The latest single from 19-year-old singer Billie Eilish, “Male Fantasy,” might initially sound suggestive or provocative. And make no mistake: It’s certainly an emotionally raw track. But as we’ve so often seen with this influential young artist, Eilish is once again doing something different than this song’s title might suggest, even as she bares her wounded soul.
The context here is a breakup. And it seems like a bad one as Eilish struggles to process her pain and despair following a failed romance. She knows that she’s not doing well as she tries to avoid eating emotionally and indulges in porn to take the edge of off her heartache.
Breakup songs, of course, have always been a staple for popular musicians. In this one, Eilish knows she’s making some bad choices to cope with her pain. If there’s a positive angle here, it’s that this young woman is pretty self-aware (a hallmark of Eilish’s work) about the coping strategies she’s both engaging in and resisting, which I’ll deal with in more depth below.
Eilish is also trying to talk herself into hating the guy who apparently dumped her (“Guess it’s hard to know …/If I’m getting over your/Or just pretending to/Be alright, convince myself I hate you”). But at the end of the song she seems to have exhausted that anger and simply confesses, “Can’t get over you/No matter what I do/I know I should, but I could never hate you.” It’s as if she longs to be bitter, but just can’t bring herself to get to that point.
The song opens with Eilish saying no to emotional eating (“Home alone, tryin’ not to eat”) even as she says yes to porn (“Distract myself with pornography”). Obviously, her porn use confession isn’t a good thing, especially the way she seems to reference it so casually. That said …
… Eilish goes on to critique the fact that porn is an unhealthy and unrealistic “male fantasy”: “I hate the way she [the porn actress] looks at me/I can’t stand the dialogue, she would never be/That satisfied, it’s a male fantasy/I’m goin’ back to therapy.”
There’s a lot packed into those lines, but I’ll let Eilish herself explain what she intended here (as quoted by genius.com):
“The other day I was talking about how stupid and unrealistic porn is so much of the time. How unrealistic, misogynistic and totally ridiculous the world of porn is. I decided that it was actually a really good idea for a song to talk honestly about pornography because it’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about. Pornography can make you feel violated and good at the same time and this conversation turned into the song.”
I appreciate Eilish’s attempt to critique the destructive unreality of pornography. Whether this brief verse in the song accomplishes that purpose is another question, as Eilish’s confession about using porn perhaps normalizes and excuses it as much as it critiques this sexually objectifying medium.
The song’s video doesn’t show Eilish looking at porn. But we do see a young woman who’s clearly depressed, wandering despondently around her cluttered apartment. She eats, she sleeps, resulting in a quietly desperate portrait of someone struggling to process her pain. It’s hard to watch—in fact you almost feel like you should look away from her pain. But it’s also a realistic depiction of the depressing feelings that can settle in after a deep disappointment in life.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.