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. While the album doesn’t follow a specific plot line across its tracks, it certainly possesses a consistency in tone and theme (often lacking from many pop albums), which allows it to tell its story and welcomes us into Eilish’s haunted world.
The Good: It’s impressive (especially in the pop landscape) that the brooding world conveyed on Eilish’s debut was almost entirely crafted by herself and her brother, producer and songwriter FINNEAS. The album is full of ASMR-inducing textures and pounding bass lines delivered with a SoundCloud spirit, despite being fully intended to fill arenas. The production perfectly compliments Eilish’s understated and whispery vocals, which highlight both trap bangers like “you should see me in a crown” and ballads like the jazzy, straight-edge track “xanny”.
Eilish has already proved her capability of crafting beautiful pop ballads (“Ocean Eyes”). But where she shines most here is in embracing the balance of her dark side and her penchant for fun and sarcasm. “I’m the bad guy,” she menacingly snarls before adding a playful “duh” over a cartoony synth riff on the opening track. On “wish you were gay”, Eilish pokes fun at her own heartache. Instead of accepting that her love is unrequited, she selfishly asks: “To spare my pride/ To give your lack of interest an explanation/ Don’t say I’m not your type/ Just say I’m not your preferred sexual orientation.” The dark humor that Eilish uses to cope with her heartaches and emotions across the entire tracklist is so deeply relatable and so well-executed that you can’t help but laugh and cry at the same time.
The Bad: Despite the record’s impressive cohesiveness and emotional engagement, the experimentation in production does lead to some missteps. The pitched vocals on “8”, while charming perhaps on first listen, soon lose their appeal. Similarly, “my strange addiction” garners some initial laughs with its samples from the “Threat Level Midnight” episode of The Office. The novelty soon wears off on these tracks, however, as the humor pales in comparison to the attitude of bangers like “all the good girls go to hell”.
The Verdict: Whatever missteps there may be, Eilish’s commanding, yet vulnerable, performances easily overcome them to create one of the best debut albums of the young year. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is the tongue-in-cheek bad-guy album Taylor Swift wished she had made with Reputation. While she hasn’t quite inherited the pop monarchy from Swift and the other elites, Eilish’s debut makes a strong case that it won’t be long until we see her in a crown.
Essential Tracks: “you should see me in a crown”, “all the good girls go to hell”, and “when the party’s over”
Buy: Check out Billie Eilish on vinyl here.