Lorde. Troye Sivan. And now, Billie Eilish.
Every few album cycles, a new indie pop artist emerges to shake up the industry in unforeseen ways.
With Pure Heroine, Lorde managed to encapsulate the angst of youth in the digital age with a razor-sharp focus and uniquely accessible sound. Her immaculate debut stands out as one of the strongest pop albums of our age. Troye Sivan’s debut saw similar success. Blue Neighbourhood took on a direction that little to no pop albums had attempted before, telling the bittersweet story of growing up gay in a small town. Sivan’s follow-up, last year’s “Bloom,” only further solidified him as a singular force telling important and often overlooked stories.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Los Angeles native Billie Eilish broke onto the scene. Her first single “Ocean Eyes” was a haunting look into love, showcasing the sound she and her producer and brother Finneas would continue to master over the next few years.
Eilish’s debut EP Don’t Smile at Me thereafter sparked the attention of industry executives and consumers around the globe. Assisted by prominent features from rap star Vince Staples and R&B juggernaut Khalid, Eilish was able to create a blueprint that labels scrambled to jump on.
After a development period, tour and months in the studio, Eilish returned with her official debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? The 14-track record was crafted to build upon the foundation set by Don’t Smile at Me. Like Pure Heroine and Blue Neighbourhood, the record is one of the strongest debuts of the decade.
Dark, vulnerable and filled to the brim with angst, Eilish’s project is nothing short of an exciting roller coaster. It often leaves listeners disoriented, moved to tears and thrashing in their chairs.
The record cultivates a dark atmosphere, and its innovation as a pop album lays in its depth. Eilish sings vulnerably about certain relationships, while scoffing playfully at others. While not every track stands out, every additional listen reveals hidden pockets in production and lyrical subtext. It serves as a perfect introduction to an artist that many may not have heard before.
Beginning with the radio-ready “Bad Guy,” the album explores Eilish’s own perception of her public image. She quips lethargically, “I’m a bad guy, duh.” This track, and the few that follow, show listeners how she intends to be perceived — punk, careless and empowered.
It isn’t until the middle act that Eilish begins to peel back the onion. On “When the Party’s Over,” she laments a lost love, maintaining the electro-pop sound of the earlier tracks while catering to the song’s emotional lyrics and vocal performance. Finneas complements Eilish’s style, sprinkling production stems that can’t go unnoticed.
Eilish revives her seductive dark side later on “My Strange Addiction,” which samples audio from NBC’s The Office before diving deeper into her emotion. Like a sleep cycle, there is a back-and-forth nature to the tone throughout the record. Where this may be a drawback to pop albums of this capacity, it works for the theme of When We All Fall Asleep.
Her personality and sound is what makes Eilish stand out in the oversaturated market of contemporary pop music. Distinguishable from the rest, Eilish is able to approach her art in a vulnerable way while maintaining a grit and playfulness that many artists of her generation lack. She represents the latest wave of conscious pop, giving her youthful audience an outlet for their unpredictable moodiness and the anxieties of the stress-inducing social climate today.
Billie Eilish has risen, and she’s brought the dead along with her.