AFTER THE HYPE – Billie Eilish’s WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

And now back to our regularly scheduled presentation on Radio Friendly.

APPLAUSE, MUSIC

You’d be hard pressed to find someone in the world of 2019 who hasn’t heard of Billie Eilish.  You might not know her music, you might not know what she looks like, but you’ve heard of her.  At the age of seventeen, Eilish is a product of the internet age – the age of hypeware and the ever-changing online landscape. Our world changes exponentially, the pressures of relevance and public image forever in the forefront of society’s mind.  Billie Eilish, a product of this age, holds the power to move spectrally through the limelight – to move through the cracks where past pop stars have fallen.  Or at least so far.

To talk about Billie Eilish’s music is to talk about her world renown fame.  The two go hand in hand, unfortunately.    At the age of seventeen, Eilish has toured the world, played sold out shows and mammoth festivals, had billboard charting singles and recently released a clothing collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.  At seventeen I was trying to get above a C- in Maths B, played video games in the lounge room and had an unhealthy obsession with Johnny Depp movies.  You know, teenage stuff. Most of Eilish’s fame, prior to 2019, had come through the release of viral singles and a handful of EPs; truly a product of the internet age where you don’t need an album to sell yourself as a pop star.  In March of 2019, Eilish released her debut full-length album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?  The reception was mostly positive, and I gave it an occasional listen when it first came out – though I found the often-depressing atmosphere that lingers in Eilish’s singles off-putting, especially for someone who’s marketed as a pop star.  That depressing atmosphere is a combination of slow instrumentals, whisper vocal melodies and sometimes heartbreaking lyrics.  And to be honest, I just don’t want to feel sad.  Or I at least want a certain level of charm and redeeming features from my go-to depressing tunes – Sufjan Steven’s eccentric folksiness or Radiohead’s instrumental perfection.  WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP is certainly not a bad album, it’s just not what I want to listen to on repeat like a sixteen-year-old girl whose obsession is reciting 13 Reasons Why quotes on her Tumblr.  Yes, Eilish also had a single on the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack too.  The irony.

Beyond the album’s depressing tone, Eilish shows levels of maturity that are refreshing for a genre that has been plagued with repetition for so long. Though her song writing can also be accredited to her older brother, Finneas O’Connell, the lyrical content of the album is often poetic and realised as if they have been written by someone much older.  It’s storytelling, or at least I hope so, considering how often love, heartbreak and loss come up in the lyrics.  Like in songs I Love You, Wish You Were Gay and When The Party’s Over.  The former being one of the most beautifully heartbreaking songs Eilish has put out, featuring brooding harmonies from her older brother. 

The album mixes in higher emotive sections like on tracks Bad Guy, You Should See Me In A Crown and All The Good Girls Go To Hell.  Bad Guy’s production is a standout feature of the album, the bass and beat thumping in the foreground, Eilish’s multi-layered whisper vocals beaming into my ears.  The playful chorus melody contrasts nicely against Eilish’s darker vocal style, the mature lyrics sometimes pulling me out of the moment and questioning whose point of view the song is coming from.  An aspect that occurs a lot throughout the album, as Eilish moves into territories that most seventeen-year olds would be a novice at.

My Strange Addiction is a favourite tune of mine, a song that mixes both sides of Eilish’s personality.  The brooding yet bouncy bass line and moody vocals move into a beautiful falsetto harmony.  The song features dialogue cuts from The Office, Eilish’s favourite TV show, that adds a level of teenage personality and playful immaturity that I wish was more prevalent on the album.  I’m not saying mix in Michael Scott quotes in every song, but the cuts in My Strange Addiction show us a glimpse of that teenage girl of the internet age.  Dare I say the real Billie Eilish?

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO is a very good debut album, one that is consistent with Eilish’s singles and the music tone she has carved for herself.  It’s dark, depressing, harrowingly beautiful and sometimes playfully optimistic.  Eilish has risen above the classic tropes of child pop stars.  She is proudly eccentric and confident, at least in the public eye.  I just question how long it can last.  The limelight has never been kind to those who have skyrocketed to world fame in a short span of time.  I hope Billie Eilish proves me wrong, for the sake of humanity and pop-music.  I’d like to see her spread her wings and write her own songs without the help of her older brother, though I doubt that will happen any time soon considering it’s been a winning formula so far.  I too often question who has written what lyric.  And whether this is Eilish’s true ‘writing voice’.  Especially with cuts such as My Strange Addiction showing a side rarely seen in the album. 

Her hype will continue to grow as Eilish continues to make all the correct moves in the music business, or at least not have a mental breakdown and shave her head.  Or star in a Disney channel TV show to then shake her public image with controversially raunchy music videos.  Or become a judge on America’s Got Talent.

The album’s consistently minimalistic but impressive production and harrowingly mature lyrics make it a step above any debut pop album of the past ten years.  But because of its sometimes overbearingly sad tone, you won’t be hearing me play it too much.  I get it, sad girl is your brand, but just cheer up for fuck sake. 

But at the end of the day, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is worth the hype.

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