If you haven’t clocked it yet, you’re going to be hearing the name Billie Eilish a lot for the next, let’s say, decade or so. The US musician is fast becoming a household name, with her gothic aesthetic, outlandish quotes, twisted videos and uncompromising vision winning over her legion of young fans all over the globe.
Some of rock’s royalties are recognising her unique appeal too. Recently, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl compared the buzz around Billie to what he saw with his previous band Nirvana. “We went to go see her play at the Wiltern, and the connection that she has with her audience is the same thing that was happening with Nirvana in 1991,” he said in a recent interview.
It’s no wonder that we’re all enamoured with her. Over the course of nearly three years, she’s gone from whispery ballads (‘Ocean Eyes’) to dramatic pop-hop (‘Bury A Friend’), while interpolating elements of rock, R&B and beyond in the meantime. Genre, or perhaps more accurately, your feelings, don’t mean shit to this immensely talented 17-year-old.
With debut album ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ out in March, now feels like a fitting time to evaluate what we’ve had so far. Here is the absolutely correct ranking of Billie Eilish’s best songs so far.
10. ‘Party Favor’
A rare sickly-sweet moment on her debut EP, ‘Don’t Smile At Me’. Here, Billie is offering her apologies for initiating a break-up on someone’s birthday, while a twinkling soundscape that Fleet Foxes would be proud of emerges in the background. A far cry from her now-relentless and brooding productions, but still irresistibly catchy.
9. ‘Come Out and Play’
Billie and older brother Finneas penned the track in response to Apple’s Christmas advert in 2018. In the animated clip a young girl is afraid to share her creative side with the world, despite support from friends and family. ‘Come Out and Play’ interprets those emotions and the resulting clip in the most delicate of ways, allowing hushed vocals to lead the track through to its seismic and life-affirming finale.
8. When I Was Older
Another example of her expert interpretation. On ‘When I Was Older’ Billie turns striking visuals and lines from Alfonso Cuaron’s award-winning film, Roma, into a minimalist masterpiece. There are references to the powerful bonds between key characters in the film, as well as direct quotes (“When I was older/I was a sailor on an open sea”), but there are enough homespun Bille-isms (“I’m watching movies back to back in black and white”) to make this song her own.
Throughout her career so far, Billie has proved that she can play nice with collaborators that aren’t just Finneas. After link-ups with R&B star Khalid and frequent inspiration, London rapper Crooks, she teamed-up with fellow boundary-pusher Vince Staples for ‘&Burn’. On the song, the pair feed of each other’s bolshy attitude and trade verses in this hard-hitting reimagining of ‘watch’, a restrained moment from ‘Don’t Smile at Me’.
6. ‘When The Party’s Over’
Transpiring as a partial sequel to ‘Party Favor’, this haunting effort is relatively-straightforward Billie Ballad. Penned by her brother Finneas, its emotional pull is heightened by the accompanying video, crafted and co-directed by Billie. Pairing eye-watering visual stunts with wistful lyrics (“Don’t you know I’m no good for you?”), ‘When The Party’s Over’ became an true moment when her skills beyond the musical realm were recognised.
5. ‘You Should See Me in A Crown’
Another standalone single from 2018, it picks up where the brooding ‘Copycat’ left off – with her unparalleled self-belief showing no sign of disappearing. She sings of running “this nothin’ town” (see: Planet Earth) and makes the haters and naysayers bow down, while a swampy hip-hop beat simmers in the background.
4. ‘Ocean Eyes’
The journey from this breakthrough moment to where Billie is now is quite astounding. Released in 2016, the song went viral soon after its release and landed her a record deal with Interscope. The most memorable moments on ‘Ocean Eyes’ are its most vulnerable – like the opening whispers or the sure-footed, yet restrained chorus. It’s clear that her artistry is still in its discovery phase, but makes it even more powerful in hindsight.
“Call me cocky, watch your tone/You better love me, ’cause you’re just a clone,” she commands on opening track of debut EP, ‘Don’t Smile At Me’. She was right, though, because we all did love her right from the off – with this song’s impossibly bolshy swagger, scattered beats and energetic live performances making it a welcome entry point for many fans. Since its release in 2017, we’ve seen that some are mimicking her style, but none pull it off quite like Billie does here.
Despite starting off as a twee slice of folk-pop, this is may well be the darkest thing Billie has ever done. Inspired by the childhood guilt she felt when stealing toys from friends, after which she’d get crippling stomach pains, she ups the horror as she adopts the mindset of a teenage serial killer slaughtering her nearest and dearest. A twisted song, but with a pinch of wry humour: “I’m too young to go to jail/It’s kinda funny” the teen goads in the song’s second half.
1. Bury A Friend
The first single from her upcoming debut album is a statement song in the same vein as Lorde’s defiant breakthrough single ‘Royals’. But while that song was full of life, love and good times, ‘Bury A Friend’ is more in tune with Gen Z’s self-aware mindset. On top of a galloping ‘Black Skinhead’-sized beat and a hypnotic interpretation of The Doors’ ‘People Are Strange’ melody, she comes face-to-face with the online chatter around her (“Honestly, I thought that I would be dead by now”) while acknowledging that there’s so much more to come (“For the debt I owe, gotta sell my soul”). It might be the best deal she ever makes.