Billie Eilish’s discography spans multiple hit singles and three albums, the first of which was an EP. The first LP, or full-length album, was called WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? It was released in March 2019, and it is nothing less than extraordinary.
The album opens with a title track comprising several exclamation (!) marks, with Billie saying ‘I am taking out my Invisalign, and this is the album’, cue laughs from brother Finneas O’Connell, who produced the album, co-wrote many of the songs, and single-handedly wrote the stand-out number ‘when the party’s over’, a slow ballad with astonishing vocal layering from Billie. Her only disappointment with the album, which won a suite of Grammys (including Best New Artist, Album Of The Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year for ‘bad guy’ — with Finneas also winning the covered Producer of the Year award), was Invisalign not paying the O’Connells for the free advertising.
Some songs are, for sure, less striking on first listen than others. But these may age well, as tightly produced bops like ‘you should see me in a crown’, ‘all the good girls go to hell’, and ‘bury a friend’ have exhausted most of the streaming plays and radio spins. And of course, ‘bad guy’ established Billie definitively as the new ruler of alt-pop, and, potentially, the pop industry in general. As Billie sung: ‘I’m gonna run this nothing town — watch me make ‘em bow one by one.’ And boy, did they bow. Now she runs the town.
I cannot downplay the significance of this album. It made a new kind of music possible, and acceptable. Legions of artists imitate Billie now. But this is a mistake. Billie is a unique music artist who cannot be replicated. She has opened the door to a darker, harsher, honest form of pop music to counteract the general tendency towards bright, bubbly, crass hypocrisy. Equally, her performance is its own kind of honest hypocrisy, one which is aware of itself, and even critical of itself, in a way that harkens more to artists like Kanye West and Michael Jackson than most of the merely technical pop (and even popularised rock and hip hop) songs which dominate the charts today.
The door is open, and yet, no one has thought to walk through it. It is as if Billie shone a light onto the true potential of pop music, a light which was too bright to gaze at too long, leading us back into the darkness. We need to return to this moment of pop music. There is no future with the current trajectory of pop music, which looks to the 1980s or 2000s to avoid fulfilling the dreams of the 2010s. But we realise our dreams, paradoxically, we must embrace our nightmares. We must fall asleep, and go wherever it is we go. Then we can wake up again. First, we need to return. Billie opened the door. What are we doing? Why wait? Let us follow this path to its conclusion. Pop can get darker than this. Much darker. Follow the light into darkness. Otherwise, the light will fade away, and the darkness will never go away. There is no other way. Let me lead the way.