Label: Interscope Records/Universal Music Group
Released: March 29
One of the biggest pop records of the year is a vivid, singular, and at times unsettling portrait of what it’s like to be a teenager in 2019. Billie Eilish did more than validate her long-held next-big-thing status with When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. On the biggest stage of her career, she upped her songwriting skills and took several ambitious swings that paid off in the form of a captivating and unique debut.
“Xanny” is a dispatch from the middle of the prescription drug crisis, as a sober, wide-eyed Eilish watches her friends jeopardize their health and attempts to understand the appeal. The verses showcase her mesmerizing voice over soft droplets of piano, while the hook suddenly ripples with a digitized snarl. The sound design itself works as a parable for the slippery slope where innocent experimentation turns to drug addiction. “Listen before i go” is a gut-wrenching portrait of depression and suicidal ideation, again written from the center of the emotional maelstrom, not above it. On the other end of the spectrum, few ubiquitous singles remained as fresh as “bad guy,” with its four-on-the-floor kick drum and shrewd deconstruction of the young-pop-star-as-temptress trope. The same is true for “wish you were gay,” which, clickbait title aside, is a sweet and affecting ode to unrequited love.
Eilish is the perfect superstar for the modern era, both in terms of her creative autonomy—she and her brother Finneas wrote every song on the record—and her balance between earnest good intentions and jaded skepticism of authority and tradition. It’s tough to picture a more fitting Gen Z avatar than Billie Eilish coming along, and even more difficult to imagine one making an album this good. —Grant Rindner