From the beginning of her career, Billie Eilish has raised her razor-sharp manicured middle finger to the conventional mainstream rulebook. Ditching the faultless choreography, crop-tops, and bubblegum-hooks for untimely eye-rolls, lime green androgynous baggy clothing, and a dark aesthetic full of twisted realities. After creating mass hysteria with a drip-feed of early singles, she made a bold entrance with her striking debut WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? It is a monumentally refreshing album for the lingering hangover from the early 2010s.
It’s been over a year now since Billie Eilish dropped this record-breaking album, and at the time of release, she already had an impressive 15 million followers. Fast forward into 2020 and that figure now stands at 61 million (at time of writing), making it clear that her unique melancholic style resonates with people all around the globe.
The cover art references Billie’s frequent night terrors and lucid dreams which are full of dark compulsions honing in on people’s fears. Created with the help of co-writer, producer, brother, and BFF Finneas in their LA family home, Billie’s freakishly unnerving world feels so far removed from the traditional pop landscape. Her videos are full of plunging needles, arachnids, cigarette burns, and overflowing black tears. She effortlessly fit fourteen tracks into just forty-two minutes, discussing topics of mental health, climate change, drug use, heartbreak, and suicide. Billie’s ability to defy genres and display copious amounts of maturity through such confrontational themes makes it hard to forget that she is only eighteen (and was just sixteen when she wrote it).
The 14-second opening track ‘!!!!!!!’ sets the tone for the record with both Billie and Finneas bursting into laughter after Billie slurps back spit from taking out her Invisalign retainer, “this is the album,” she giggles. This goofy studio banter whilst the pair recorded her first major-label debut is a reminder that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. On ‘bad guy’ she embraces this playful side with the ominous snarl “I’m the bad guy,” before launching into a sarcastic “duh!”
The straight-edge ‘xanny’ is about the glorification of drug use amongst teens and wishing for no more of her friends to die. Billie herself abstains from both alcohol and drugs, evident in the lyrics, “I’m in their second-hand smoke / still just drinking canned coke / I don’t need a Xanny to feel better”. The video showcased Billie’s directional debut. The demise of the world from climate change is apparent in ‘all the good girls go to hell,’ she’s fed up with her toxic relationship in the hauntingly dramatic ‘when the party’s over,’ and the comical essence returns in ‘my strange addiction’ featuring soundbites from an episode of the US Office.
The often misunderstood ‘wish you were gay’ encapsulates the feeling of unrequited love and wishing her crush had a better born-this-way explanation for not reciprocating the same feelings, “don’t say I’m not your type / just say I’m not your preferred sexual orientation.” The pulsating bassline and eerie screams of ‘bury a friend’ allude to self-destructive tendencies resulting in Billie’s own death and ‘ilomilo’ anxiously shows concern over a suicidal friend, “I might break / if you’re gonna die not by mistake”. She closes the album on an unhurried somber note with the heartbreakingly three-track mix of ‘listen before i go,’ ‘i love you’ and ‘goodbye’.
On WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Billie Eilish playfully dragged us to hell to make sure we knew that it wasn’t all that bad. As equally disturbing as it is addictive, it invited us to consider the dark emotions and thoughts that hide just under the surface. And it’s evident that Billie doesn’t just inhabit this world, she rules it… obviously wearing a crown, duh.
It’s been a year since Billie brought her WWAFA,WDWG? World Tour to Spark Arena in Auckland. Revisit her time here in New Zealand below 💚