Release Date: Mar 29, 2019
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Left-Field Pop
The Lowdown: Billie Eilish is the poster child for a new pop generation — a generation that bucks the conventional prerequisite of a debut album to begin one's ascent to stardom. Since 2016, Eilish has instead slowly built her impressive repertoire with just a sole EP, viral singles, and collaborations with the likes of Vince Staples and Khalid. These performances coupled with her down-to-earth social media presence and electrifying live shows have solidified Eilish's place in the indie pop space, setting the stage for her blockbuster debut full-length, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? It's a bold title that invites us to consider the dark, perhaps monstrous, thoughts and emotions that hide just under the surface.
In an era that is reliant on streaming and features to achieve an ever-changing vision of success, Billie is doing something entirely different. Her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was written and produced with only one other collaborator, her brother Finneas O'Connell. It's dark, unpredictable and above all, exciting. Billie commented that once preceding single "Bury A Friend" was written from the perspective of the monster under the bed, the record made complete sense to her.
When Billie Eilish arrived in London for a three-night stint at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last month, it felt like the first proper physical manifestation in the UK of what the internet had known for a long while now. Kids camped out since the early hours of the morning. Tickets going for upwards of £300 on secondary sites. Ear-splitting screams up there with any that have greeted history’s bona fide teenage icons, from The Beatles to BTS.
On her big-league debut, Billie Eilish makes a bold entrance into the mainstream, leaving the fringes behind to embrace her role as an anti-pop star for the disaffected Gen Z masses. With a youthful, hybrid blend that incorporates elements of indie electronic, pop, and hip-hop (assisted by brother Finneas O'Connell), When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? captures the late-2010s zeitgeist by throwing conventional boundaries to the wind and fully committing to its genre-blurring self. Like Lorde's devilish little sister, Eilish delivers her confessional lyrics in hushed bursts of breath, at times dirge-like in their sedateness and otherwise intensely threatening in their creepiness.
Billie Eilish has suddenly become an obscenely famous pop star--the kind with 15 million Instagram followers, sold-out shows around the world, a haute modeling contract, and couch time with Ellen DeGeneres. Her brilliance is an obvious truth; just ask any teenager in America as they wait patiently for the rest of the world to catch up to their consummate taste in pop music. Of course, the 17-year-old Eilish is still waiting for her teeth to straighten out.
A volatile launching pad. When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go is splattered with the kind of imagery you might expect from an artist like Marilyn Manson. The cover art references Eilish's frequent night terrors and lucid dreams, while her music videos feature things like back-stabbing needles, grimy black tears, and blood-smeared faces. The lead single, titled "Bury a Friend", casually alludes to Billie selling her soul while making references to her own death.
Although dubbed as a pop act, to confine Billie Eilish to any specific brand of music would be doing her craft a disservice, as she defies any kind of label or categorisation with her transient use of genres. Eilish is certainly unexpected in all that she does and somewhat of a walking contradiction as she keeps the world on its toes. She is a different kind of teen superstar, with a mix of devil may care 'fuck you' attitude and mature sense of security and direction - you could easily forget that she is only 17 years old.
O ld people (in this case, anyone over about 23) may be quick to cite Billie Eilish's obvious influences as evidence of the 17-year-old's unoriginality: Lana Del Rey's broken balladry, Lorde's hip-hop-adjacent pop minimalism and witch house's lo-fi spookiness all seethe through her debut. Eilish doesn't hide the fact that she is a product of an online adolescence, steeped in a pop cultural morass with no beginning or end. But what she does with those influences is unique.
When she first emerged in 2016 with her viral Soundcloud hit 'Ocean Eyes', the moody, silver-haired Eilish seemed like just another dreamy teenage LA singer/songwriter. The trickle of songs that led to her follow-up EP Don't Smile At Me, however, proved that Eilish was made of darker stuff. Combining text and Instagram word-speak with bold electropop, she was busily crafting a girl-positive emotional world for the Netflix generation, and she has slowly become an alternative icon.