When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Billie Eilish brings a dark and brooding twist to pop music
Billie Eilish is an unlikely pop-star. She has become a sensation with her debut album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? - numerous songs off which have found their way to the global Top 40. However, before this album debuted, Billie already had a strong and loyal fan base, which all began with her breakthrough viral single “Ocean Eyes” which she recorded at the age of 14. After the single’s immense popularity, she released her debut EP Don’t Smile at Me, which included other popular singles like “Bellyache” “Copycat” and “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” She has even collaborated with Khalid on the track “Lovely.”
Billie was brought up on the outskirts of LA, and was home schooled. Unlike most fans would assume, she claims to not having much income while growing up. She credits her parents for satisfying all her creative wishes, right from dancing, to piano lessons and horse riding. Inspired by her elder brother- Finneas O’ Connell (with whom she now co-writes her music) she began writing songs at the age of 11.
It is not easy to describe what she sounds like, but one can sense an eerie and creepy vibe throughout. It is often put in the category of goth pop by critics. At the young age of 17, she currently holds the mantle of being an idol to a large chunk of 11-19 year old girls who see her voice as a representation of their teen angst. The generations before this had artists like Avril Lavigne and Lana Del Rey, who held the same position for the teen girls at that time. In fact, Billie herself cites Lana Del Rey as one of her major influences. On “Ocean Eyes”, the ballad-y woozy song to which Billie croons in her smoky voice, the influence of Lana Del Rey is clear. And while her sound has been compared with that of Lana Del Rey, Melanie Martinez, and Lorde, she still retains a different dark vibe of her own.
On her album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, she has touched genres ranging from trip-hop, electro-pop, dub-step, trap and indie pop. It is not just these various genres through which she glazes which is unique, but the eerie sense of intimacy that one feels while listening to her. Her music sounds extremely personal, which is heightened by the fact that she records her music in her bedroom. She further embodies these ASMR-esque DIY styles on her album’s intro, when she says “I have taken out my Invisalign and this is the album” while she slurps right into your ear. There are frequent unexpected giggles and hums in the middle of the songs which further add to this personalized and intimate feel. Add to this the sinister and bass heavy music and eerie messed up lyrics, supplemented by horrorcore visuals, and you have a unique sound which is far from any formula employed by pop stars. While some of her songs are quirky and absurd, some are more traditional soulful love ballads such as “Listen before I go” “When the party’s over”, and “I love you” where Billie expresses her more sincere self. Billie claims that this album has been informed by her troublesome dreams. She has experienced recurrent night terrors, lucid dreams, as well as sleep paralysis at the time of the recording of the album which thus explains the album title.
This ingenuity in her music trickles down to her style as well, which is once again unique. The blue haired artist experiments with androgynous clothing and usually sports baggy clothes. She reveals her reason for donning such baggy clothes in a Calvin Klein ad where she states that such clothing protects her from being objectified and sexualized. Her popularity amongst teens can also be attributed to the fact that most young girls see Billie as a relatable star. In an interview, Billie has herself claimed of being extremely conscious of not causing any pain to her fans because of her behavior and attempts to be as accessible as she possibly could be.
Billie’s fascination with the “bad guy” persona
“bad guy” was announced as the fifth single from her album. The song topped the charts in multiple countries making it her most successful single from this album. In the first part of the song, Billie sings to a pulsating fast tempo in her whispery and slurry voice. The song employs catchy hooks and danceable beats. The second part has a much slower tempo and comprises of trap beats to which Billie sings. The track combines elements of trap as well as pop. The video accompanying the song is similar to her sound- surreal and absurd. Ellie lets the blood flow from her nose, which she then smears all over her face. . On this playful song she sings about being the bad guy to the “rough guy” she is trying to pursue. The lyrics have sexual undertones. She describes herself as “Make your mama sad type/ Make your girlfriend mad type/Might seduce your dad type”. She even breaks character and sings about her mother’s disapproval and that her mother would not sing along with her to this song
Don’t do drugs, kids
On this anti-drug intimate ballad, Billie, unlike her other contemporaries of sound cloud rappers who glamorize xanax and other drugs, writes about how she doesn’t need a xanny to make her feel better. She plays no character and doesn’t sound preachy. It is sincere and seems to be coming from personal experience. She earnestly writes “I can’t afford to love someone/Who isn't dying by mistake in Silver Lake”. The music plays out like a trip on xanax, with distorted vocals and a shaky bass which gives a rattling effect. Billie claims to want to recreate the feeling of being in the vicinity of someone’s second hand smoke. “I just wanted it to sound the way that it feels to breathe in recycled breath. Recycled, poisonous breath, I may add. I just wanted it to feel miserable” she says of the crazy broken sounding bass.
Dangerous and daring
On this track, Billie takes on the persona of a villainous monarch. The title has been taken from the dialogue of the antagonist Moriarty, on Sherlock Holmes which reads, “in a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king. And honey, you should see me in a crown”. It begins with the sound of knives being sharpened. The song is bold and has a threatening aura to it. Her reverberating feathery sound further accentuates this feeling of impending doom.
Billie writes about one-sided crushes
On this wistful and nostalgic track, she writes about unrequited love, and how it would be more comfortable for her to know that the guy she likes is gay rather than the fact that he is not into her. She sings “Don’t say I’m not your type, just say I’m not your preferred sexual orientation”. Billie received a lot of back lash and debates ensued on whether the lyrics are offensive and homophobic. Keeping that controversy aside, the song makes an extremely catchy pop number.