song review

Billie Eilish’s Real Power Might Be Her Ability to Still Surprise

With every new single, it becomes clearer that she’s interested in longevity on her own terms and in making music that is both engaging and unpredictable. Photo: YouTube

If you weren’t following the bread-crumb trail of singles like “Ocean Eyes” and “Bellyache” early on, Billie Eilish and the downcast, claustrophobic pop of her 2019 debut When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? might’ve come on like an alien invasion, this unforeseen thing suddenly fully formed and impossible to escape, seeping out of supermarket PA systems, popping up in television commercial breaks, topping charts, and sweeping awards shows. If you’ve seen the singer’s Apple TV+ documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, you know that this commercial success has been something of a tricky subject for her; Eilish’s brother and producer Finneas kept Interscope’s demands for a hit single a secret from his sister during the recording of When We All Fall Asleep, and at times, she was unsure about whether or not she wanted to make a follow-up.

Eilish’s moves since the first album make a lot more sense in that light. With every new single, it becomes clearer that she’s interested in longevity on her own terms and in making music that is both engaging and unpredictable. Her Bond theme “No Time to Die” proved that her wispy voice is strong enough to blow over an orchestra. “My Future” applied it to fleet funk; “Therefore I Am” served snide talk-singing. This summer’s Happier Than Ever, her sophomore follow-up, seems anxious to escape the looming shadow of “Bad Guy” — from the arrangements of songs we’ve heard so far to the trading of her signature slime-green-accented black hair for an icy platinum-blonde, the star of the forthcoming album’s cover.

Today’s new single “Your Power” is another unexpected turn for Billie Eilish. It’s a folk ballad with a timely message. In the verses, she dresses down a man involved with a girl in high school, ruining her life for a thrill. In the chorus, Eilish addresses the listener directly, offering advice about mindful stewardship and thinking aloud about how it sucks that we have to navigate strange and ever-changing power dynamics and how we wear ourselves out conserving and consolidating influence over others. You could see “Your Power” as a deeply personal address to Eilish’s ex-boyfriend Brandon Adams, a 20-something dating a teenager at the time (who, in The World’s a Little Blurry, was revealed to have broken his hand in a fit of anger), making it one of the singer’s most direct and revealing bits of writing to date.

You can also see it as a larger commentary about the daily undercurrent of disappointing news. Each week we uncover fresh hell: YouTube influencers acting inappropriately when the cameras cut off, politicians and execs leaving trails of mistreated aides and subordinates in their wake, record-industry figures continuing to find work in spite of egregious accusations and even documented misconduct. During the close-up in the middle of the gorgeous, rustic, self-directed video for “Your Power,” which captures Billie Eilish’s palpable disgust as she delivers a haymaker — “Will you only feel bad when they find out? / If you could take it all back, would you?” — she is all of us wondering why we must move heaven and earth for a crumb of common decency.

Billie Eilish’s Real Power Is Her Ability to Still Surprise