Friday, April 5th, 2019

Billie Eilish – Bury a Friend

Why you always play that song so loud? Oh.


[Video][Website]
[7.76]

Ian Mathers: Over a series of songs and videos, Eilish has practically offered a survey of fears and bad feelings: spiders, isolation, drowning, physical assault, mental illness, poison, other people as monsters, the self as a monster, etc. and here she leans harder than ever into the horror tropes, both sonically and visually. The sampled dentist drill, lyrics equally evoking the monster under the bed and sleep paralysis, the haunted house/nursery rhyme lilt of the verses, the bravado that at least partially stems from her narrative persona already feeling bad enough about herself that you sure as hell can’t touch her, and of course the line that recurs over and over: “I wanna end me.” It’s the sort of thing you can imagine parents freaking out over, and even possibly the (yes, yes, very young) Eilish looking back years from now and thinking the better of. But, much as plenty of pop music conjures up outsized romantic sentiments that listeners gravitate towards despite not actually wanting to follow through with them in a literal sense, it also feels like the kind of darkness that I know many people who don’t struggle with suicidal ideation still identify with in the context of a pop song. I’m not actually arguing for its total harmlessness so much as admitting that I don’t think total harmlessness is necessary or even desirable in pop, maybe especially when it is from someone as young and who seems to be as tapped into a new vocabulary (sonic and gestural as much as linguistic) as Eilish is so far. The line and the song make me uneasy even as I love it and feel seen by it, as opposed to (say) Juice WRLD’s bullshit which doesn’t to me feel like it has any redeeming element at all. Eilish and “Bury a Friend,” meanwhile, don’t need a redeeming element unless you have a problem with the rich history of darkness in pop (as opposed to the rich history of misogyny in pop). Not for nothing does my friend Jess Burke describe her as “Fiona Apple for a Blumhouse future” and of all the paths to go down, that honestly feels like a pretty great one right now.
[9]

Tobi Tella: Billie Eilish is one of the first true Gen Z pop stars, and as someone only a year or so older than her I’m impressed with how fresh her music feels on the pop landscape. The sense of dread that appears in most of her music is in full force here, and while I have found some of her music to be a little “2edgy4me,” this works by fully leaning into it. It’s unlike anything anyone else is making right now.
[7]

Alfred Soto: If “Bury a Friend” is a gesture, an experiment — as if Billie Eilish said, “Let me show how minimalist my music can be, and put in cool noises too” — then its failure to be more than this is my failure. She’s been tuneful before, which means she knows what she’s doing. 
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: “Bury a Friend” sounds like the product of a musical landscape where anything can be heard on demand and none of it comes with context. Billie Eilish’s artless murmur suggests that her roots lie in the DIY aesthetics of bedroom folk, but while her music can be wispy and personal in that mode, it wanders into other realms in which it seems not to realize it doesn’t belong. This song is punctuated by producer Crooks intoning Eilish’s name like a mixtape DJ’s drop, while the shrieks that tear into the dark low-end pulse seem ripped from Yeezus-era Kanye. There’s even some Fiona Apple in the stops and starts punctuating her phrasing. Like Lorde before her, Eilish is adept at playing up the adolescent’s attraction to darkness, and the haunted house atmosphere and lyrics about stapled tongues and glass-cut feet settle into a delicious murk. Perhaps most unsettling and most unexpectedly novel about it all is that Eilish doesn’t sound like a paralysed gothic heroine. She sounds comfortable, like she’s one of the monsters.
[8]

Katie Gill: Insert that Marge Simpson ‘kids, could you lighten up a little?’ reaction image here. It only makes sense that the hot new pop sensation is the musical distillation of nihilistic memes and the lolz I’m so depressed joke culture that’s permeated the popular consciousness. To her credit, Eilish has her finger perfectly poised on the zeitgeist. Unfortunately, we’ve been dealing with the zeitgeist for at LEAST two years now. Such ironic detachment and ‘I want to end me lmao’ already feels out of date — the fact that the song seems tailor-made to score an American Horror Story scene only dates it even more (those backing screams were a baaad choice). The main thing this does is make me wish that Eilish leaned in more towards her lighter fare.
[5]

Vikram Joseph: I’ve been a Billie Eilish sceptic, but “Bury A Friend” is, if not quite Damascene, certainly revelatory. It feels deliciously, obscenely engrossing; that minimalist pulse, the mocking, nursery-rhyme motif (“What do you want from me? Why don’t you run from me?”), those swift, decisive industrial gut-punches, the breathtaking turns of pace and time-signature tightrope-play. Most of all, it’s fun, especially when her vocal affectations come off like a demonic sonic negative of Lorde. It feels like her entire aesthetic coming together, a camp horror-flick dark-pop queen finally wearing the crown she’s been threatening to unveil for a while now.
[8]

William John: At 28 I feel far too old to be pontificating about Billie Eilish, but what I will say is that if their new formula for chart success is to mine the aesthetic of Róisín Murphy circa Ruby Blue, then I’m ready to submit to our new zillennial overlords.
[7]

Iris Xie: I’ve been hearing Billie Eilish everywhere I go, and her music always vibrates with a moody, dark warmth while I move through thrift stores, coffee shops, and sidewalks. Reclaiming whisper-singing from Selena Gomez is a fantastic move, especially when paired with that slight rhythmic drumming, sudden starts and stops, and that little omnipresent danger that I miss so much from f(x)’s Red Light. Our times are escalating faster to some kind of destruction, but in the air, there is exhaustion and energy of both a defiant joy and a quiet numbness. “Bury a Friend,” and her album overall embodies that energy in spades. 
[7]

Will Rivitz: Jump scares in horror movies suck; they’re cheap, calculated cash-ins on human predilection to react badly whenever something threatening pops out from the underbrush. Much more difficult to pull off, and much more impressive in its execution and creativity when it succeeds, is the slow-burn thrill. When a ghoulish, uncertain threat is buried ever so imperceptibly below the surface, it roils adrenaline in the most painfully pleasant of ways, as we fail to put our finger on anything about what’s about to destroy us except that, make no mistake, it will indeed destroy us. “Bury a Friend” nails that most sublime skin-crawl. The lowing bass and teeth-scraping industrial synths roll around the aural triggers that make every hair on a back stand up with the cold impersonality of coins circling a hyperbolic funnel forever, the end always implied but never achieved. Appropriate, too, since Billie Eilish’s main triumph is capturing the slow-burn existential dread of living as a young person in a world thoroughly ruined by those who won’t live to see out the ramifications of their present actions. Obliquely, that’s “Bury a Friend,” a nightmarish Borges y yo resurrection, endlessly Genius-ready especially given the original story now has a Genius annotation itself. (The internet continues to be bizarre.) Instrumentally and lyrically, it’s a warped and terrifying celebration of a muddling and destruction of identity supercharged by the less savory bits of our constant interconnectedness; it is, in other words, the best summary of Billie Eilish she could possibly present to us. Eilish affirms our base fears that things are fucked, we’re all irrevocably in shambles, and there’s absolutely jack shit we can do about it; we might as well learn to celebrate where we’re at, since there’s nothing else awaiting us.
[9]

Alex Clifton: I can’t remember the last time I felt this astonished by a song, nor can I remember hearing anything this sublime. I mean this in the gothic sense — something beautiful and terrifying and subsiding where you’ve just got to stand and soak it all in. “Bury a Friend” is every nightmare and melodramatic thought I had as a teenager set to music, the suspicion that I was a monster who was better off dead and everyone knew. It felt so plainly written on my skin. But it’s not just dark and monstrous. Billie feels scared and sad on the chorus: when we all fall asleep, where do we go? Something in her voice is so vulnerable that I feel cut open myself just hearing it. I fear some older people may hear “Bury a Friend” and write it off as emo teenage poetry, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the honesty of Lorde’s first album mixed in with the sharp crunch of being a teen in 2019, living in a world constantly on fire with questionable prospects for a future. I would expect nothing less from a teenager to be honest, especially one as talented as Eilish. I just wish I had had the courage to be this dark and messy when I was her age. 
[9]

Will Adams: So much of the Billie Eilish discourse concerns her aesthetic and how it relates to Gen Z, but it often misses a key part of her appeal: how electrifying her music sounds. Tactile, confronting and claustrophobic, Billie and her producer brother Finneas create music that tightens its grip and refuses to let go, and “Bury a Friend” is as good an example as any. Alternately screeching, skittering and booming with sub bass (like “Black Skinhead” crawling with spiders), it conjures up a nightmare you can’t look away from.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: A game that is both fun and great for making yourself acutely aware of how fast the grave is yanking you down is asking yourself, and being honest: if you were a teen today, who would you stan? Would you be an Ariana Grande Teen? A Blueface Teen? A Billie Eilish Teen? The depressing truth is that I probably would’ve been a Lana Del Rey Teen, but I could see myself reluctantly liking this for its weird drama, its dramatic weirdness. I’m convinced people confused about why Billie’s dark music appeals to teens have never themselves been teens, the time of life where you endless-repeat Nirvana (ask Dave Grohl) or Sarah Brightman’s cover of “Gloomy Sunday” or “Bury a Friend” and often make it out regardless. The flavor of darkness here is more than a little Tim Burton, in the twisted-nursery-rhyme melody, but there’s also more than a little “Black Skinhead” and “Night of the Dancing Flame,” and how many teen sensations can you conjure those references up for?
[9]

Stephen Eisermann: Billie Eilish, especially here, is the exact representation of what would happen if Lorde pulled a Jack Skellington and entered the portal in the trees to find herself in Halloween Town. The same intriguing vocal tics, off-beat metaphors, and bold production choices — just decorated with horror-tinged jack-o-lanterns and ghost sheets. In other words, I love Billie and I love this song. 
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Bury a Friend” is less a song and more an intentionally jarring collection of phrases — even Eilish’s individual lines sound cut off, as if they’ve been reassembled from a previously coherent whole. Not every piece works — Crooks’ vocal additions are unnecessary and some of Eilish’s longer phrasings in the bridge are too stylized. Moreover, the picture that this collage is supposed to be forming never gets cleared up. And yet there’s almost an illicit thrill to listening to a pop song that sounds like this, in all of its chaotic terror and joy.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: In truth, this song feels like it runs out of gas, but its first 30 seconds are incredibly arresting. It’s not that the rest of it is bad, I mean there’s a bit where she sounds exactly like Róisín Murphy and that’s never bad. Over the course of a bunch of singles, Eilish has used lots of existing musical tropes in an interesting way and built up a style that’s unmistakeably her — maybe I’m just disappointed she’s taken it to complete fruition in half a minute and maybe there’s nowhere else for her to go but to do a full-on macabre Glitterbeat thing. She’s got fans that’ll go with her to any place she chooses.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: I’m inclined to dislike most of the well-manicured teenage dramascapes that make up Billie Eilish’s discography so far. Maybe it’s the narcissism of generational differences — sure, I was moody and disaffected as a 17-year-old, but I wasn’t this kind of moody and disaffected. You’re doing anhedonia all wrong, kids! Yet somehow, “Bury a Friend” is able to dislodge me from this self-consciousness by brandishing its own self-consciousness as a weapon and waging a merry war on itself. It’s a staging ground for a bunch of one-off experiments and on-the-nose signifiers and 2spooky vocal tics and vintage 2013 alt-pop tropes, all of which seem to communicate: “This is a song that I wrote, and I can debase it however I want.” It’s squeamish about its own existence yet sure of its purpose, with a simple driving beat that yields to miscellany while warding off the specters of musical theater. Its high point is an archly written low point: the sneeringly drawn out “wowww.” in response to a blunt confession of suicidality. If it turns out that reducing the stigma doesn’t always lead to better outcomes, at least we got some good banter out of it.
[8]

Joshua Copperman: Huh, I guess we are seeing the beauty at the end of culture. And it’s suicidal, it’s offensive, it’s ugly. Then it’s fake-deep, and it’s edgy, because Heaven forbid we legitimize the concerns of teenagers. The common thing is supposed to be how, as a teenager, everything feels like it matters, but today’s teens are growing up in a political moment when nothing feels like it does, if it ever will again. Okay, that’s a bit much — there’s a chance that actual teens aren’t like this, and this is what people whose brains have been poisoned by Twitter pundits think teenagers must be like. It can’t be a huge coincidence, though, that “I wanna end me,” “why do you care for me?” and “I’m too expensive!!!” all wound up in a Top 20 hit by a 17-year-old. Like any good writer, Eilish sublimates those fears into a horror movie song from the point of view of the monster under her bed, a pure Tumblr or r/writingprompts move. But with this many Spotify plays, with this much success, it’s hard to shake the feeling that along with the stellar “idontwannnabeyouanymore,” Eilish is actually onto something with The Youths. Finneas O’Connor’s bonkers production, with dentist drills and the 12/8 “Black Skinhead” bounce, certainly helps this stand out. (Rob Kinelski, too, has crafted a mix more interesting than anything his more successful contemporaries like Serban Ghenea have done lately.) Underneath the grimdarkness, what really separates Eilish is the sense of humor; the nursery rhyme bridge seemed a bit obvious, but after hearing songs like “Bad Guy,” Eilish sounds completely aware of the tropes she is using. I have no doubt this blurb will age badly if her music gets worse after this, but who cares when there’s not much aging left to do? Lead us into the apocalypse, Billie and Finneas!
[9]

Reader average: [6.6] (10 votes)

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3 Responses to “Billie Eilish – Bury a Friend”

  1. Would someone mind changing “subsisting” to “subsuming” in my blurb? I think that was an autocorrect fail on my phone

  2. @taylor “This is a song that I wrote, and I can debase it however I want.” is exactly it omg

  3. I sorta feel like Billie Eilish is one of those artists who’s more fun to think about and write about than listen to, and the excellence of these blurbs would seem to bear that out.

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