The Anxious Love Songs of Billie Eilish

Earlier this 12 months, the singer and songwriter Billie Eilish, who’s twenty-two, turned the youngest two-time Oscar winner in historical past, accumulating the Finest Unique Music award for “What Was I Made For?,” a fragile existential ballad that she co-wrote for the movie “Barbie.” (She additionally received in 2022, for “No Time to Die,” a moody and portentous Bond theme.) By the way, Eilish can also be the youngest particular person ever to have a clear sweep of all 4 of the primary Grammy classes (Finest New Artist, File of the Yr, Music of the Yr, and Album of the Yr), which she achieved in 2020, for her début LP, “When We All Fall Asleep, The place Do We Go?” At that 12 months’s ceremony, moments earlier than Album of the Yr was introduced, Eilish will be seen mouthing, “Please don’t be me”; onstage, standing alongside her brother Finneas O’Connell, who can also be her co-writer and producer, she appeared bewildered, if not mortified. “We wrote an album about despair, and suicidal ideas, and local weather change,” O’Connell instructed the gang. “We get up right here confused and grateful.” It’s each heartening and barely mystifying that Eilish, who writes sombre, idiosyncratic, goth-tinged electro-pop about her loneliness and tedium, has change into such a lodestone for business accolades. “Man am I the best / God I hate it,” Eilish sings on “The Biggest,” a forlorn, walloping music from her compact however highly effective new album, “Hit Me Arduous and Mushy,” which was simply launched.

Eilish is understood for taking her time in a music, typically crawling by a melody as if it have been a bowl of molasses, and he or she typically chooses to sing in a whisper, letting a be aware cling within the air earlier than it dissipates solely. Her vocal model jogs my memory of an evanescing cloud of smoke after somebody blows out a cluster of birthday candles—lovely, fleeting, just a little bit haunted. But, on “The Biggest,” Eilish belts and bellows. “I waited / And waited,” she wails, her voice getting greater and greater. It’s uncommon to seek out Eilish in bloodletting mode, however fury and loudness go well with her, too. Lyrically, a lot of “Hit Me Arduous and Mushy” is about wanting a relationship however failing, in some elementary and inescapable approach, to maintain closeness with one other particular person. It’s an attention-grabbing drawback: needing one thing, but additionally realizing you’re incapable of getting it. The twists and turns of Eilish’s emotional journey are mirrored and amplified by O’Connell’s manufacturing; these songs are vulnerable to sudden modifications and reinventions, ups and downs. Sooner, slower, shut, far, right here, gone. “L’Amour de Ma Vie,” a brand new music a few soured relationship—“You have been so mediocre,” Eilish sings—shifts from a lovelorn, jazz-inflected torch music right into a pulsing membership banger, chilly and threatening. In much less assured fingers, that transformation is likely to be disorienting, however Eilish and O’Connell are masterly at discovering the connective tissue between disparate emotions and sounds. Why can’t a love music be mild and aggressive, grounded and spectral? Isn’t love?

From the beginning of her profession, Eilish has by no means been significantly snug with superstar, and at instances she has appeared viscerally repelled by it; the anxiousness and paranoia introduced on by world fame are one other theme right here, and are maybe straight chargeable for Eilish’s romantic angst. On “Skinny,” the craving ballad that opens the album, she displays on coming of age underneath the scrutiny of strangers. “Folks say I look pleased / Simply because I bought skinny / However the previous me remains to be me and perhaps the actual me / And I believe she’s fairly,” Eilish sings, her voice feathery and resigned. (“The Web is hungry for the meanest type of humorous / And any person’s gotta feed it,” she factors out.) “Skinny” is a beautiful music, wounded and fragile, with a whiff of Lilith Honest folksiness. It ends with a mournful string determine by the Attacca Quartet, the one different musicians featured on the album apart from Eilish, O’Connell, and Eilish’s tour drummer, Andrew Marshall.

Eilish writes typically about management, an concept that manifests in photographs of closed doorways and lyrics about feeling caged. (The quilt artwork includes a {photograph} of Eilish sinking right into a deep-blue abyss, slightly below a white door.) “Once I step off the stage I’m a chicken in a cage / I’m a canine in a canine pound,” she sings, on “Skinny.” On “Chihiro,” she is imploring: “Open up the door / Are you able to open up the door?” On “Blue,” which closes the album, she returns to each photographs:

Don’t know what’s in retailer
Open up the door
The again of my thoughts
I’m nonetheless abroad
A chicken in a cage

Claustrophobia, darkness, worry—these are all concepts that Eilish and O’Connell luxuriated in on “When We All Fall Asleep, The place Do We Go?,” however right here they really feel deeper, broader, and extra dramatic. Partway by “Blue,” Eilish begins chanting, her voice so flat and filtered that at the beginning I believed it is likely to be O’Connell. For Eilish, fame and despair are entangled, heavy predicaments to endure and, she hopes, survive:

And I may say the identical ’bout you
Born innocent grew up well-known too
Only a child born blue now

Musically, “Hit Me Arduous and Mushy” lands someplace between “When We All Fall Asleep, The place Do We Go?” and Eilish’s second album, “Happier Than Ever,” from 2021. Lately, Eilish’s songwriting has felt extra indebted to jazz-adjacent pop singers akin to Peggy Lee and Amy Winehouse than to the spooky despondency of 9 Inch Nails. “Hit Me Arduous and Mushy” is mature and nuanced, and that feels applicable—the non secular distance between seventeen and twenty-two is huge—however I typically miss Eilish’s giddier and extra puerile facet. Many listeners first got here to know Eilish by “Unhealthy Man,” the fifth single from “When We All Fall Asleep, The place Do We Go?” It’s a humorous and ingenious monitor, that includes a campy synthesizer riff and a dramatic tempo change. What made “Unhealthy Man” so intoxicating was the suave approach it balanced youthful insouciance—that “Duh,” delivered on the finish of every refrain, was so completely saturated with teen-age disdain it felt like getting hit within the face with a water balloon—and a type of playful, empowered sensuality. Within the music’s video, Eilish sports activities blue hair, and blood is smeared throughout her face; her eyes are vacant, unfeeling. However she additionally dances round like an unlimited goof, sporting an outsized butter-yellow sweatsuit, and leads a gang of dudes down a suburban road from behind the wheel of a toy race automotive.

That individual mixture—“Unhealthy Man” is equal components critical and foolish—jogs my memory of a whole lot of issues, however particularly of intercourse, which will be solemn, typically sacred, but additionally utterly absurd. Eilish embraces her carnal appetites on “Lunch,” a brand new music about pure animal lust:

I may eat that lady for lunch
Yeah she dances on my tongue
Tastes like she is likely to be the one

For all of the hand-wringing concerning the lagging intercourse drive of youthful People, Eilish has been outspoken concerning the methods by which that type of bodily communion will be therapeutic. In a latest interview with Rolling Stone, she endorsed the myriad advantages of masturbation—“Folks ought to be jerking it, man”—and of feminine sexual pleasure extra usually. “I believe it’s such a frowned-upon factor to speak about, and I believe that ought to change,” she stated. “You requested me what I do to decompress? That shit can actually, actually prevent typically, simply saying. Can’t advocate it extra, to be actual.” “Lunch” is a bizarre, pulsing monitor, vigorous and sexy. It’s additionally my favourite music on the brand new album, partially as a result of Eilish sounds extremely free, which is to say, she feels like herself. ♦