Five months ago, Street wrote that Billie Eilish "belongs to teenage girls," citing her young fanbase and her seemingly boundless energy as evidence that, while talented, Eilish certainly belongs to a distinct generation. Fast forward nearly half a year later, and Eilish drops a time bomb of a debut album filled with enough angst, existentialism, and self–doubt to transport even the most hardened of us back to tenth grade.
WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? belongs to high school girls. And it can belong to us too, so long as we approach it with the adolescent sparkle that’s buried beneath our desires to appear professional and serious—whatever that means.
The album opens with “!!!!!!!,” shorthand for the frenzied excitement that characterizes Eilish’s life. She’s seventeen and goes to Chanel fittings. She studies for her driver’s test in between performances on late night television. She has a full–length album but also uses Invisalign, which she hates. “!!!!!!!” encapsulates exactly who Eilish is in 13 seconds: a brace–faced teenager teeming with creativity and the kind of airy vocal talent that can fill any room, but a brace–faced teenager nonetheless. In this track, she takes off her Invisalign, which signifies the beginning of something greater—almost adulthood.
Eilish nosedives right into “bad guy,” which sounds like club music for people who stand in the corner sipping their drinks. Bass heavy and vocally quiet, Eilish taunts the listener with measured strategy and silliness. She’ll have the upper hand in any relationship, but she also might seduce your dad. It’s lyrics and moments like these, wrought with the capricious flourish of an Urban Outfitters’ cap emblazoned with “daddi," that remind us of Eilish’s youth. She’s unfiltered, which, while refreshing, calls for the occasional cringe.
Cringeworthy moments pepper the overall solid debut. There’s “xanny,” a lullaby where Eilish’s voice is soft and syncopated to sound like a siren lulling us to never, ever, try drugs. It feels like a lame attempt at role–model–ship, a track placed on the album to garner the approval of parents everywhere. It’s impersonal, filled with tenth–grade health class platitudes, and lacks Eilish’s authenticity. Meanwhile, “wish you were gay” and its underlying sentiment reeks of something that should be left to a group chat with your closest friends. Singing with melodramatic vibrato against a pulsating base, Eilish yearns for her crush to be gay because he rejected her.
While relatable, it feels so high school. Sometimes, Eilish wields her youth masterfully. Other times, it swallows her whole. “wish you were gay” represents the pinnacle of teenage naivete, where rejections are pasted over with fantasies. Eilish is for high school girls because she still is one, and feels one with them. She likes the things they like, peppering references to The Office in randomly. Michael Scott’s “The Scarn” opens yet another bop about a totalizing crush, giving the song a disjointed, impulsive mood.
That being said, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is speckled with brilliance. Eilish is at her best when she’s introspective, churning out songs that feel like a sequel to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. “all the good girls go to hell” mixes a searing critique of religious dogma with a playful tone, ringing with melodies that sound plucked from a carnival. Eilish’s voice is soulful and contemplative, lifting at the end of each chorus like it's a question. The album finds its groove in these moments—confrontational and skeptical, Eilish pushes mainstream pop to a place that only Gen–Z could.
It’s a place filled with questions and alternative visions of the unknown that melt into one another. “bury a friend,” the album’s most explosive single, demonstrates this best. With a minimalist beat and Eilish’s near falsetto flourishes, the song demands the listener’s full attention. Both haunting and arresting, it begs listeners to join Eilish in her catharsis, confronting the monsters that define our relationships. Here, Eilish belongs to us just as much as a gaggle of high school girls. She’s confronting the notion that all relationships are temporal, existing as tiresome give–and–takes. That anxiety has no target age group.
The bottom line? WHEN WE ALL FALL SLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? reads like Tumblr archives from high school, with embarrassing confessions, vague attempts at comedy, and artistic genius. Like the nostalgic website, Eilish belongs to high school girls, but that doesn’t mean we can’t borrow her.