Hannah’s Guide to Billie Eilish

She’s blowing up right now. I’m sure you’ve heard the intro track off her new album, “Bad Guy”, on the radio. She looks like early Halsey, sounds like early Lana del Rey, and dresses like early Snoop Dogg. But who is she? Where did she come from? And how in the hell did she get so popular, so fast?

It all started with Ocean Eyes, a song made with her brother, Finneas O’Connell, and shared to soundcloud. Billie was only 14. It became an overnight sensation, earning Billie a record deal. She dropped her critically acclaimed EP, “Don’t Smile at Me” in 2017, and her much-anticipated first official album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” in 2019. She also performed at Coachella that year and virally met Justin Bieber.

She’s now 17 and got not only a #1 hit, but two popular and critically acclaimed albums. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a young star rise so quickly – her childhood crush Justin Bieber did the same after being discovered on Youtube. But Billie’s music fits into the pop music scene much differently than Justin’s did at the time. Because here’s what’s probably struck you the most about Billie’s music: it’s creepy.

It’s not just the singing, which has an eerie sound by itself; it’s the lyrics. Lana del Rey croons in a sad, eerie voice about failed love, but that’s a far cry from Billie’s songs about the monster under the bed and murdering her friends. Her videos feature spiders crawling into her mouth and needles in her back. She’s not the only star to embrace weirdness, but she’s the only one I can remember to gain such mainstream popularity so fast. In a music scene that is feeling increasingly formulaic, how did Billie’s music get so popular? Is it just that – that it’s different? Is it just because it’s so good? Or is it that she’s done so well at creating a cohesive, specific brand of creepiness? Or do we just love Cinderella stories of success?

I think it’s probably a mixture of all of the above, coupled with something new: Billie is the first Gen Z popstar we have. Gen Z-ers are in high school now, and their interests are not the same as millennials’. Their humor and way of speaking, largely cultivated off the internet and access to other parts of the world’s media, is much “weirder“. And even millennials are primed for this kind of media. “Alternative” music and culture has been sanitized and pushed into mainstream “cool” for years – just look at Coachella. Billie is not as sanitized or mainstream as some of those artists – like Halsey, Bastille, or Lana herself – but she’s a logical next step. And while Billie’s lyrics are more creepy than relatable, their tone reflects the disillusionment millennials and Gen Zers are feeling with the world they’ve inherited. She’s managed to embody a sort of normalized sadness that’s already evident in internet and meme culture (most of which are actually rather negative, in a sort of “sad but true” way), but not just about love like Lana does. This makes sense – dating and love are being redefined by Gen Z-ers, who may not relate to the kind Lana is crooning about in her songs.

Gen-Zers are just starting to enter the real world – as is Billie. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they make up even more of media consumers. But if this is a preview for what’s to come in music and media, then I for one am excited.

Hannah’s Guide to “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”

It’s an amazing first (second, if you count her EP) album. But which ones are the best and which ones are not as great? My take below!

13. ilomilo

First of all, it’s really hard to separate the songs on this album. They all flow so well into each other, and ilomilo flows perfectly after bury a friend. But overall, this song by itself is a little forgettable.

12. my strange addiction

Look, I normally love sampling random stuff into songs. And sure, I like The Office. But The Office is not exactly a strange addiction – it’s probably the most common addiction for people Billie’s age. Thus, this song doesn’t quite fit Billie’s very strange appeal.

11. 8

I kind of hated the creepy little girl esque beginning, but now I love it. However, it’s overall a bit forgettable compared to the others.

10. when the party’s over

This kind of feels like an add-on, as it was also on “Don’t Smile at Me”. It’s a great Billie song, but it doesn’t quite feel as if it fits on this album.

9. wish u were gay

This was one of the first tracks she released, and from the “baby I don’t feel so good” intro, I knew I was going to love it. It’s sort of strange and relatable at the same time, discussing a guy blowing you off because he’s just not that into you, and how you’d feel so much better about yourself if it was just because he’s gay. It fits sort of perfectly into Gen Z culture, actually. But it’s not quite as creepy as the others (the crowd booing and cheering is a nice touch, though!).

8. i love you

This one’s beautiful. I love the odd sampling of the flight attendant speech. It’s probably her most Lana-esque song, a soft ballad about a relationship falling apart.

7. listen before i go

This one is another one that’s hard not to think of without the songs around it – it almost feels like part 1 to “i love you”. This song’s pretty blatantly about suicide, but it doesn’t feel inauthentic or romanticized. It’s just sort of simply there, existing, and I think that a lot of teens probably relate to the hopelessness in this song.

6. bad guy

This is the most radio-friendly song, as evidenced by it’s No. 1 status. The lyrics are fun and cheeky while the tone is still dark and creepy. It’s very indicative of what to expect on the album as a whole, so it’s a great opening track!

5. you should see me in a crown

This is another song that was already released separate from the album, but it’s just so good. I love when Billie goes more intense, rather than just a rather muted eerieness. This one’s imagery and lyrics fit with the more badass sort of tone many female rap and pop stars have adopted today, but of course – in classic Billie fashion – creepier.

4. bury a friend

This is another song that’s really indicative of the album as a whole. It’s got the album’s title in the lyrics, so how could it not? It’s wonderfully creepy, just like one of my other favorite songs of hers, bellyache. It embraces Billie’s creepy imagery.

3. all the good girls go to hell

I love this song because it totally embraces the creepiness and dark imagery that Billie surrounds herself with, coupled with the fact that she’s a wide-eyed, pretty 17 year old who also sings anti-drug songs.

2. xanny

And now for the anti-drug song! It would be so easy for Billie’s image to sing about drugs and the weird states they put us in – her imagery is constantly trippy. But instead, she sings about not needing drugs, and the sort of aloneness one feels when surrounded by friends on drugs/drinking, and just the pointlessness of it all. It’s sort of existential, while containing the base heavy tones that sort of make you feel like you’re on drugs after all. This is probably my favorite to listen to on its own.

1.goodbye

This one doesn’t really work on its own – it’s a culmination of the whole album. But that’s what makes it so genius. Billie made an experience, not just an album, and this is the siren call. It goes backwards, using notable lines from each of the songs in an extremely eerie, drawn out tone. It’s a work of creative genius, and makes it feel like there’s a hidden message when you combine all the songs together. It’s the perfect way to end the album!

What did you think of Billie Eilish’s new album?