Teen sensation with old-soul sensibility



Billie Eilish

Darkroom/ Interscope

5 stars

Pop has a new teenage wunderkind, and her name is Billie Eilish.

At 17, the American singer-songwriter with a penchant for baggy, hip-hop clothes has already proven herself capable of conquering the charts - her first album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? made its debut at the top of the charts in the United States, the United Kingdom and all over Europe.

The 14-track release, crafted with producer and older brother Finneas, builds on the promise she has shown in the singles and EPs she put out in the last few years.

It is an album that justifies the buzz surrounding her, a multi-faceted work that paints her as an artist who is both an old soul and a playful juvenile very much in touch with the zeitgeist.

Her seemingly lazy, low drawl has a way of embedding itself into one's consciousness, tapping into the ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, phenomenon.

Yet, tracks such as Wish You Were Gay, and its canned applause, show that her singing range can be wide, as she adopts the nuance and timbre of a jazz crooner.

The Los Angeles native, who performed in Singapore as part of the 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival, is as capable of coming up with melancholic, singer-songwriter ballads as she is with edgy electronic-pop tunes.

While mostly-acoustic songs such as When The Party's Over ("Quiet when I'm coming home and I'm on my own") and I Love You are sparse and emotionally devastating, menacing bass throbs used judiciously throughout the album give many of the other songs a sinister feel.

You Should See Me In A Crown, a phrase borrowed from BBC show Sherlock, is an industrial-like gem as Eilish makes a stab at grandstanding ("You should see me in a crown/I'm gonna run this nothing town/Watch me make 'em bow/One by one by one").

Xanny is the millennial straight-edge anthem, an anti-drug abuse song that steers away from being preachy in favour of showing concern ("I don't need a Xanny to feel better/On designated drives home /Only one who's not stoned") while Bad Guy is playful, cartoony and, at the same time, full of bluster ("I'm that bad type/Make your mama sad type/Make your girlfriend mad tight/Might seduce your dad type").

Missteps, including sampled dialogue from comedy series The Office and studio session banter that sound less funny with repeated listens, are few and far in between.

More poignant are the songs that tackle dark, heavy subjects with much sensitivity, best exemplified by Listen Before I Go ("If you need me, wanna see me/Better hurry 'cause I'm leavin' soon"), a tune that deals with depression and suicide with empathy and grace.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2019, with the headline 'Teen sensation with old-soul sensibility'. Print Edition | Subscribe