Billie Eilish hones in on exploiting listener’s fears and will make them dance while doing it

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By Adriana Lopez

Music enthusiasts have been starved for something that feels new and a 17 year old anti-pop star might just be what was needed.

Billie Eilish came onto the music scene in 2016 with the release of her single “Ocean Eyes.” At the age of 14 she caught the world’s attention with her somber and melodic voice delivering a tale of impassioned infatuation.

In 2017 she came back with her EP “dont smile at me,” which she co-wrote with her brother Finneas O’ Connell. The EP was storytelling at its finest, from self hatred, to obsessive love, to robbing and murdering friends, the duo had their audience hungry for an album.

In March 2019, the siblings delivered with “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”

Written and recorded in O’Connell’s bedroom, the album drifts between heavy bass beats to gloomy piano melodies.

The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s 200 and secured Eilish as the youngest artist to reach No. 1 since 2009, a title previously held by Demi Lovato.

As the world comes to know her name, the question of  “how?” is being asked. Eilish isn’t a “got her start on Disney” artist. She isn’t being sold by men in the music industry that often sexualize young female artists by putting them in heels and makeup. Instead, Eilish often looks more or less the same. She dresses in T-shirts and shorts that are at least 10 sizes too large for her and, at most, appears to wear mascara.

So if it’s not her image, it is the content Eilish and O’Connell are releasing that is garnishing attention. With the mixture of dance beats and sad strumming, the album has something for everyone.

While the music is attention grabbing, the lyrical content in the album is a conversation all on its own. The title of the album is begging for the answer to a question as old as humans’ existence: what happens when we die?

Each track off the album plays off fears that everyone will experience in their lifetime.

In “bad guy” Eilish pokes fun at the often overly protected lives of men. “I’m that bad type/make your mama sad type/make your girlfriend mad tight/might seduce your dad type/I’m the bad guy.” Eilish is poking fun at the overprotective mother, the jealous girlfriend and makes a joke out of sleeping with a partner’s father. The lyrics are gritty and make a joke out of “worst nightmares” that root in jealousy, all the while delivering a beat that audiences can dance to.

With “xanny,” the discussion of fears gets heavier. “Don’t give me a xanny now or ever … I can’t afford to love someone who isn’t dying by mistake in Silver Lake.” In recent years Xanny (aka Xanax) has become a popular drug to reference in hip hop, and after the death of hip hop artist Lil Peep following a drug overdose, the drug has also been part of discussions in mainstream media. Eilish croons of her disgusts towards the drinking and pill popping culture that has taken over the lives of her peers, but underneath that disgusts lies a fear for their lives. Eilish is growing up in this culture and wants to see her friends survive it.

Midway through the album, Eilish bares her heart with “wish you were gay,” “when the party’s over” and “8.” Eilish goes from wishing a boy would tell her he’s gay to spare her feelings to desperately asking for the companionship of someone that won’t offer her attention. She’s singing of rejection and heartache, possibly the most universally known fears amongst people.

In “bury a friend” Eilish becomes fear itself by becoming the monster under your bed. “What do you want from me?/Why don’t you run from me?/What are you wondering?/What do you know?” Everything about the song is creepy, from Billie’s breathy singing to the sound bites of a dentist drill. It’s provocative, just as Eilish and O’Connell intended.

“ilomilo” proves to be a high point in the album. Inspired by the puzzle game of the same name, the ballad speaks on the fear of losing a loved one. “Where did you go? I should know, but it’s cold/And I don’t wanna be lonely.” “ilomilo” has a classic ’90s adventure game soundtrack, adding to the sense of frantically searching for someone. It’s creative, unique, and profoundly Billie.

The third to last track, “listen before i go,” delivers a message of when fear wins. It’s a suicide note to friends and an apology for losing the battle. “If you need me, wanna see me better hurry/‘cause I’m leaving soon.” The song is slow and melodic, it doesn’t have layers of sound bites or dance beats, it is one of the most sincere moments on the album.

Eilish and O’Connell have gathered attention around the world by finding a way to relate to everyone, and still managing to be different. The sound is unlike anything else that is in mainstream media, and is being celebrated. Hopefully the success of “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” encourages artists to branch out of the norm of music.

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