The 64th Grammy Awards may not have been as eventful as this year's Oscars, but for some fans of musical comedy, they were historic. Comedian Bo Burnham won his first ever Grammy for “All Eyes on Me,” the Best Song Written for Visual Media. The song was part of his viral Netflix special, Inside, that, for many millennials, defined the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when it comes to Bo, every lyric’s meaning is two-fold. His comedy began with witty wordplay and has since evolved into a much more self-aware perspective in which the way we live can be interpreted infinitely. So when his song “All Eyes on Me” became his first Grammy-winning hit, many of us began to reconsider what it really means.
“All Eyes on Me” won the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
To begin with, the song itself won in the niche category of Best Song Written for Visual Media. Many fans were disappointed when Inside (The Songs) was ruled ineligible for the category of Best Comedy Album.
Luckily, “All Eyes on Me” still won Bo a Grammy, getting him halfway to an EGOT. The category of Best Song Written for Visual Media is typically awarded to composers of songs written for films, television, video games, or other visual media. Because Inside is so visual of a medium, the songs qualified in that category.
The first ever winners in the relatively new category were James Horner, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Well for the song, “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tale, which is sung by Linda Rondstadt and James Ingram. Even though Bo is the performer of “All Eyes on Me,” he’s also the composer, which is how he was qualified to win. In 2021, Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell won the same award for “No Time to Die” from the movie No Time to Die, which also won this year’s Oscar for Best Original Song.
The meaning of Bo Burnham’s “All Eyes on Me” is up for interpretation.
As with many of Bo Burnham’s songs, the meaning of “All Eyes on Me” could be anything, and often is more than what we see on the surface. With some of Bo’s earlier work, a clear message could often be discerned. However, the meaning of each song on Inside — which many could argue is Bo’s magnum opus at the young age of 30-years-old — is more elusive.
When Inside came out, Bo’s fans took to Reddit to discuss what “All Eyes on Me” could possibly mean, as it could be considered Inside’s 11-o’clock number.
One Redditor, u/italianstallion2, read “All Eyes on Me” mostly as Bo’s experience being forced back inside during the pandemic right when he was ready to start performing again, as well as a portrait of Bo’s struggle with mental health.
Another user, u/ShaneMcM13, explained, “To me, the performance is like a person singing their favorite song in their room while fantasizing about performing it in front of a crowd.”
Another anonymous user interpreted it differently: “To me, this song represents the struggle to continue to care when caring is exhausting … Being smart is isolating. Standing up for things is isolating. Being an outsider is isolating. Being stuck inside is isolating.”
And another user shared, “I found myself relating a lot of aspects of the song to stereotypical church music,” adding a whole new layer to “All Eyes on Me” that is completely plausible considering Bo’s past with Catholicism, which he talks about in his 2010 song, “Rant.”
The many meanings of “All Eyes on Me” are what make it so brilliant and Grammy-worthy.
As a visual medium, Bo performs in his typical “stand-up comedy” costume — a white t-shirt and black skinny jeans — to an audience of a camera, which projects his image back onto the wall behind him. In many ways, “All Eyes on Me” relates back to Bo’s previous specials. It’s reminiscent of “Can’t Handle This (Kanye Rant),” as well as “We Think We Know You,” with the vocal distortion and meta perspectives.
It’s possible that the deep voice distortion in “All Eyes on Me” could be the voice of Bo’s depression talking to him, as he talks to us about the state of the world. One lyric, “You say the ocean's rising, like I give a s--t / You say the whole world's ending, honey, it already did,” on the surface is referring to climate change, which Bo also references in Inside’s earlier song, “That Funny Feeling.” But underneath the surface, it could also be about the feeling of drowning that is so reminiscent of depression.
Funnily enough, in “That Funny Feeling,” Bo also mentions depersonalization-derealization, which is actually defined by the Mayo Clinic as “when you persistently or repeatedly have the feeling that you're observing yourself from outside your body, or you have a sense that things around you aren't real, or both.” The way the projection and camera acts in “All Eyes on Me” can easily be a reference to that.
When it comes to the humor in “All Eyes on Me” — Bo Burnham is a comedian, after all — it’s all about irony. The irony of being afraid to perform and needing to perform; the irony of being ready to perform and then getting stuck inside; the irony of the world “ending” and our inability to do anything about it, so we might as well enjoy it. One of Bo’s first introspective songs was the 2010 song, “Ironic,” so irony is definitely a running theme throughout Bo’s work.
By the end of “All Eyes on Me,” Bo lifts up the camera (or the audience) and spins it around. For some viewers, it’s seen as almost a “mental break” or complete chaos, but for us, we interpret this as the joy of letting it all go.
Sure, we’re all watching, but what if we just got up and made art ourselves? Then we’re left with dancing through joy. When it comes down to it, there’s no one meaning of “All Eyes on Me” — it’s funny and sad and observational all at once, which is why it’s now a Grammy winner.