At a talent show for home-schooled children, where her peers sang Taylor Swift, nine-year-old Billie Eilish performed Happiness Is A Warm Gun by The Beatles, a song banned from the radio in 1968 due to its controversial content. The young Eilish's unorthodox selection provides a glimpse into an innate disinclination toward conformity. "She's not a girl who misses much," goes John Lennon's opening lyric, somehow foreshadowing the willful artistry and attitude that shapes When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, the supreme debut LP from Billie Eilish, perhaps the world's most famous teenager.
Talent shows aside, the Los Angeles-based singer was destined for the entertainment industry. Born into a family of actors (respective credits include The West Wing, The X-Files, and Modern Family), her older brother, Finneas O’Connell (also a musician and producer), has been Eilish’s foremost collaborator.
Since 2016, upon releasing her breakthrough single Ocean Eyes, the siblings have produced a number of commercially successful singles. Eilish’s sound is a well-considered blueprint of her influences; blending the darker side of pop with gritty hip-hop beats (à la Tyler, the Creator) while drawing from Lana Del Rey’s languid vocal delivery.
Her unfiltered tongue and readiness to expose her insecurities set her apart from her peers
In many regards, Billie Eilish is a product of her internet-reared generation. This comes across in both her music and career; from uploading songs to SoundCloud (where her acclaimed EP, Don’t Smile At Me, first surfaced before it was re-released with Interscope Records), oversharing insignificant occurrences (the record’s opening track starts with a slew of slurps before the singer jovially states, “I have taken out my Invisalign and this is the album”), to doing interviews with an in-built hot-sauce endurance test.
Her unfiltered tongue and readiness to expose her insecurities, however, set her apart. Eilish broaches challenging issues – failed relationships and substance abuse – with a striking edge (“Don’t say I’m not your type, just say I’m not your preferred sexual orientation”).
Written mostly in her bedroom, the 17-year-old shows a maturity beyond her years over the course of the existentially titled album. Amidst introspective ballads (Listen Before I Go) and invigorating radio-ready singles (You Should See Me Wear A Crown), are endlessly alluring textures and tones that shift instantaneously between basic arrangements to intricately layered vocals.
O'Connell's production is extremely polished yet Eilish's personality shines through on various skittish interludes and interspersed snippets of Steve Carrell in The Office.
Elsewhere, an imitation of Bon Iver’s distorted vocal dub on When The Party’s Over feels fresh when juxtaposed with Eilish’s silken vocals on the gorgeous stripped-back arrangement. The sole grievance from the 14 tracks is the fleeting infantile cadence on the appropriately titled eighth track 8, which, fortunately, goes away after the introductory verse.
There’s a nocturnal atmosphere throughout When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, founded on the fuzzed vibrations of sub-bass, namely on Bad Guy and You Should See Me In A Crown. This tonal depth intensifies equally weighty lyrical themes such as the culture of self-medicating. On Xanny (an abbreviation of Xanax, the prescription medication used to manage anxiety), Eilish denounces the prevalent drug over faraway piano chords and thundering bass lines, “Too intoxicated to be scared,” she whispers.
On this debut, Billie Eilish delivers an exceptional body of work. This is a clear portrait of the artist and an in-depth insight into her world. It’s certainly true to say that Billie Eilish doesn’t miss much and she isn’t afraid to commit her experiences to song.