The haunting power of Billie Eilish

Roisin Phelan

At only 17, Billie Eilish has become a saving grace of originality in the pop music industry. Making no apologies for her fiercely unique sound and image, her album ‘WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?’  has raced straight to number one on the iTunes chart.

However, with an overwhelming darkness in many of her songs, Eilish has faced criticism for romanticising mental illness, and attempting to capitalise on it. Others say her music is is an expression of her own thoughts and offers her listeners the opportunity to relate to her.

The album opens with a short clip of Billie joking about removing her invisalign and being ready to show the album. The last second of the clip is of her laughing, perfectly transcending into the following track, ‘bad guy’, arguably one of the strongest songs on the album, carried by a heavy and addictive beat.

This beat is one which transitions from the background to the forefront of the song during the chorus. It adds an element of fun and dance to the album. In the song Eilish taunts and teases her lover, questioning whether he’s a “tough guy” while stating that she’s actually the tough one, or the ‘bad guy’ in the relationship, claiming that she’s the, “make your girlfriend mad type, might seduce your dad type.”

Songs like ‘when the party’s over’ and ‘you should see me in a crown’ were pre-released and widely enjoyed by listeners prior to the album . ‘When the party’s over’ is one of the saddest songs on the album, where we hear Eilish’s loneliest thoughts portrayed through her trademark gentle voice.

The darkest emotions are portrayed in songs such as ‘bury a friend’ and ‘listen before i go’ both which exhibit lyrics that could be considered to reference mental trauma. ‘listen before i go’ is a particularly heart-breaking song, portraying a desperate need for care and redemption with the chorus featuring lyrics such as “sorry can’t save me now…sorry there’s no way out, but down.”

Although some criticise these songs for romanticising mental illness, the songs feel rather soothing and beautiful to listen to. Perhaps they offer a reassurance or calming quality to the millions of people who have listened to them thus far.

Eilish’s music, is far from typical and the second last song on the album ‘i love you’ displays this perfectly. It carries the familiar narrative of wanting to love someone but knowing it won’t work, knowing your love is in futility. However, Eilish’s interpretation of this narrative in ‘i love you’ is incredibly breath-taking and original with a building melody and lyrics that are both interesting and hypnotic.

The album overall features a lot of depressing, dark, edgy lyrics, which on their own are powerful but when paired the voice of a 17-year-old girl they are extremely shocking and well crafted.

Each of her songs are well produced, some more acoustic, some with heavy bass and beats. But at the end of the album it is clear that it is the haunting voice of Eilish singing her artful lyrics which makes her music and this album a recognisable statement.

Roisin Phelan

Image Credit: Justin Higuchi