This story is part of Billboard’s 2022 Grammy Preview issue, highlighting the artists, issues and trends that will define awards season. Read our cover story on Halsey, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross here.
Tyler Arnold was only 20 minutes into Bo Burnham’s latest musical comedy special, Bo Burnham: Inside, released on Netflix in May, when he started searching for the songs online. When he couldn’t find them, the Republic Records A&R executive immediately reached out to the comedian’s team to change that. The album Inside (The Songs) arrived on streaming platforms on June 10, and it has remained on the Billboard 200 for 19 weeks, including five in the top 10 — a remarkable achievement for a comedy album, and a sign of the project’s widespread resonance. (It has already won three Emmy Awards.)
“From day one, we knew this album could compete at the highest level and didn’t want to box it into a comedy-only campaign,” says Arnold. Indeed: This month, the Recording Academy deemed the project ineligible for best comedy album; instead, it’s under consideration in the best compilation soundtrack for visual media and the Big Four fields (where no comedian has been since Robin Williams was a best new artist nominee at the 1980 ceremony).
What was your initial pitch to Burnham?
I was surprised to learn that I was the only A&R to reach out at that time. When we first spoke, it really wasn’t a typical pitch. It simply started as a conversation about influential comedy albums and then morphed into a brainstorm on how we could amplify and support his vision for this project. We quickly recruited Glenn Mendlinger [head of Imperial Music, a division of Republic that co-released the album] to help speed up the process and get the album out ASAP, as it was really important to be nimble and take advantage of the momentum.
Why do you think his project fits in the Big Four Grammy categories?
I would put Inside up against any project this year regardless of genre. This project had one of the biggest impacts on pop culture this year and captured the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world. You have to remember, this was entirely written and produced by Bo at home over the pandemic. That’s an amazing feat.
TikTok has eagerly embraced Burnham’s songs. Did the label have any kind of strategy for that?
I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest. He had six or seven different trends and songs going at the same time. We stayed very in tune and supported those trends, but all the credit goes to Bo, the special and how those songs connected with the audience.
One of those songs was “All Eyes on Me,” which Republic also released as an edited, stand-alone single in July. Why?
That was really for the fans. We paid very close attention to the chatter online, and there were a lot of requests for a song-only version without the monologue. The record was having a huge moment online at that point, and it lined up perfectly.
How else will you continue to promote the project?
We’re really excited for the release of the vinyl. The presale activity has been unbelievable — sites have crashed, preorders have sold out in minutes. We’re doing some awesome variations and limited-edition products that will also be really special.
Is Burnham signed to Republic/Imperial for future projects too?
We typically don’t discuss the nature of deals with any artist. I will say that Bo and his team are amazing partners, and we’re excited to be able to support his creative vision for years to come.
Don’t be surprised if Burnham’s album gets nods beyond the visual media categories — these three highlights show his strong grasp on pop music is totally serious.
“That Funny Feeling”
Upon its release, Inside’s tour de force — an acoustic ballad showing how the internet’s omnipresence both flattens and creates random meaning — reminded listeners of the frequently gloomy, detail-studded songwriting of indie-rock star Phoebe Bridgers. And no one was more enthusiastic than Bridgers, who joined Burnham for a performance of the song in August and then released an official cover on Bandcamp in October to benefit Texas abortion funds.
“All Eyes On Me”
With its icy, menacing synthesizers and nihilistic lyrics, this five-minute stunner felt like a nod to The Weeknd’s bad-boy brand of R&B — and Burnham’s fluency in the tropes of popular music proved to be quite prescient: A few months after Inside, The Weeknd himself showed up on Kanye West’s Donda album on the track “Hurricane,” singing over synths that sound very similar to the ones in Burnham’s track.
“FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight)”
Call her, maybe — because the bubbling keyboards and dreamy melodies on this finger-snapping highlight from Inside’s first half would sound right at home on Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2019 album, Dedicated. The song’s parody of top 40 stylings has been hard to place for some listeners: On social media, it has also drawn comparisons to songs by The Chainsmokers, Jepsen collaborator Owl City and K-pop boy band Tomorrow X Together. —NOLAN FEENEY