Billie Eilish-When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Album Review

Pop music when it’s good tends to make us feel like its auter is being unabashedly themselves. Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream feels like Perry being capital K Katy for all of its unabashed feminine glory, but Perry’s stumbles stem from moments that feel oppressively Katy.  Katy is loud, she is endearingly too much, on the nose in her hope.

This works with a cheery hot pink ode to California, but when you’re singing a Dolly Parton song next to Kacey Musgraves at the grammys, it’s easy to over do it. Sure, “Firework” is pretty algorithmically designed for the fourth of July, but it soars, which is mildly less true of something like “Roar,” another tune that takes one thing that is loud and louds about it.

Billie Eilish feels like she’s too much Billie right now. Her album is over stuffed with unnecessary and annoying flourishes. From the jump, she takes out her invisalign braces and laughs maniacally, later their will be a “duh” to punctuate a song section—she’ll sing along to her bass line then laugh off how dumb it is and unabashadly sing the following near-sighted lyric: “I just kinda wish you were gay…To give your lack of interest an explanation/Don’t say I’m not your type/Just say that I’m not your preferred sexual orientation.”  Though part of her brand is “I don’t care but also REALLY care,” and these self deprecating ruptures in the album experience accentuate that, they also place it as childish and carnivalesque.

This translates to whole songs as well.  An “Oh So Quiet”-core fake-jazz redux about Xanax sounds like a ostentatiously weirdo pop answer to the most surface level trap music of the day; and the baby voice+ukelele answer falls somewhere between the emoji movie and the whole “baby shark” situation.  Admittedly, it could be a bias problem. Her music comes across as if Eilish is the chesire cat in a Tim Burton film and maybe if I was a film critic, I would be the one who doesn’t like Burton.

I can see how there is a place for that, and the ways in which Eilish could be considered radical.  Especially considering the usual slant towards pristine femininity that women in pop music usually must embody.  Some of the best material stems from her subversion of this box.  Opener “bad guy” skews Eilish, her gender, and her demons into a smoldering pummel, and a tune like “bury a friend” with its zombie-like vocal delivery sound disturbingly chill.

But for now, I feel like the childish aspects tend to limit her scope and date her rather specifically to today.  The predecessors and audience are very obvious, and though Billie Eilish is great at being uniquely herself, I’d like to see how she matures to offer something a little less sarcastic and blatty.

-Donovan Burtan



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