Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Derrick Gravener is getting on board with The Flight Attendant on HBO Max, Rachel Stewart is listening to Paloma Faith’s “Better Than This,” Nick Luciano is jazzed about “Thunderdome” by Joy on Fire, and Hal Kitchen recommends “Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish, along with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Creepy.
“Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish
Hal: In just a few short years, Billie Eilish has swiftly established herself as one of the most popular and polarising artists of recent years, having proven herself capable of not only developing the sound pioneered by artists such as Lorde, but repeating Lorde’s success both commercially and artistically. After gaining buzz through her don’t smile at me EP, her debut album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? achieved both popular and niche acclaim with a sound that was simultaneously artistic, novel, creative and accessible, scored her a number one chart hit in the US, swept the Grammys and received rave reviews.
However, as whenever a new artist achieves such a meteoric rise, many were eager to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of her success. I was not personally immune to this: my own immediate response when first exposed to her persona through her runaway success “bad guy” and its attached music video, was that she seemed like a transparently manufactured faux-edgy pop idol, aggressively tailored to a demographic of emotional oddball teenagers who could be expected to lap up her supposedly shocking teenage girl-boss energy. Tone-deaf offerings such as “wish you were gay” didn’t help mop up the desperately immature energy she gave off either.
Nonetheless, through her continued presence in the limelight I was encouraged to reappraise her output, and the further I looked into her musical persona, the more potential and sincerity I saw in it. She started to seem more of a genuine article, with her album offering distinctive and eclectic blend of minimalist hypnogogic balladry and bass-driven industrial hip hop influenced pop, with a voice she could make sound cold-blooded one minute and infinitely fragile on the next. I still haven’t particularly warmed to her slower and more tragic songs, but they do serve to make her power fantasy tracks sound a lot more palatable, infused with a tragicomic sense of irony and a deft song-writing hand.
Since the release of When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? her singles have taken on more influences from brit pop, house and trip hop, with tracks like “No Time to Die”, “everything I wanted” or “my future” sounding pretty and personal, but lacking the performative assurance and grandeur that has typified her best and most pleasurable work. However, with her latest release “Therefore I Am”, Billie has entered into a recognisable new phase of her career—this is her in second-album-mode. The song is predicated on her fame, framed as a callous brush off to clout chasers and music industry hangers on trying to invade her circle. It’s something that could only be put out in the context of superstardom, at the peak of an artist’s career. It’s no longer the outsider’s confidence of “bad guy” or “you should see me in a crown”. Now, her crown is out, and she’s purging court with a wink and a smile.
Production wise, her producer-brother Finneas has delivered one of his best instrumentals to date, in line with their unique established style while accommodating the newer narrative provided by the lyrics. The track starts off with a rubbery squawk and thudding kicks, before diving into the instantly catchy chorus embellished with a coy twinkle. The heavy, murmuring bassline rises to a disappointed groan at the end of each bar, supplemented by a snare hit and a barely perceptible cabasa that when combined with the steady kicks, gives the impression of a sinister ticking clock, as does the bleeping synth line on the bridge. All this is wrapped around the earworm melody that Billie rides with her casual and breathy confidence, the whole package giving the immediate impression of simplicity and minimalism, while being layered and textured enough to reward the attentive and repeated listening that the song’s captivating melody demands.
“Therefore I Am” is exactly the single Billie needed at this stage in her career to capitalise on her momentum. It’s familiar and catchy enough not to continue to alienate fans who were disappointed by her recent output, but presents a refreshed form of confidence and assurance befitting the pop star with the biggest upward trajectory in the room. As her career moves into a new phase and imitators struggle to replicate her innovative sound, all Eilish needed was a song that proves she can still make Billie Eilish songs better than anyone else can, and “Therefore I Am” is arguably a new highpoint for the teen alt pop starlet du jour.