When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go review: Billie Eilish proves she is not your average pop star
Billie Eilish released her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go on 29 March.
The image of the teen pop icon has changed — the squeaky-clean, factory-made persona of Disney stars is old news. A different pop sensation has since emerged — someone who unabashedly flaunts her rough edges, is unapologetically vulnerable, bratty and a non-conformist. Someone like Billie Eilish.
The 17-year-old recently dropped her much-awaited debut studio album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go and it is already on its way to claim the No 1 spot on the Billboard 200 charts. Hopefully, it is the first of many to come. Billie is being branded as someone “ready to dominate” the music world among other things (side note - My teenage years really pale in comparison). She came into the limelight in 2016 after ‘Ocean Eyes’ — originally her brother Finneas O’Connell’s (who also co-writes with her) creation — became a viral hit on SoundCloud. This followed a major record deal and the release of her EP Don’t Smile At Me in 2017 at the age of 16.
For those who may have just started following Billie’s music, she sounds like a long-lost sister of Lorde and Lana Del Rey.
Her album begins with a foreword from Billie where she declares, “I have taken out my Invisalign, and this is the album,” before collapsing into a fit of laughter. The first track, ‘bad guy’, is a favourite. Billie’s quiet, soft singing is in contrast to the fast-paced thumping of the bass and the tongue-in-cheek lyrics. She tells the other person, presumably a lover, “I’m that bad type/ Make your mama sad type/ Make your girlfriend mad type/ Then seduce your dad type.” Every time she says, ‘bad guy’, her voice sounds like a snarl.
In ‘xanny’ she admits to having no interest in using Xanax (a drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorders) for recreation, something that has been glorified by many musicians in the past. If you listen closely, it also features the faint sounds of people chattering (“Can you check your Uber rating?”) and the clatter of dishes, recreating the ambience of a party. Billie sings about being the designated driver, the only sober person, who is proudly “still just drinking canned Coke”. The song utilises the piano, bass (which makes an appearance in all of her songs over the entire record, it seems) and acapella.
The EDM-infused ‘you should see me in a crown’ is an obvious reference to Moriarty’s dialogue in the BBC drama Sherlock while ‘all the good girls go to hell’ has her bragging about her newfound fame. ‘wish you were gay’ sounds like a 2019 version of Katy Perry’s ‘Ur So Gay.’ The song received significant backlash for her saying: “I can't tell you how much I wish I didn't wanna stay/ I just kinda wish you were gay.” She later clarified that it was her silly way to reason that if a boy did not like her, it was because he preferred men instead. She reminds me of the all too familiar feeling of being ghosted by a crush (“Our conversation's all in blue/ 11 ‘heys’ Hey, hey, hey, hey”) and the wretched feeling of helplessness that comes with it. Beginning with the soft strums of the guitar that eventually melt away, she tries to keep the tone light, even featuring a sitcom laugh track after the first verse.
Her voice is unnaturally creepy and childlike in ‘8’, where she once again almost mumbles over the ukelele, about being bereft of love. I love how “my strange addiction’ combines two pop culture references. Billie borrows the title of the reality TV show, where people talk about their weirdest addictions (remember Trisha Paytas’ tanning obsession?) and samples dialogues from The Office.
‘bury a friend’ , which sonically draws inspiration from Kanye West’s ‘Black Skinhead’, has a spooky male voice of the UK rapper Crooks addressing Billie. It’s about that monster under her bed, who knows it's time for him to retire.
She expresses suicidal ideation from heartbreak over ‘listen before i go’ . Even ‘i love you’, a simple acoustic number with the addition of male vocals backing Billie's, could be about a failing relationship reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s rendition of ‘Hallelujah’. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? concludes with the gloomy ‘goodbye’, the second shortest track after the intro.
More than her voice, Billie’s strengths lie in her songwriting that intersperse millennial slangs and teenage angst with ease. Some may not find the motifs of death, gloom and despair in the album palatable but it still cannot be denied that this is a remarkable compilation from someone so young.
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