Liz Foster ’22
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is the hotly anticipated full length from alternative pop star Billie Eilish. Ever since “Ocean Eyes” shot her to the top of the industry’s watch list, Billie has been making her way towards household name status through her dark lyricism, edgy style, and surprisingly recent birth date. Eilish boasts over 3.9 billion streams and 7.3 million records sold worldwide to date…and she’s seventeen years old.
Billie Eilish refuses to fit snugly into one genre. While she definitely leans pop, her implementation of haunting noises like a literal dentist tool (that screeching noise on “bury a friend”) and spidery imagery, see the music video for “you should see me in a crown” immediately remove her from that mainstream cultural landscape. Her production and unsmiling call to alternative influences, but her style is entirely hip-hop inspired. Draped in baggy silhouettes, streetwear brands, and hundreds of thousands of jewelry, it’s no surprise that some of Eilish’s favorite artists, friends, and influences are rappers. Acts like Denzel Curry are close associates of Eilish, and the infamous, deceased XXXtentacion is rumored to be the friend in reference on “bury a friend.”
Billie has a foot in each corner of the music industry, with enough conflict and cohesion to create something that resembles an alternative pop star.
The album’s titular question, a line from the single “bury a friend,” questions the sleep paralysis that has plighted Eilish throughout her life. The album is an exploration into the mind of a pop star who only just earned her driver’s license. We can peer through the Louis Vuitton layers that separate Billie Eilish the person from Billie Eilish the human, the teenager.
The album’s singles, the haunting “bury a friend,” the soulful “when the party’s over” and commanding “you should see me in a crown” all reflect the various tones of Eilish’s music. She’s fun, but she’s serious. She’s young, but she’s an old soul. She’s spooky, but scared herself. The production on these songs aids in forming the atmosphere of both When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go and Billie Eilish as a whole.
The album’s strongest moments are when Billie plays to her best skills, and where the instrumentation shines brightest. “bad guy” serves as the album’s formal introduction, showing us that Billie herself is the bad guy in question with fun, albeit questionable at times, rhymes. The song’s pounding bassline transitions into a trappy breakdown before continuing onto the contemplative “xanny.” The song vibrates as the 17 year-old ponders why seemingly everyone around her is hooked on a drug of some sort. The chorus rattles through the ears in headphones but is best fit for the enveloping environment of a car.
“all the good girls go to hell” keeps the album’s tempo fun and upbeat with light keys and warped Catholic imagery. She calls out about her “lonely” Lucifer as she whisper sings in the most Billie Eilish way possible. Similarly playful is the The Office sampling “my strange addiction.” She croons about her love interest before descending into an equally angsty, equally wise-beyond-her-years bridge that begs “Tell me nothing lasts, like I don’t know.”
The album’s more somber moments appear sprinkled throughout its positive moments. The ballad “listen before i go” strips down to Billie’s vocals over minimal keys. Her voice is clear and vulnerable as she recounts a suicidal cry to a lover. “ilomilo” exposes Billie’s fear of separation. Her anxiety is tangible as the production builds to a swell. She is despair. The album concludes in the shudder inducing “goodbye,” which filters soft vocals through vocoder as Billie sings out notable lyrics from each of the album’s songs. As the bass and piano shroud to nothingness, she calls out one last time what feels to be the core of the album: “I’m the bad guy.”
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is no perfect album. Some songs straddle the line of repetitive and Eilish’s vocal range is reduced to her signature whisper-singing style. Where the production is most minimal, the songs rely most on Billie’s voice and lyrics to carry the song when they’re not always capable. Her energy is significantly more compelling on her sassier, “edgier” songs. For a seventeen year old’s debut album, WWAFAWDWG is a gold standard for Billie to set. The piece is cohesive and polished with maturity that comes with years she has had to make up for. With Billie positioned for a career of success by fans and industry members alike, it comes with no surprise that the album debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, amassing over 300,000 combined streams and sales. Even in its dullest moments, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is compelling and, just like Billie Eilish herself, utterly unavoidable.