Billie Eilish’s new single from her upcoming second album has immense force and pull
By Ray Zhang
Every time I listen to Billie Eilish I have to remind myself that she’s nineteen. Barely out of her adolescence, she’s not supposed to sound like this. Way past my adolescence, I am not supposed to like her (!), or specifically, her music. But I do. Ms Eilish is not, image wise, my cup of teh C kosong. I do, however, like her songs—they have a pull that, by convention, I shouldn’t now enjoy—when I am supposed to be in reminiscent mode and collecting old Kean albums in vinyl! Her first album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? of 2019 really caught me the way teens releasing first albums almost never do. Like my colleague Mao Shan Wang, it took me quite a while to intensely enjoy Miley Cyrus, and it wasn’t until her much later, later albums and The Backyard Sessions that really got me hooked. That girl can sing. And Billie Eilish too. And neither just for the tween-aged.
The voice is always important to me. I am never into voices that scream, roar, or belt. Or that are desperate to be cute. I like it when they don’t sound forced, as if in participation of some vocal Olympics or a jam session where the crooners are clearly out of their league. I understand why there is so much hooha about Joanna Dong’s (董姿彦) performance at the Star Awards. She over did everything—impress took the place of express. Subtlety is not her style, showing off is. Ms Eilish, by contrast, sings as if to you only, in her ballads, especially. There is an intimacy that is rather uncommon in the Idol-era bombast. She does not make dramatic note leaps, but within the gentle coos of an ungirlish-sounding tone, I can hear that she uses her voice in a skillful and nuanced way. Her vocal ability does not attempt to outpace the music, and it works rather well with minimal arrangements. Such as her latest single.
Early this week, Ms Eilish announced through social media that she will be releasing her sophomore album Happier Than Ever in July. Since then fans have been expecting a teaser by way of a single. They didn’t have to wait long. Your Power is for the woke generation, a ballad with folksy undertones that draws you in. Against a rather spare arrangement, with strummy guitars, rather than fierce electronica, Your Power is for waking up to, for drive time, and for going to bed with. It is not for pre-club hours or to get you moving your hips while readying to go out or while doing housework. I find its simplicity not quite so simple, and extremely refreshing, as in her Bond theme No Time to Die. Both Ms Eilish and producer/co-writer brother Finneas have a flair for tunes. The lilt and the legato are nothing like what’s recorded these days; the hummability is easy to catch on, but maybe not; the accessibility not quite Taylor Swift. I feel I am listening to a follow-up to the lush Everything I Wanted. While much of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was tethered to teenage angst, Your Power is a far more grown-up confrontation with the real difficulties and threats young women have to navigate in the world of entertainment, and beyond.
Lyrically, Ms Eilish, now all-blonde and big enough to let a python curl around her, sounds like she grew up too soon in the glare of the spotlight and in the company of music-exec creeps. Your Power broaches the IRL prevalence of sexual abuse, especially by an older, abler person. The words suggest a scumbag in similar business that Ms Eilish is in: “Will you only feel bad if it turns out they kill your contract?” If only more women—the way-to-young as well: “She was sleeping in your clothes/But now she’s got to get to class”—will take the senior, more powerful person on! And to protest sooner than later: “How dare you and how could you?” Despite the dismay and anger, she is aware of her own vulnerability (as well as others in similar positions): “I thought that I was special, you made me feel/ Like it was my fault you were the devil”. This isn’t being only woke, it is being awake too.
Screen grab: YouTube