Billie Eilish performing in Austin, Texas in October. Eilish, who turns 18 in December, broke through in 2019 with songs that embody the demons of his time, but with confidence and a healing sense of humor.
Image credit: Gary Miller
What is the most urgent business for an artist in 2019? Perhaps it is to find music in the noise oppressing the atmosphere, the (false) information, the static and chaotic emotion that permeates people’s heads. For example: Billie Eilish, the Los Angeles teenager who, along with her 22-year-old brother Finneas, produced the most released and discussed album in 2019, once adjusted her accolades, listening to the whirlwind of exercise. their edges. “I thought it was so stupid, and I pulled out my phone immediately and tried to record it,” she said later. New york times journalist Joe Coscarelli. Although Finneas found the sound “very awful”, he incorporated it into a song the siblings were composing, a Studio Ghibli-style fairy tale told from the perspective of a creature living under Billie’s bed. . Skreeeee, goes the drill, in the mixture transformed into a cute bestial cry. This is just one element that crashed into the “Burial a Friend” sound mat. There is also the timer for an Easy Bake oven, a broken glass and something called Nightmare Horse. Finneas and Billie wondered if anyone could hear the melody buried inside this monster mash, but it was loud, inspired by the musical theater numbers that the siblings both knew from their program. home education. A phrase from “Bury a Friend” gave Eilish’s album its title – When we all fall asleep, where do we go? – and became one of his most successful pieces.
The art of O’Connells (Billie has his first and middle names) comes to life at the intersection of the fantastic, the forbidden and the everyday. The most notable thing about their music is the way it borrows not only from hip-hop but from video games, social media platforms like the movies TikTok and Tim Burton to discover the power of supposedly non-musical sounds. Eilish has a disarming and intimate vocal style born from a twofold education: member of Gen Zers’ sweet brigade who grew up posting karaoke videos on YouTube on bedroom, she also learned the technique at the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus , where mixing is more important than belts. Its voice control distinguishes it from the hordes of young women (and some men) who whisper unequally in the microphones at the moment. Add to Finneas’ inventiveness in handling his instrument – fuzzy multi-tracking, pitch change, sampling and multiplication of inhalations and sighs – and you have songs that strike the listener like random daydreams, but that have always the impact required by a pop hit. In the Lolita empowerment movement “bad guy” or tango of alienation “xanny” or the application of notes of heartache “when the party is over”, the hooks are made of sniffles and breath, no words or melody. Each sentence is a theater the size of a listener. There, the O’Connells transform dangerous emotions into understandable and manageable dramatic stories. The songs evoke the high school theater club, but also the therapist’s office self-discussion scripts, and the poetic Instagram of at least two generations who formed identities by constantly registering.
Much of the best songs of 2019, Brittany Howard’s funk-soul road maps on I like Lana Del Rey’s neo-realistic folk-rock montages are also part of their own construction process, reminding listeners that each act of self-expression is incomplete. It is the music of a human moment anchored, sometimes bogged down, in the indeterminacies of the process. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know what I’m showing – feelings, that’s what I pay”, Tyler, the creator rhymes with “I THINK”, from his career highlight IGOR, a series of songs on the vicissitudes of a rupture which generates a sound flux which, as one critic said, “has the impression of being suspended in the air”. It is now the norm for adventurous artists, pushing song forms to their limits and delving into synthesizer banks for new sounds in order to better transmit the oozing sensation of unstable everyday life – the strange time that jumps 30 degrees in one afternoon, the flattened thrill of Facetime sex chats, the creeping question of whether everyone from your friend who sends you a meme to our elected officials does it all.
And then there is anxiety, as common as that of food origin. E. coli epidemic. What to do? Indoor retreat? An orchestra lives there, constantly listening, as Angel Olsen captures on his symphony of a song, “Lark”: “Hide in my head, it’s still me, it’s not a surprise.” (There were so many haunted albums this year, from Nick Cave’s Ghosteen at Ariana Grande thanks then.) “I’m trying, but I’m overwhelmed,” shouts FKA Twigs and murmurs in “Cellophane”, her voice becoming unbalanced, staging her words. In “No”, unable to erase his own static and perhaps think that this could be a fatal compromise, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief gets tangled up in the paradox of negative judgment – “This is not the play / don’t start / not the crowd / not win / Not the planet / Not spinning ”, she repeats in the chorus, pursuing a point of rest that will never come, to finally give in to the infinite echo of the feedback of the guitar. In each of these cases, the lyrics only signal what the songs are already doing: trying to take into account the ambiguities that seem to fill every corner of the experience, expressing the pressing mood which, in recent years, has turned “overwhelm” into a name – not a condition that can be alleviated but a total environment.
Of course, a teenager highlights this new human condition. “The Triumph of the Strange” makes the headlines of Billie Eilish’s first film Rolling stone cover, as if popular music hadn’t been the home of Little Richard or David Bowie or Kate Bush or Ol ‘Dirty Bastard or Lil Peep. The strangeness of Billie Eilish’s music and the seeming improbability of his success are marketing hooks that helped pull his star up. It has become a model for children who do not correspond, whose presence in their schools or even in their families is often defined as a kind of noise to be refused and harmonized. Social institutions are increasingly trying to accommodate such children, and that is why Eilish’s appeal works within the mainstream, rather than opposing it. Dimpled and given to winning chortles, displaying a truly close relationship with her brother and parents – the O’Connells are a “family business”, Von Trapps of properly reduced Etsy age – she projects confidence even if she admits to having fought social anxiety and worse. (She has a neurological disorder that produces facial tics; she also looks like a young Scarlett Johanssen.) Unlike other musicians who have embodied the demons of their time, Eilish projects confidence and a healing sense of humor. He’s the weird kid for whom there is a place in the world.
Anyone who has attended an urban high school this year knows that a neon haired girl in a loose hoodie would stand out, yes, but could also very quickly find her people. Summer camps for future punk rockers or Dungeons & Dragons assistants or anime aficionados align with mental health clubs and school alliances for queer, trans and neurodiverse children to support young people who previously had to form their own anarchic monster alliances. Reflecting the cult of the individual’s technological culture and reinforced by parents like Eilish, who negotiated fruitful relationships with the capitalist system while preserving certain counter-cultural ideals, the rise of the strange director is a reassuring development which also deserves to be questioned.
What helps children thrive deserves to be supported. But the mainstream rejects certain elements of the strange as it absorbs it. In Eilish’s music, this process surfaces in this non-musical, now musical noise. Her voice and the heart of her songs are pop, just as she appears, basically, as a young woman fairly well adjusted and committed to the pursuit of conventional success. Then there is this vagueness, this noise: the deviance that it also signifies. If in a culture of “creative” rebellion has become a disturbance – a new type of entrepreneurship, which adapts to standards instead of dismantling them – where does the unconformable really go? Where do we go when we all fall asleep? (The tension over the standards that can be absorbed has also appeared elsewhere this year. On HBO’s teen melodrama Euphoria, for example, immaculately screwed up children slipped between self-realization and overdose.)
In a recent Eilish concert at Jack White’s Third White Records in Nashville, Eilish and Finneas performed an acoustic ensemble for a hall of carefully chosen local musicians and other decorators. The relaxed environment and minimalist layout, which produced a live recording, allowed Eilish to show his balance. His famous whispering voice turned out to be extremely trained – his years spent in children’s choir taught him to control his tone and pitch without resorting to lung power. Stripped of most of the effects, the songs had the original charm of what used to be called the “downtown cabaret” – which, like the drag queens that once dominated this scene, is now familiar, having already been transmitted in top of the charts by Lady Gaga. The crowd murmured his approval, the elderly noting the professionalism of O’Connells. In front, a small crowd of teenage girls, dressed in vegetarian leather jackets and shiny purple or red leggings. It was the Eilish fan base – but it was also a gang of budding musicians, mostly graduates of the Nashville girls’ rock camp. For them, Eilish is emblematic: a rebel who is also a popular child, a mother’s daughter who can also be subversive, a strong cultural presence emanating from a carefully maintained private place.
Eilish’s music speaks for strange children in the same way that most pop teens spoke for idealized “normal” children: it truly expresses their point of view and helps them to imagine also pursuing what makes most happy people (romance, leisure, money, feeling of self-esteem). She is hardly the first musician to occupy the space of the strange in a spectacular way, especially since the Internet made outsidness so much more generally visible and audible. She has obvious immediate precursors like Lorde and Lady Gaga, but there are so many others – including, most importantly, beloved fictional characters. The Hot-Topic Shop Website of Your Rebellion Mall Store Reveals All: Eilish fans were already horror antiheroes like Chucky’s Child’s play and Pennywise from he; the adorable grotesques of Tim Burton’s universe; attractive villains like Harley Quin of D.C. Comics fame or Sherlock‘S Moriarty, whose voice Eilish invokes in his song “you should see me in a crown”. The thing about these ostensibly perverse characters is that their excesses reverse the perfectionism that restricted young people’s culture in the early 20e century. In the stories, the chaos these characters cause is a form of game that defies the norm; totems of their power like cosplay costumes or figurines – or references in pop songs – safely borrow their liberating power.
The crooks, like the strange sounds of pop songs, express and ease the tension of the overwhelm. Many Eilish champions hail his inventive presence as a sign that the exhausting perfectionism of 21st-the life of the middle class of the century may be declining. Despite the huge presence of an old-fashioned pop factory, the K-Pop, 2019 universe points to a greater fascination for celebrities who can make work a game, or, if the circumstances require it, at least an unruly passion. They could be comedians, like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, brimming with subversiveness that appeals to the public. Or actors like Keanu Reeves, readjusting his status as a longtime heartbeater to become a pleasantly interactive, welcoming and moving meme. Or even activists and politicians like Greta Thunberg and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, forced to get involved by the urgency of a cause. Dolly Parton, whose work ethic is second to none and whose playfulness is second to none, has become the oldest stateswoman of the year, straddling great songs and boob jokes in the heart of a short story. generation. Newcomer Megan Thee Stallion won the summer with stupidity built around her insatiable appetite declarations, reveling in cheerful obscenity. Even Post Malone, the white rapper and singer whose success disconcerts most critics and other creators of musical tastes, fits into this scheme propelled by a transformative excess. With his Cookie Monster look and a sad character in his bag constantly upset by the buoyancy of his melodies, he embodies white male privilege like a happy accident, a big child frolicking in the pop charts as if he were just learning to run. Although his songs often express frustration with women who are stronger or just more together than he is, he always cheerfully offers them. Post Malone is a mess, but his presence reassures; he will be fine.
Only a few of these numbers are considered strange, but they tend to be excessive in one way or another – even excessively idealistic. Or, to use the current jargon, they are “extra”. “Extra is often also a way of saying” different “,” disturbing “or” unwanted “. Popular culture, and in particular music, often celebrates the supplement as a means of pushing the standards and symbolically reconciling the difference. Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips once wrote: “The excesses of others and of ourselves can make us think rather than just react. Indeed, something as powerful as excess could – if we can stop our fear – allow us to have thoughts that we never had before. “He wasn’t talking about” Hot Girl Summer “or Lizzo Because I love you, but the description fits.
Lizzo is Eilish’s 180 degree twin sister and, in some ways, the legitimate heiress of Dolly Parton. She plays big and hard as a way of pushing the standards, flirting with stereotypes with such presence and joy that she beats them. A 31-year-old veteran in many musical circles, trained in a classical flute style, led by Prince, born and raised in the rap capital of Houston and fed by the genre agnostic indie scene, Lizzo is a musical competitor before Eilish. had all of his teeth permanent; but the barriers faced by women of color idiosyncratic in music remain far more daunting than anything a white teenager might encounter. Lizzo’s revolutionary album Because I love you, his fourth release, is the fruit of his hard work, and as much a return to classic pop values as it is the platform for an exciting new voice. It evokes classic blues and old school hip-hop, and is full of jokes that soul elders like Millie Jackson would appreciate.
Plus size beauty whose songs celebrate sensuality and self-confidence, Lizzo is associated with a complement of liberation movements: fatty pride and body positivity, LGBTQIA + pride and the more amorphous movement towards personal care. Which makes Because I love you exciting, however, is not his progressive cultural stance but the anarchic energy of Lizzo’s vocal performance. She sings with an abandonment that belies her skills, choosing to negotiate openly with the pitch and push the edges of the stamp to solidify her position against the idea of convenience of anyone. Make no mistake – this is a political decision. Lizzo’s songs strongly emphasize pleasure and the right to live openly in his feelings. Instead of confined to a tragic role or simply playing a comedic role, Lizzo draws on the heritage of blues queens like Ma Rainey and soul transgressors like Jackson, who asked to be recognized as fully human and emotionally complicated. Lizzo heartily wins the field where the stereotypes of excess have historically tormented black women.
The extraordinary of Lizzo, its noise, contradicts the current trends in R&B music, finding more parents among the rappers (including Megan Thee Stallion) than very famous singers like Solange, Ari Lennox or Summer Walker, heirs to the conversational style developed by Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. She has a multiracial audience and has received backlash in part because of her large white fan base – too many “thin white girls” identify with this tall black woman, according to some critics. If the extra-ness, the noise of identity, is fetishized, it can become not a source of new standards, but a vehicle for self-indulgence, including behavior that reflects the lack of reflection on the racial dynamics, if not manifest racism. A concrete example: during a show by Kacey Musgraves in Nashville this fall, “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo came on the loudspeaker between sets. The entire Bridgestone arena, almost entirely white, exploded in a rap-long, with many thirties in chinos or Southern Tide dresses imitating their idol with all the sensitivity of Kendall Roy making “L à l’O.G”. sure Succession. Is it problematic to have this kind of pleasure? The truth is that Billie Eilish has it too: his speech patterns are those of a teenager raised in a predominantly white but slightly interracial environment who probably also watched a fair amount of 90 days engaged. She picked up more than the musical inspiration of her favorite Soundcloud rappers. Among the many things that remain in a painful process in 2019 is the nation’s understanding of its own racial history and the current dynamics of power. As always, music has thrown racial conflicts into a difficult perspective while sometimes obscuring them.
As much as it is a product of the culture of the strange accomplisher, Eilish is also a child of gentrification. Highland Park, the northeast district of Los Angeles where she grew up – where she and Finneas made their album and where, in her cozy family home, dotted with pillows, she often conducts interviews – was transformed into 21st century of a house (plagued by gangs) for working class families Latinx to a hipster paradise. It may seem to anyone following his media presence that Eilish came from the lost island of free time, where she and Finneas were schooled at home in a creative game and fed on spaghetti and broccoli by their loving mom . It is totally true. It’s also true that, although she is often hailed as a better choice for teens than Britney Spears, Eilish is as much a showbiz kid as she was. Mickey mouse club and American Idol ancestors. Highland Park’s ambitious bourgeoisie includes mid-level filmmakers as production designers and veteran actors like his own parents, creating a community with New Age-conscious visual artists, coffee shop owners, academics and physiotherapists . This is exactly the kind of environment where strange artists are deeply nourished. Hollywood crafts and knowledge, her legacy, are part of what makes her a prodigy and a pop star. Noise is always the most successful when properly managed.
Eilish’s success may not really be a triumph of the strange, any more than that of Miley Cyrus, another Hollywood savage. What she has done more successfully than Cyrus, so far, is to maintain intimacy as an important value – to incorporate calm into her noise, and even to make it one of his subjects. This murmur, which in a way incorporates the energy of a cry, reinforced and amplified by distortion and multi-tracking, has often been compared to whispers from ASMR, this strange YouTube-based sphere where pretty people intone soothing mantras while mashing marshmallows or brushing someone’s hair. What Eilish shares with ASMR practitioners is the realization that being very silent has as much power as being very noisy. His music somehow reconciles the two extremes. This is how she is the heiress not only of Lady Gaga, but of James Blake and Bon Iver, and a peer not only of other places like Clairo or King Princess, but also more openly avant-garde artists like the FKA twigs. Its edge, ultimately, is the edge of the private world, behind which it preserves itself, defying the 21st– centenary mandate to be constantly efficient or at least to present oneself.
As the sample she seized from the orthodontist shows, Eilish is remarkably in tune with the sound or the wandering phrase which seems to defy meaning but whose presence sharpens or reorganizes the story it inhabits. She claims that she and Finneas both have synesthesia, the condition that medically defines this multisensory experience. But it can be argued that multisensory crushing is just the nature of its world: the world of video players, anime lovers, YouTubers and memes makers, kids with all senses activated at all times. It is also, historically, the world of dancers, who channel sound through their bodies and interpret its effects through movement. Eilish’s song is very gestural, marked by extended sentences or interrupted by small trills and gasps and strange utterances. Finneas’ production plays on these whims using dubbing techniques, loose rhythms and sound effects. And the lyrics they write together, often from notes recorded by Eilish on his phone or in his journal, also emphasize the tactile: they are alliterative, imaginary and in love with rhyme.
In these rhymes, Eilish imagines himself to be a villain, or a winged demon, or an addict, or a murderer. It seems to her that these roles are fictions, which she can put aside as she further explores her imagination in the years to come. In her music at least, after years of hard work and serious play, she has mastered her own excesses, so she can let them run free. It is an ideal that turns out to be deeply attractive in 2019, when so many types of excesses feel threatening and disarmingly diffuse: uncontrollable time, the ever-increasing disorder of partisan politics, so many epidemics, so many reasons to worry. Billie Eilish is the spirit of the moment as she shows how noise can be a sign indicating something new: a life beyond borders, where demons reveal themselves as friends, like our own inventions, our interpretable dreams.