Even in the streaming-supercharged modern pop landscape, Billie Eilish’s overnight ascendance to worldwide stardom is unparalleled. Just as Gen Z became the needle-moving group in American culture, Eilish had arrived, delivering dense, genre-fluid pop that didn’t quite sound like anything else.
Her earliest music defied early categorization. For music created in a home studio – and engineered by her older brother, Finneas – it had an unusual polish and a formidable amount of muscle. She floated between genres effortlessly. Exposed to industry machinery as a young teenager, Eilish navigated her career naturally, and that trajectory led to Billie becoming one of the current generation’s biggest stars.
Sonically and aesthetically, Eilish is a chameleon. She sounds just at ease on a downtempo ballad as she does a pedal-to-the-floor banger, communicating an “over-it” demeanor lined with the ache of growing up in the spotlight. Her music has evolved from Soundcloud introspection to stadium-scale anthems, and singer-songwriter style architecture. Even at her young age, she has showcased a prestigious career’s worth of turns and growth.
Eilish’s full-length records – 2019’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? And 2022’s Happier Than Ever, now exist as an essential reference for all of Gen Z’s most prominent musicians.
As the best Billie Eilish songs show, she will be making adventurous, exciting music for as long as she chooses to do so.
Establishing A Blueprint
“Ocean Eyes,” “Bored,” “Bellyache”
The earliest Bille Eilish songs were a Trojan Horse for what would come. Raised by two theater actors in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood and working exclusively with her older brother Finneas O’Connell, the siblings created a musical blueprint packed with rhythmic force and melodic feel.
Songs like “Ocean Eyes,” an immediate Soundcloud hit for the 15-year-old in 2015, washes over the listener, introducing them to Billie’s confident delivery as well as Finneas’s full-bodied, referential production approach.
“Bored,” which appeared on the Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why, is a study of Eilish’s charisma, where the singer moves higher into her register, unleashing a more developed weapon than shown on her earliest music. “Bellyache” is breathlessly cool, accented by Finneas’ smartly piled samples, rap drums, and stringed instruments to build a sonic universe that Billie commands instinctively. Eilish’s look in this period – a preference for shapeless, unisex clothing, color, and cleverly-chosen designer labels – would influence the look of pop stars going forward.
Breaking Into The Mainstream
“Bad Guy,” “Everything I Wanted,” “When The Party’s Over”
Billie grew into her huge sound on her debut LP, and the end result was a string of massive hits. “Bad Guy” is all swagger, featuring an unshakeable instrumental melody, and pushes Eilish’s voice into ASMR sensations that add a whole new layer to her appeal. She could switch gears, too – evidenced best by the midtempo, effervescent Finneas production “Everything I Wanted.” The buzz-killing anthem “When the Party’s Over,” which pulls back the cloud of Finneas’ production to let Eilish deliver her most affecting singing, became an immediate classic in the category.
Creating A Cannon
“Happier Than Ever,” “TV,” “No Time to Die,” “Oxytocin”
Just as easily as Eilish rose to the top of American pop, she pulled back with 2022’s Happier Than Ever, as well as her Bond film entry “No Time to Die.” Happier Than Ever revealed a singer uneasy with her fame, pondering the future in more melancholy arrangements, though the songs (in particular tracks like “I Didn’t Change My Number”) still display the heft of her bigger tracks.
“Happier Than Ever” is a wobbling meditation on all of this, one that gives listeners a glance at Eilish’s precocious growth as a songwriter, and the uptempo “Oxytocin” pushes her sound to its logical extreme, featuring a thudding rhythm and some of Eilish’s most primal vocal work yet. “No Time to Die” proves Eilish’s mettle as a singer of old-fashioned standards – she sounds just as good in front of an orchestra as she does a dream machine.