Billie Eilish's sophomore LP, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is significantly darker than anything she's released before. Even "idontwannabeyouanymore," the most serious track on her debut "dont smile at me," was an indictment of damaging beauty standards.

Her music has always been melancholy, pulled from whatever spring of velvety, neon-saturated darkness that Lana Del Rey and Lorde first drew from. But When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? dives deeper. It stares into the far reaches of the subconscious, and somewhere along the way, it moves into the realm of explicit suicidal ideation, raising the question—should we be concerned about Billie Eilish? And what do we do with music that isn't just sad, but sounds like a genuine cry for help?

Although lyrics like "I want you to worry about me" and "call my friends and tell them that I'll miss them / but I'm not sorry" express new levels of desperation, Eilish has long been open about her struggles with mental illness. She told Zane Lowe on Apple Music's Beats 1 that depression had "controlled everything in [her] life," adding that "I've always been a melancholy person… I feel like there are some people that neutrally they're happy." When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? doesn't shy from this at all, visually and lyrically. Despite a few exhilarating tracks like "you should see me in a crown" (accompanied by one of the most magnificently creepy pop music videos in recent memory), it's mostly about depression, heartache, and death.

Billie Eilish - you should see me in a crown (official video by Takashi Murakami) -

Eilish is no stranger to death, and it's clearly not a joke to her. She publicly mourned the passing of her friend XXXTentancion, who was shot in June, and by the sound of it he's not the only one; songs like "bury a friend" and "ilomilo" excavate these painful experiences.

But "bury a friend" and especially "listen before i go" both veer into explicit ideation at points; the latter is a veritable suicide note. It sounds like giving up, like a last call at the end of the night when plans have already been made. And that's where it goes too far.

Obviously, Billie Eilish not the first musician to write and speak out about these themes. Everyone from Billie Holliday to Elliot Smith has detailed the intricacies of their struggles in the public eye, and the media has been glamorizing the trope of the troubled young star since time immemorial. A new generation of emo-rappers, from Lil Peep to Lil Uzi Vert, has also brought raw, unfiltered honesty about mental illness into the mainstream.

Since extreme emotion is a shared aspect of the human experience, it's no surprise that these themes are so pervasive. Ours is a strange world—and especially for those growing up with unlimited access to the Internet, faced with pending environmental catastrophe and ever-more-insidious pressures from a voracious media-industrial complex, it's not an easy place to be. So all this definitely is not meant to criticize Eilish and her peers for feeling these things and for creating sad, furious, disconcerting art.

This also isn't a damnation of sad music. Sad songs and other forms of public honesty about mental illness can do a lot of important, often subversive work; they can interrupt the media's simulacrum of false happiness or function as catalysts for discussions about mental health. Those conversations are vitally important, especially in light of the fact that many reports say there's a higher level of depression and anxiety in teens than ever before, and when one in five adults struggles with a mental illness.

But there's a difference between being honest about mental health, and creating work that threatens actual self-harm and could be potentially triggering, especially for vulnerable fans who view artists as cult leaders who they'll follow, quite literally, to the end. Billie Eilish's new music goes too far because—coupled with her too-cool-for-you ethos and pending superstardom—she not only glamorizes mental illness; she glamorizes suicide, packages it up in a bundle of synths and bass and sells it for $200 a ticket.

So what are we as listeners to do with music that's explicitly suicidal? In truth, there's not much we can do except trust that Eilish has a solid support system. She's in a band with her brother, and a whole bunch of people had to be involved in creating her album; hopefully, someone is taking steps to get her the help she needs. Of course, often with things like depression, even if you're close to the person, there's not too much you can do aside from validating their feelings and encouraging them to seek professional support. And even with professional help, there's no easy solution for mental illness, no neat way to sew it up; it's a monster that ebbs and flows, changing shape and requiring individualized treatment and attention.

This is most definitely not meant to criticize Eilish for speaking out, or to say that should just try yoga and get better. In fact, she's truly brave for speaking out so candidly about her feelings, for continuing to create and for staring fearlessly into the eyes of her demons.

But part of the issue here is that Eilish's music is so flat-out beautiful, her persona so magnetic. She's a bona fide star, with a huge amount of power that's sure to only grow with this release. In light of the huge amount of sway she holds over deeply impressionable kids across the globe, she now has a responsibility—or at least a tremendous opportunity—to speak out and share messages of support, to promise that it's okay to feel and struggle and that healing is possible, to inspire others not to give up, no matter how much pain they're in.

Billie Eilish - when the party's

After all, there are ways to talk about depression and mental illness without glorifying and aestheticizing them. Lana Del Rey has long been the poster girl for the "sad girl" trope, which came to a head when she received blowback from Francis Bean Cobain after telling an interviewer that she "wished she was dead already." Since then, Del Rey has released a hopeful Trump protest album followed by the empowering "Mariner's Apartment Complex." This shift in her approach, though slight, is significant because it moves away from the passivity that made her earlier work so dangerously seductive. And Julien Baker, who makes some of the saddest music around, is stunningly hopeful and inspiring in interviews and online, constantly spreading messages about faith, community, and recovery. Other artists like Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga have been explicit and honest about their mental health struggles, but equally explicit about their healing journeys.

Lana Del Rey - Mariners Apartment

Julien Baker - "Appointments" (Official Video)

Eilish is also 17, significantly younger than any of the aforementioned artists, so she can be forgiven for not channeling her pain into some kind of larger force. It may be a good sign that she's coming to terms with her emotions early, that she's sharing them and learning how to deal with them. Often depression and mental illness stem from an inability to process deep-rooted trauma, so allowing oneself to traverse the depths of the subconscious mind and unearth repressed memories can be incredibly beneficial.

But for people as uniquely powerful and culturally influential as Eilish and her team—and for anyone interested in addressing and subverting the reasons mental illness is becoming an epidemic—simply being honest about mental illness isn't enough, especially in terms of serious suicidal ideation. Stopping the stigma should be a beginning point, the launching pad for structural changes and new ways of understanding and treating real mental health issues, not an end in itself. We should be talking about recovery, about how it is possible to live a full life while suffering from mental illness. We should be talking about how there are always options and pathways through places of darkness, and how it's definitely not beautiful or somehow more authentic and honest to give up hope.

If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255 or visit to learn more.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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Billie Eilish's Debut Celebrates Sadness as Aesthetic

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, the 17-year-old pop singer's debut album, is sleekly produced but uncomfortably cursory in its explorations of loneliness and depression.

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?—the hotly-anticipated debut album from Billie Eilish, the 17-year-old reigning ruler of emo-pop—opens with Eilish laughing with her older brother, Finneas.

It's one of few moments of odd levity strewn throughout the album, along with a reference to an episode of the BBC's Sherlock and a song that samples the Scarn dance from The Office. It brings a level of pointed relatability to Billie Eilish's carefully curated persona, reminding listeners that she's a teenage girl like any other, that she can be as silly as she likes. It's a small island of normalcy and light before the listener dives into the dark, otherworldly album.

The album's sound lives in a purposeful, ominous kind of distortion. Sparse melodies spell themselves out against staticky synths while Eilish's vocals screw themselves up and down, expanding and contracting depending on what the song asks for. Finneas, the album's sole producer and co-writer on most of the songs, has a gifted ear and each track's atmosphere and pacing fit well with his sister's voice. Bass-heavy headbangers give way to mournful lullaby-like compositions, giving Eilish breathing room to make each sound her own. "you should see me in a crown" delights in its own moody power, "all the good girls go to hell" has a soulful sharpness to it, and tracks like "8" and "when the party's over" gently line the lyrics with a wistful ukelele or a soft, slurred piano.

Eilish herself, as the album's sole narrator, embodies the practiced apathy — in her voice and her writing — of someone who's embraced life as a kind of unending misery. The sadness-steeped album occasionally absorbs other faces of misery: alienation on "xanny," loneliness on "when the party's over," bitterness on "wish you were gay." Melancholy isn't a temporary feeling or state of mind here: it's a mode of operation. "bury a friend" is the most direct confrontation with this fixation, manifesting the intrusive thoughts knocking at the door in her darkest moments with disarming clarity. "I wanna end me," Eilish intones over the nightmarish production, and the shock value of that line shouldn't— can't— be brushed over in any understanding of Eilish as an artist.

Billie Eilish is the latest— and one of the biggest—in the recent slew of pop musicians who are injecting darkness into their music. It's strangely invigorating to hear Eilish, and artists like her, push the bounds of what the pop template is capable of, centering it in a specific kind of dejection. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is the inevitable crystallization of this moment in pop music, where no dark or depressing thought is off the table. But the way sadness unfolds here reveals a perverse kind of fascination: the songs are submerged in hopeless resignation, assuring whoever's listening that the misery they're hearing is inevitable. Which, unsurprisingly but deeply upsettingly, leads to "listen before i go," a song that is — whatever the production or Eilish's airy lilt might do to it — an explicit suicide note.

"Call my friends and tell them that I love them," Eilish sings, as the sound of police sirens gather in the track's closing moments. "listen before i go" features little more than Eilish and a piano, and is clearly intent on being the emotional hinge on which the album swings. But the next song, "i love you," doesn't carry on in the same world as "listen before i go," or even really acknowledge what just happened: it's shakily-desperate, a song featuring a couple afraid of intimacy. The heavy implications of "listen before i go" are just left in the wind, never acknowledged. This is where Billie Eilish's take on human sadness is forced to remain: nothing is off-limits, everything is sad, lean into the worst and most horrible thoughts that live in your head, and then just walk away when you feel like you're done. Or maybe, the sadness is inauthentic and performative. Regardless, "listen before i go" is a song made by someone who imagines the darkness that lives in people's lives as a switch they can flip whenever they want. The song isn't part of a larger arc in the album, it's the crescendo of the album's callous ornamentation of sadness.

WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? isn't engineered to engender nuanced conversations about loneliness, sadness, and depression, nor does it seem terribly interested in that conversation at all. This is an album about Being Sad in all its myriad forms, capturing that feeling and riding it out for forty-two minutes. Sadness has always traded in a very specific currency in popular music, and ideally always will: it's a powerful equalizer when it's done well, the farthest an artist can reach through an album's sonic wall to touch the listener's hand: See? I know this too. You're not alone. Billie Eilish is extremely good at giving sadness a body, pairing it with anger, frustration, desire, boredom, or love to gift it a familiar pulse. But as a sum of its parts, the album—and Eilish herself—treat sadness like a vibe or an aesthetic to inform a sound. It's careless — even borderline dangerous — to twist depression into a performance. There's no dimension of time, depth, or nuance to temper the sorrow you're listening to. This kind of suffering becomes something the album wears like a cloak, or strings up on the walls like fairy lights. Locating the humanity in these songs, the very real ways that real people get trapped in the feelings Eilish elucidates becomes impossible the longer the album goes on.

It doesn't seem like the listener should be too worried about Billie Eilish, it's unlikely the album's darkness is anything but an aesthetic. WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? will be, in all likelihood, wildly popular. It's a well-produced album, and will probably end up on more than a few end-of-year lists. She's about to embark on a world tour, bringing her gospel of despondency to anyone on the globe who wishes to celebrate it with her. The space she takes up in the pop landscape doesn't show any signs of disappearing anytime soon, and the fanbase she's garnered along the way will probably remain as fiercely loyal to her as they have until now. Billie Eilish will, hopefully, be fine.

But there is, right now, someone listening to this album who loves Billie Eilish with all their heart, who loves her for voicing the darkest thoughts in their heads without fear, who loves her for making them feel a little less alone in their own heads. Someone who is looking for flashes of themselves in the whirlwind of darkness that is this album, and who is about to transition into the opening notes of "listen before i go." Worry about them.

Matthew Apadula is a writer and music critic from New York. His work has previously appeared on GIGsoup Music and in Drunk in a Midnight Choir. Find him on Twitter @imdoingmybest.

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Billie Eilish — the 16-year-old pop phenom who's likely kept you up at night with the image of a tarantula emerging from her mouth— has risen to new heights of popularity in recent months. Her first hit was "Ocean Eyes", a pseudo-pop-ballad made for suburban dance studio routines and streaming service algorithms. Then, she collaborated with Khalid on "lovely," earning almost 300 million plays on Spotify alone. While these songs were fine, it's only been in recent months that Eilish has begun to make attention-grabbing pop. Her soft, childishly-high voice strikes a haunting note in contrast to the heavy EDM-influenced production of her songs, but the singer's vocal contributions are minimal, as the music's merit is due almost entirely to the distinctive production behind her voice.

For example, "You Should See Me in a Crown" strikes a fresh note in the ever-blurring world of repetitive electro-pop, despite Eilish's vocals sounding like a murmured, half-hearted Lana Del Ray impression. The song's saving grace is its audio production, which makes her otherwise boring vocal performance palatable, putting it against a background of crashing synths and subtle beats. In Billie Eilish's music, the real star sits behind a mixing board.

Granted, the singer herself is aesthetically interesting, with her cherubic face, permanent pout, and frequently blue hair. Her style is distinctive, seemingly in reaction to the tight, skin-baring, trends many female pop stars ascribe to. Eilish is most often seen in almost comically oversized head-to-toe sweats, which — despite making her look like a teenager hiding a pregnancy from her parents — somehow actually makes her cooler. But its an image so effective, so perfectly suited to the soft, but dark, music she sings, it's difficult to believe the entity of Billie Eilish organically occurred. Her image alone is striking enough to sell records and tickets, and her quiet, pure voice — while relatively unexceptional in its own right — is the perfect blank slate for a talented producer. Her music could have been sung by anyone who could hit the notes, and would likely still maintain the same quality.

Truthfully, Billie Eilish is a better product than she is an artist. If you look around the trendy neighborhoods of the world, the Brooklyns and the Shoreditchs, you'll see Eilish everywhere — she's quite literally plastered to the walls. Her enchanting face emerges on instagram feeds as if it appeared organically. This serves to make her seem like an underground act, hanging posters and busking on the subway, when in truth she's anything but. While the 16-year-old is undoubtedly talented, she serves as an interesting example of a label-constructed artist, an artist picked up by a major record company, shaped into a preplanned form, and successfully sold.

At the end of the day, record labels don't like to, and can't afford to, take risks. Signing an artist with some industry success under their belt is a relatively safe bet, as a fanbase has already been established. But when a 15-year-old – like Eilish – comes out of the woodwork with an album on a major label (Eilish is signed to interscope records) it's a good bet that her image and direction were chosen in a boardroom. This doesn't rule out the possibility of Eilish having some artistic say in her work, but it's likely that everything from the oversized clothes to the creepy music videos were a part of a pre-written image.

Fizzy Mag

Of course, manufactured acts are not a new idea, from the Spice Girls to Aaron Carter, record labels have always incubated talent, shaped images, and successfully sold neatly packaged products in the form of pop stars — and no one minded. What makes Billie Eilish different is that what's meant to set her apart, what's supposed to draw in fans, is an anti-establishment, grungy, underground vibe commonly attributed to artists who really did hang posters in Bushwick and busk in the subway before making their big break. Artists like Billie Eilish indicate a new trend in what mainstream music fans want: a hip-hop and rap influenced darkness that doesn't fit the traditionally light, bubble-gum genre of pop. It seems pop music is changing, from the top down, and when the transformation is complete, the genre may be unrecognizable.

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson

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