem and exploiting their raging hormones for profit.
Their song’s effects
Most pop songs are about appreciating an unnamed woman’s body and beauty. Still, unfortunately, their teenage fans daydream about them being the ones being sung about and developing an unhealthy parasocial relationship with their popstar crush.
So every time their celebrity crush gets into a relationship, their s/o is bombarded with hate by the fans. Popstars know this but do nothing to prevent this and instead fuel it.
They sing about a particular type of woman and sexualise them, encouraging their fans to feel unsettled in their current body image and try to look more conventionally attractive. The lyrics are incredibly vague and catchy, so they can be memorised after one listens. The ‘dream girl’ that they describe barely has any specific features because they want to cater to every fan who listens to it and want them to assume that this song is about them.
The self-esteem of the folks
The pop stars often model in magazines filled with conventionally attractive women with ridiculous body standards, making their fans feel bad about themselves. And to feel better about themselves, they listen to the pastor’s songs and imagine them saying “I love you” to them. And gradually, the young fans start basing their self-esteem and happiness on their pop star crush. The star milks this attraction by producing merchandise and unnecessary accessories that the fan feels compelled to buy.
Also Read: How to Analyse Songs Sociologically
#9 42- Jake Panten
This song brings out the pretentious nature of the human race. Written from a nihilistic point of view, the piece exposes how humans try to place meaning and act significantly when there isn’t one. The song acknowledges the faults of your average person, we’re all inadequate somehow, and we all make mistakes and forget things, and that’s okay.
The song repeats this to reassure the listener that they’re doing their best, and that’s okay since, in the grand scheme of things, “We’re all insignificant”.
The pretentiousness of the human race
A 20-year-old is singing these highly profound views; this adds to the irony that a song exposing the human race for acting too pseudointellectual is written and performed by such a young person with realistically little to no life experience working pretentious himself.
“We try to find meaning when there is none.
And we make up stories to keep ourselves calm.
We analyse data; we seek and demand.
We observe and record but don’t understand.”
It can also be perceived as Panten adding to the irony. He could be overthinking himself, and the song is its result. It is just a story to keep himself calm because he can’t understand what life is all about.
#10 Refuse- Jake Panten
The song exposes the human tendency never to hold oneself accountable for anything and blame everything on external factors. Panten achieves this by using the example of how one treats their trash can.
Lack of accountability
The trash bin in one’s room is rarely ever emptied. Even though it might be overflowing, the individual will continue to use it without bothering to clear it. Instead of opening it, the individual tries to hide it behind the couch.
Sooner or later, when the garbage doesn’t make automatically clear itself, the individual decides to clean it up but realises that the garbage truck came yesterday. This propels the individual to put off taking the trash out for a few more days and procrastinating a bit more.
The trash bin can be interpreted as the individual’s problem, and the refusal to throw it out is their lack of will to deal with it themselves.