It might be strange to cover an album that came out two years ago. But hold on for a minute, and you’ll understand.
Becoming wildly famous after releasing a song on SoundCloud might be the dream of many starry-eyed teens. But that wasn’t what Los Angeles native Billie Eilish anticipated. At the age of 14, she uploaded her song “Ocean Eyes” onto that platform as a homework assignment and didn’t think much of it. Until, that is, it blew up and garnered milllions of streams. Not long after, the teen began to be hounded for more.
More music. More art. More Billie.
One year later, Billie released her EP, dont smile at me. A fusion of multiple genres, sounds and styles, these nine tracks capture the young singer’s undeniably engaging perspective and personality. We hear the honest confessions of a teenager who has known heartbreak, self-loathing and love. Don’t smile at me is dreamy and depressing, enchanting and hauting. And it warrants both praise and caution.
Billie attempts to guard her heart after relationships go awry in songs such as “Party Favor,” “&burn” and “Watch.” In the former, she breaks up with her demanding boyfriend on his birthday (“Stay and blah blah blah/You just want what you can’t have/No way, I’ll call the cops/If you don’t stop, I’ll call your dad”). In the latter song, she tells a certain someone that he’ll never get close to her heart again (“Go ahead and watch my heart burn/ … But I’ll never let you back to put it out”).
“Ocean Eyes” tells the honest story of a girl who’s been left lonely after love’s left her: “No fair/You really know how to make me cry/When you give me those ocean eyes.”
Similarly, Billie is honest and open about her own insecurities on “Idontwannabeyouanymore” (“Hands getting cold/Losing feeling is getting old/Was I made from a broken mold?”). That said …
… those same insecurities carry with them an air of depression and sadness as Billie confesses, “Fall apart twice a day.”
Many of her insecurities seemingly stem from broken relationships, which is a prevalent theme here. “Watch,” “&burn,” “Party Favor” and “My Boy” describe guys who have led Billie on and broken her heart. The former tells of a man who misled her (“I’ll sit and watch your car burn/With the fire that you started in me/But you never came back to ask it out”) and the latter is all about a fickle (and perhaps unfaithful) boyfriend (“My boy … /Don’t love me like he promised/ … He ain’t a man, and sure as h— ain’t honest”).
“Bellyache” sarcastically narrates a grim story told through the eyes of a serial killer: “My friends aren’t far/In the back of my car/Lay their bodies/ … Where’s my mind/Maybe in the gutter/Where I left my lover.”
Billie’s not a fan of those who copy her, either. In “Copycat,” she warns those who are interested in stealing her style, “Copycat trying to cop my manner/Watch your back when you can’t watch mine/Copycat trying to cop my glamour/Why so sad bunny? Can’t have mine?”
“Hostage” is a brooding, sensual song about possessive love: “Yeah, you feel right so stay a sec/And let me crawl inside your veins/I’ll build a wall, give you a ball and chain/ … You’re all I wanted/Just let me hold you like a hostage.”
A violent reference pops up in “My Boy” (“Alright dude, go trip over a knife”). Profanities include “h—,” “s—” and “b—s—,” each of which are heard once or twice.
Like I said before, this EP needs to be handled carefully, as it warrants both praise and caution.
It’s not hard to see (or hear) that this teen from Los Angeles is talented. And that’s probably an understatement. Kids around the world are being drawn to Eilish for her relatable style and down-to-earth feel. Foo Fighters frontman (and former Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl recently told USA Today, “My daughters are obsessed with Billie Eilish. The same thing is happening with her that happened with Nirvana in 1991. Her music is hard to define, I don’t know what you call it. … But it’s authentic and I would call that rock ‘n’ roll.”
But while her brutal honesty is relatable, it’s also something that parents need to watch closely. In an interview with Genius on YouTube, Eilish said (when discussing the meaning of one of her songs), “I really, really, really, really hate myself. You know, you can feel so unbelievably lost and horrible and like you’re nothing and you’re invisible and for no reason at all, which is almost worse than having a reason. It’s the way that my brain works.”
Then she says, “And it’s like, you know, ‘Billie what’s wrong?’ ‘I don’t f—ing know.’ Like me, that’s what. And it’s like, ‘Who hurt you?’ And I’m like [points to herself dramatically].”
Eilish obviously isn’t alone in those feelings of self-loathing. Many of us have felt them at some point, perhaps especially during adolescence. But to always hate yourself and to always be depressed … that’s alarming stuff.
Jesus taught us to love one another as we love ourselves as a concrete expression of our love for God (Matthew 22:36-40). But it’s hard to love others well if we don’t receive the love God has for us. It takes work. It takes patience and maturity and age. And, most of all, it takes time as we gradually learn to see ourselves the way that God sees us.
But young fans, many of whom are wrestling with severe mental health issues themselves these days, may not have that kind of time. So while some of Billie Eilish’s songs might potentially encourage honesty and beauty, other tracks might lead down dark, discouraging paths.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).