Billie Eilish. Over the past two years, Billie’s star has risen steadily. Now, she is one of the biggest and most interesting star in the industry. Despite no traditional radio hits, Billie is a certifiable force on streaming and each new song is bigger than the last.
Her last release, an EP entitled dont smile at me, featured penchants for jazzy chord progressions (“my boy”; “idontwannabeyouanymore”) and glistening pop anthems (“ocean eyes”; “bellyache”). Conversely, the campaign for her proper debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, featured markedly darker songs. The utterly creepy “you should see me in a crown” was one of the best songs of the summer (read here). “when the party’s over” is one of the most gorgeous ballads in recent memory and “bury a friend” is the perfect intersection of Lana Del Rey and Lorde with a dash of Billie’s unique vocal delivery
WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP begins with an intro that is at best a reminder of Billie’s youth in the face of her genius and at worst a nonsensical and useless addition to the album. Thankfully, Billie jumps right in with “bad guy,” a track built around a groovy bass line, off-kilter snaps, sexy vocal distortions and an absolutely sickening breakdown around the bridge. “bad guy” sets a high bar that the album does not quite meet all of the time. The anti-partying anthem that is “xanny” is nice complement to the heartbreaking and gorgeous “when the party’s over.” Billie’s unique advantage is that she is able to connect with her core audience because she is her core audience. At just 17-years-old, she is right around the age of her main demographic; she expertly taps into the terror and heart of Gen Z. Her laments on the perils of partying, depression, loneliness, and unrequited love have a refreshing perspective that does not feel forced or manufactured. In addition, the production on this album is sleek and unsettling. Finneas, Billie’s brother, has created the most feverish and tortured soundscapes for Billie to croon over. Booming bass, thunderous guitars, and twinkling snaps add just the right amount of edge and softness to Billie’s sonic portfolio.
Much of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP is darker, sonically-speaking, than the dont smile at me EP, but “all the good girls go to hell” is a throwback to her jazzier material. The track recalls “my boy,” and it plays with the classic tropes of good and bad girls and God and Lucifer. This is one of the more lyrically interesting tracks on the album. With Billie’s youth also comes a certain fearlessness that can be read as advantageous or detrimental. You would be hard-pressed to find an older or more mature mainstream artist to a release a song like “wish you were gay.” This track is about Billie wishing that the boy that she loves is gay so that he would have a valid reason for not reciprocating her love instead of her simply not being his type. Some have decried the song as “regressive” or “problematic,” but from a purely musical standpoint, the excellent bridge and hook make this song irresistible.
For all of its high points, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, has its low points as well. “8” and “ilomilo” are too monotonous and forgettable, especially in the face of so many stronger songs. “My strange addiction” is also a bit too on-brand for Billie. The beauty of her lyricism is her ability to conjure up imagery that is abstract but still effortlessly relatable. “addiction” is derivative; the song shares its title with a widely-known television show and the lyrics are too predictable to be genuinely interesting. Luckily, although it sounds like a leftover from Kanye West’s YEEZUS sessions, “bury a friend” is still a fierce way to bounce back from the aforementioned missteps.
One of the larger blunders on Billie’s debut is one that plagued many a pop star before her. When sequencing the track list, Billie pushed the majority of the ballads toward the back. Listening to three, arguably four, ballads in a row is taxing and the lack of sonic adventurism takes its toll on the listener. One of those ballads, however, happens to be a highlight of the album. “Listen before i go” is a haunting track that is equal parts tear-jerker and fear-inducing.
WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP is clearly a record that will take many listens to fully understand and unpack, but it confirms what many have already known: Billie Eilish is a prodigy with limitless potential.
Key Tracks: “bad guy”; “all the good girls go to hell”; “xanny”; “listen before i go”