While the world follows the latest struggles of Britney Spears, is life any better for her Generation Z equivalent? Like Britney, Billie Eilish hit vast stardom absurdly young, signing her record deal at 14 after a beautiful song she wrote aged 13, Ocean Eyes, went viral. Unlike Britney, she didn’t seem like a showbiz kid groomed for success (although her parents are LA actors) and apparently couldn’t care less whether you liked her or not, deliberately alienating casual observers with horror imagery and songs that sounded strange and bleak.
Turns out barely anyone was alienated. Her debut album went four-times platinum in the US, double-platinum here, and she’ll play five nights at the O2 Arena in summer 2022.
Everything I Wanted was the title of a between-albums single in 2019. The reality of the dream didn’t sound great then – in the video she and her producer brother Finneas O’Connell deliberately drive a car into the sea – and it sure doesn’t now. She’s crying on the cover, in case the irony of the new album title wasn’t already obvious. Across the 16 songs within, she details some problems that are relatable: she jabs at disappointing men on several songs, hates being criticised for what she wears or doesn’t wear on Overheated and the spoken word Not My Responsibility, and finds that she no longer has anything in common with an old friend on Male Fantasy.
But in other ways, her existence now sounds unbearable. On NDA, she complains “I can barely go outside” and has to make a casual fling sign a non-disclosure agreement on his way out. On Getting Older and the devastatingly sad Your Power, she seems to be referring to an abusive relationship in her past. She fantasises about disappearing on a Hawaiian island.
Musically at least, she and Finneas are winning big. She still sounds like no one else, even when reaching backwards on Billie Bossa Nova or the jazzy acoustic soul of the title track – that profoundly despondent singing voice always transfixing. The production is full of curious touches. The soft keyboards sound like they’re playing in another room on Everybody Dies. A scratchy, stuttering synth line arrives to add tension to the back half of I Didn’t Change My Number.
She still doesn’t sound anything like a glossy arena filler, which is a huge part of her appeal. She’s doing things very differently, which hopefully means a new way to survive too.