The first time I heard of Billie Eilish a few years ago, it was because a lot of people had a problem with her. It wasn’t because of her music, or because she hurt anyone’s feelings, or anything like that. A lot of people on my social media feeds were calling her disgusting, attention-seeking, fake-quirky, and desperate. Because she posted a photo after she sneezed. I mean, yeah, it was kind of icky. But it was kind of funny, and she was a high schooler. Would anybody act like this over a 16-year-old boy thinking boogers are funny?
The second time I heard of Billie Eilish, a guy sat down next to me in history class and asked what I thought of a surf-rock band covering her. “They totally sold out,” he said. “Billie Eilish sucks.”
This seemed pretty vitriolic for a teen singer I had heard nothing else about. Admittedly, I kind of live under a rock. But eventually, I got around to listening to Billie Eilish and paying a little attention to her, years behind everybody else.
Overnight, I fell in love with her. I want Billie Eilish to do my makeup at a sleepover. I want to get Taco Bell with Billie Eilish at two in the morning. I want to skip marching band practice with Billie Eilish. I want to smoke for the first time on a summer night with Billie Eilish; I want to lay on a trampoline and look at the stars and ask her where we go when we dream and after we die. Billie Eilish is the kind of girl that’s so cool you think about her for the rest of your life.
Billie Eilish carries herself with the kind of devil-may-care confidence you can only dream of. Billie Eilish is the kind of girl that shows up to class fifteen minutes late with a Monster, aces a pop quiz, and tells the class clown to fuck off when he starts throwing paper balls at the horse girl.
Billie Eilish doesn’t just write songs. She elevates her music into a theater performance, setting a scene perfectly with wisely-chosen sounds and bits of dialogue. When you listen to her music, you’re somewhere else; you’re with her. It reminds me of everything I loved about pirating MP3’s from music videos, and that background noise taking me somewhere else every morning on the bus to the junior high. The first track on When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, “!!!!!!!,” is fourteen seconds of sound that puts you right in the studio with her. She is a brilliant artist, but she is a teenager girl, too. One with retainers that make gross mouth sucking noises, and a one that likes to laugh.
In “Listen Before I Go,” the faint sounds of ambulance sirens, helicopters, rain, and distant children playing take you to a city rooftop, like the final scene in a romance movie. You can see Billie Eilish standing on a rooftop, the tears in her eyes mixing with rain, waiting for her lover. It feels contemporary-Shakespearean. It is a desperate suicide note. It is Juliet in her final moments. She is moments from flinging herself onto the concrete. “Call my friends and tell them that I love them. And I’ll miss them. Sorry.”
Billie Eilish is nineteen now, but she blew up young. Plenty of underage girls in entertainment are pimped out by managers or fed to industry predators by their parents. But Billie Eilish is independent and in control of her sexuality. She wears big sweatshirts and baggy pants because she wants to. Her body belongs to her. Her sexuality belongs to her.
Her lyrics are explicit and unapologetic. She knows what she wants. “I like it when you take control,” she says in “Bad Guy”. “You know you don’t own me, but I’ll let you play the role.” She knows she likes to play rough with a boy that thinks he’s bad, but it’s all a game she’s playing for her amusement. She might have bruises on her knees, but she’s the real bad bitch here. And if you ever forget it, she just might fuck your dad.
Billie Eilish is dignified beyond her years. “You Should See Me in a Crown” would play in a sci-fi movie, the heroine’s nose bleeding as she walks down a laboratory hallway, nose bleeding and eyes frothing with purposeful rage. She wants to make the world kneel. She draws men in with her ocean eyes, they call her baby, they beg for her to sit on her lap. “I’m not your baby. If you think I’m pretty now, you should see me in crown…I’m gonna run this nothing town.” Her vocals are soft and calm—she doesn’t need to demonstrate her fury, because you can feel it.
And it’s followed neatly by “All the Good Girls Go to Hell,” when Billie has her crown. She is a fallen angel on a throne of swords and knives, filing her nails, and the devil themself is in love with her. Men are like dogs at her feet, in chains now, and she’s not impressed—“Look at you, needing me. You know I’m not your friend without some greenery… Begging for our help? Wow!”. “God herself” is a woman, and Billie is crashing through her pearly picket fence, giggling at Saint Peter. The world burns around her. But, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. A quick Google search reveals the song is actually about Moriarty from the BBC Sherlock show. The end is full of giggling and silly sounds—she is a teenage girl, after all.
Billie Eilish isn’t all confident posturing and apocalyptic visions, either. She’s raw and vulnerable, too. “Xanny” takes you to every bad party you’ve ever gone to, where you’re drifting along with friends you don’t like very much. Like “Listen Before I Go,” “Xanny” uses effects to take you somewhere else. “Can you check the Uber rating?” a girl drawls. You’re too sober to have a good time or just drunk enough to feel sad. You don’t fit in—you’ve never fit in. You try and tell yourself it’s all a flashy façade, they’re unstable and vapid and selfish; you’re better off without them. But you can’t even fool yourself. “I must be missing something.” You can imagine yourself forging a drunken bond with her, in each others’ loneliness; perhaps in an alley, feeling the biting frost of a winter’s night on sweat soaked skin from a sullen dance floor, when she offers you a hit of her pen.
But she always bounces back. Her most recent release, “Therefore I Am,” possesses the same easygoing poise she always has. It’s kind of mean—but you can tell the guy deserves it. “Did you have fun…? I really couldn’t care less,” she says, not sings, on the verge of snickering. Billie Eilish’s power comes from her confidence—she thinks she is, therefore she IS. It’s a song perhaps about paparazzi, about press, about interviewers, about all sorts of things that are untouchable and distant to the average girl. But the feelings are the same. This is a song for every girl who’s had a guy tell people spread a rumor about how she is in bed, for every girl who’s been picked on, for every girl who’s been stalked on social media: “Get my pretty name out of your mouth.”
Billie Eilish amazes me. She is the dealer you give extra cash to just because she makes you stutter and she makes you go weak in the knees. Here is a business run by skeevy dudes and there is a beautiful girl knocking them out of the park with a flick of her manicured pinky. Billie Eilish is more than a musician. She transports you to another dimension, another place, wherever her otherworldly eyes came from. She is an artist. She is regal. She is powerful. I think I am in love with her.
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