It took just three words for René Descartes to rock the world of Western philosophy back in 1637: “Cogito ergo sum”. Or, as per the English translation: “I think therefore I am.” To have doubt and awareness of one’s thoughts – and to critique and acknowledge them – is to prove existence and thinking. Or, er, something like that.
Nearly 400 years later, Billie Eilish disrupted the world of music with just one exclamation: ‘Bad Guy’s apathetic, iconic “Duh!” While perhaps not quite as revelatory (but certainly more succinct), it certainly unlocked a new timeline for everything that followed; proof that weird, homemade pop couldn’t just hang with the best of them, but beat them, too.
From the archive: Meet Billie Eilish, the most talked-about teen on the planet
Last year’s rise came with both some revelations and responsibilities. The 18-year-old has been open about her struggles with rising fame and attention, as well as the criticism young women face on social media and beyond. Over the course of lockdown – and during the campaign for this year’s US Presidential election – she utilised her platform to promote voting rights and her aborted world tour was poised to be used as a vehicle for education on climate change issues.
New standalone single ‘Therefore I Am’ is a bruising statement that picks up where 2018’s ‘Copycat’ and ‘You Should See Me In A Crown’ left off. At that time, Eilish felt slighted by the impersonators, in the former claiming that the pretenders were merely in italics, while Billie “in bold”. Low-key brutal. Everyone wanted more than just a piece of her, but to wholesale pinch her style. On ‘Therefore I Am’, she’s had enough of that shit.
‘Therefore I Am’ shares DNA with the laid-back funk of her 2019 debut album’s (the staggering ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’) ‘All The Good Girls Go To Hell’ and ‘My Strange Addiction’, sharing the same glitchy beats and rhythm, but there’s more playfulness this time around.
Built upon a sturdy bassline – one that’s less confrontational than anything on that debut – the song sees her separate herself from the coattail-riders, dismissing them with a string of cutting ripostes. And main refrain is perhaps her catchiest choruses to date: “I’m not your friend or anything / Damn, you think that you’re the man / I think therefore I am.”
Billie sees through fakeness. Lamenting the endless media coverage, she asks the fakers to “get my pretty name out of your mouth” and to not “talk about me like you might know how I feel”. It’s a deliciously spicy tale where the subject’s identity will no doubt have fans decoding every line in hope for details. Billie has said her piece; you guys do the rest.
From this song, there’s no clear blueprint for where her and producer and brother FINNEAS are headed musically, but there continues to be real joy in watching them figure it out and experiment. Each song since 2019’s minimalist ‘everything i wanted’ has been wildly different to the last. July’s ‘My Future’ saw her explore shimmering neo-soul, while her theme song for the delayed James Bond film, No Time To Die, proved that her unique singing style could hold its own against orchestral swells provided by film composer Hans Zimmer and Smiths legend Johnny Marr.
There is one constant, though: Billie’s continued taking stock of and reflecting on her rise and the people that surround her is turning into a fascinating thread in her music. She’s not alone in this approach, but few do it quite as candidly – her level self-awareness continues to lead to some truly addictive songwriting. Descartes would be proud.