Album review: “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” is a strong debut from one of the biggest and youngest pop stars in the world, Billie Eilish
Music and Society Editor
At 17, most of us were navigating high school, working our first jobs and getting into our first relationships. This is a stereotypical age of innocence, naivete and carelessness — a time when we were struggling to figure out ourselves and the world at the same time. For Billie Eilish, a Los Angeles native, these struggles still are relevant, but she has even larger things to focus on — being one of the largest pop stars on the planet.
Having just released her debut album, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?,” Eilish is the sixth-most streamed artist on Spotify and has over 41 million monthly listeners on the platform. Eilish has catapulted to fame at a head-spinning rate, making the rest of us feel bad about what we were accomplishing at her age.
Even though the full-length album is considered her proper debut, Eilish has been releasing music since 2016. Her first single, “Ocean Eyes,” has amassed more than 269 million plays since the time of its release. Eilish has become the voice of a generation of sorts, acting as a figure who youth identify with.
Eilish’s age definitely plays a role in the music she creates, for better or worse. The track “wish you were gay” is an extremely juvenile song about being rejected by a male love interest and longing for some sort of petty explanation — in this case, his being gay. She also plays up her struggles with mental health, making certain songs feel like immature proclamations of being sad. Eilish’s “listen before i go” feels this way, attempting to be a ballad, but ending up a melodramatic sap-fest about suicide that feels forced.
Where “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” truly shines is in its excellent production by Eilish’s brother and frequent collaborator, FINNEAS. He brings a subdued yet refreshing palette to pop music that stands out from other Billboard artists’. Often, he blends heavy bass; chopped, distorted vocals; electronica-influenced beats; and clean guitar and ukulele tones into an exciting combination.
The first three songs of the album, “bad guy,” “xanny” and “you should see me in a crown,” are undoubtedly the best. “bad guy” has a menacing tone, featuring Eilish taunting a lover in a slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion. It sets the bar high as an opening track and is followed by “xanny,” which contains lyrics about Eilish being straight edge. She questions the drug use of her peers and the meaninglessness of their deaths to overdoses, making one of the few mature statements on the album. “you should see me in a crown” is simply a high-octane, exciting piece of pop music with spinning base and catchy lyrics about fame, dominance and ego.
Other standouts are the bouncy, twisted love story of “my strange addiction,” the icy beat and dialogue with depression personified in “bury a friend” and the only successful ballad, “i love you.” This track, in particular, hits the emotional mark and doesn’t feel forced like the other “so-called moving” songs on the album. Eilish ruminates about a dissolved relationship over a luscious acoustic guitar, fully utilizing her beautiful voice and creating a memorable piece.
“WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” is not a groundbreaking or totally unique album, but it is great at capturing a dark, subdued tone of menace and functions as a damn good pop record. Eilish, if anything, in reminding us of her age, has shown her vast potential for growth as an artist.
This is an impressive debut for anyone, and in the moments where I felt myself groaning or disappointed, I put Eilish’s age into perspective. She is so young and talented that she will most definitely have a long, hopefully prolific career ahead of her to experiment and hone her craft further.