Billie Eilish’s “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”: The Latest Face of Teenage Angst

By: Gabriella M. R. |

Every once in a while, the mainstream audience of the music industry tires of the usual campaigners of lush life and bright lights and seeks for the next kooky kid to bring a little semblance of audiovisual balance between light and dark. Enter Billie Eilish, who managed to surprise and charm the pop industry with her EP “Don’t Smile At Me” back in 2017, delivering dead-pan aloofness with tracks like “COPYCAT” and “bellyache” while at other times pleading tearfully with hazy ballads such as “ocean eyes” and “idontwannabeyouanymore”. Despite the EP’s lack of cohesive sound and at times confused musical identity – bouncing back and forth somewhere between pop, alternative R&B and hip hop, the young artist definitely struck a chord with her audience, most notably the Gen Z kids who belong to the same age group as hers, becoming the latest teenage hype.

While millennials were kept company through their most turbulent teenage years by rock-leaning music by the likes of Nirvana, Avril Lavigne and My Chemical Romance who were able to echo their feelings of outcastedness, mistrust and anger towards adults and society, Eilish emerged to prominence with this a-little-bit-of-this-and-that persona, never quite exactly one thing: seemingly boyish and inapproachable with her oversized outfits and cynical lyrics but the next moment drenched in black tears and bleeding from the nose, letting hints of extreme emotions slip though. Though perhaps most importantly, Eilish connected with her audience through what could be her generation’s hardest struggle yet: dealing with your own conflicting ego, which is in line with her persona and music.

Prior to “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”’s release, Eilish had already expressed that her debut album would revolve around themes of fear, incorporating things such as spiders and the darkness in her videos and referencing topics such as anxiety, rejection, separation and addiction in her music. Through her morbidly produced single and music video for “bury a friend”, the 17-year-old singer explained the song as her attempt to let the ‘monster under the bed’ speak, further elaborating that the monster was her and she was her own worst enemy. Throughout the album itself, Eilish returns with her capricious snappy-one-moment-sappy-the-next routine, opening the album with “!!!!!!!” – a playful snippet of her taking off her retainer – and ending it with “goodbye” – a disturbingly haunting track featuring lines from the other songs sung mournfully in distortion. Inbetween, the album features whimsical moments such as the dancey “bad guy” about Billie claiming to be the bigger bad guy than her tough guy lover and the ukulele-driven “8” which bears resemblance of “party favor” from her previous EP. Gloom seems to override the tone with most of her other tracks such as the piano-laced ballad “when the party’s over” and the self-aware track mirroring the youth’s increasing recognition of mental wellness named after the anxiety drug “xanny”.

The production of the awaited debut is nothing extraordinary, though. It stays minimalist and relies on creative vocal mixing, heavy bass and beats to generate the overall angst-ridden atmosphere. The album seems to peak for the first exciting half of the duration but gradually retreats into a deep dark slumber for the remaining half, sounding more and more sullen, apparently hinting at a certain closure for the question the title poses – perhaps reminiscent of the singer’s own tough act falling apart. Though considering it is largely the collaborative work between Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, “WHEN WE ALL FALL SLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” does garner some impressive points with its carefully-selected singles. Nonetheless, it’s safe to assume Billie’s more playful lyrical jabs will be plastered all over Instagram captions again. If there’s one thing Billie can do, it’s capturing her generation’s attitude towards themselves: hyper-self-aware and a little all over the place, managing to get by by poking fun at their own less-than-admirable monsters.

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