Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Billie Eilish – Bad Guy

The Jukebox has thoughts on Billie Eilish? Well, duh.


Andy Hutchins: Nothing clicked for me with Billie Eilish until “Bad Guy.” I understood the appeal intellectually, because it has sometimes been my wheelhouse: “Prodigy-cast makes off-kilter pop music from a perspective with more than a little precociousness and possibly a feminine spin that serves to disrupt rather than reify” is my jam for months at a time, sometimes. But some combination of prodigy and precociousness sometimes striking me as preciousness — something that I’ve occasionally found issue with in the work of Sky Ferreira and Solange and Lorde and Cher Lloyd and fka twigs and Haim and Kacey Musgraves and Lana Del Rey and so many women who have occupied this same treacherous lane where deviating from delivering what is expected from a young woman making pop music can offend the sensibilities (or engage the biases) of even someone who has strained to stave off the stupidity of dismissing music made by young women and largely intended for young women — and what I read as a deliberately dark and standoffish aesthetic put me off of Eilish, whose stuff just didn’t compel me. Everything clicks for me with Billie Eilish now that I’ve heard “Bad Guy,” which I reckon is pathetic on my part, because so much of the DNA of “Bad Guy” is in other work she’s done that the things that differentiate it as The Hit and The Breakthrough come down to tempo and a kooky synth run in the hook that every third YouTube commenter thinks is stolen from Plants vs. Zombies. But “Bad Guy” is also an unassailable pop song and has come along at a time when bulletproof ones are not occupying the charts — the closest competition in the current top 40 by my sight is, like, a Katy Perry song whose verses let down its magnificent hook, a bunch of drowsy-to-dire Khalid and Halsey tunes, a C- effort from Taylor Swift, and a microwaved Lizzo track that I’ve known of for a while and don’t consider her best stuff — and so it stands out even more from the pop metagame than the larger Eilish oeuvre does from a host of less realized tunes. And I’m a sucker for an unassailable pop song, especially one with a vocal initially delivered so low that it demands attention to the dial in the car but that is by turns brightly funny (“…duh!”) and world-weary and campy to the hilt (the titular phrase being stretched to a titanium crocodile’s rasp), a relentless bass line that sounds like a monster’s heartbeat echoing in a cave, and lyrics that constitute a semi-sincere embrace of some Lolita tropes and a more powerful sarcastic destruction of them while somehow also being fully ready for Instagram captions and Twitter display names and … well, no one’s on Tumblr anymore. But that’s hardly Billie’s fault, and I’m not docking points for only barely failing to raise the dead with a virtuosic song that makes me this glad to be alive.

Alfred Soto: There’s a reason this song has become the breakout hit besides its insidious keyboard hook: Billie Eilish sings not mumbles the gender bending hook. Otherwise a ditty that the top 40 could use more of; its quietness is a tonic.

Joshua Copperman: Sounds great, looks great (if possibly plagarized), memes great. The deadpan anti-sexuality of “might-seduce-your-dad type” is “Guys My Age” done right. The delivery of “my soul, so cynical” like even that is too earnest of a statement. The only weak part is the ending switch-up. But you knew all that already. Duh. Besides the cries of “industry plant!” there’s also the ongoing sense that Eilish is a music writers’ idea of what a 17-year-old Tumblr-born pop star would sound like. And sure, she’s a young music writers’ dream; I have a byline at Billboard because of her. But also, it’s genuinely smart music that is mostly set to age well, even if it’s hard to tell if it m a t t e r s. Who knows what 17-year-olds of any predilection towards seducing dads are actually listening to; I’m 21 and finding that out is only getting more difficult, if maybe not more necessary. If teens still control popular culture, if anyone does, who knows if this really does reflect them, or if its bottomless angst is mocked like Limp Bizkit? Is “Bad Guy” just “Heathens” for the late-2010s? Does this really represent the next generation? And which next generation; the shit-talking saviors, or the ones just like their parents and the radicalized alt-right kids? There’s no easy answer to any of these, no “duh” to shrug them off. But there is Eilish and co. applying the daily grind of apocalyptic dread to smaller-scale topics. Processing death on “Bury a Friend,” processing one’s own body image on “idontwannabeyouanymore,” processing changing gender roles here. Finding your place in 2019 is a lot for anyone. No one is getting it right. What Eilish does instead is turn that uncertainty to playfulness, confidently existing within the mess instead of trying to find her spot.

Leah Isobel: I was on Tumblr in 2011, so “might seduce your dad type” doesn’t feel as provocative as she might intend. (Also, Halsey did the exact same thing.) Besides, pop is a space for fantasy and role-playing, and she’s not the first 16-year old bad girl to make adults freak out a little. What gets me is that the song itself is a brilliant production piece in search of an equally compelling melody; the biggest hooks here are an audible eye-roll and a Tim Burton rip. I love the idea of Billie as a goth-teen-pop star, and the choice to swerve into a spooky outro instead of a more traditional structure is genuinely a lot of fun, but this all feels like so much posturing — normal for a teenager, but not that compelling to listen to on its own.

Katherine St Asaph: If Billie Eilish is the Gen Z Fiona Apple, which I’ve heard from about three separate people even before the Discourse started, then “Bad Guy” is her “Criminal,” down to it being creep flypaper. Everyone quotes that one dad line a bit too eagerly, like they’re subconsciously thinking that if they have the pithiest take they just might get to be the dad. (It isn’t even the most suggestive line.) There’s a strong case for the dad being the bad guy, if only because he’s, well, the guy. But “Bad Guy” lives in the world of teenage politics, where the guys just are and the girls get their badness thrust upon them, and their choices are to shrink away or play along. Duh. (“Bad Guy” : “duh” :: “Your Love Is My Drug” : “I like your beard.”) But all this is pretty serious analysis for a fundamentally trolly song: half-mumbling the melody to a beat I’m pretty sure I made in a high school to go with a video project; rhyming bad/mad/sad/dad like a Mavis Beacon keyboarding tutorial (or whatever the kids have now; maybe they’re just born typing); crooning an exceedingly Lana Del Rey-ish “I’m only good at being bad” then immediately cutting that crap for a bassy, fuck-off breakdown; filling only about 60% of the song with, like, song.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Not the most impressive or cohesive Billie Eilish song, but it is the one most likely to remind you of how fun her music can be (that she included the Invisalign skit in the video helps). The coda is fine, but the best reversal is found elsewhere: the nonchalant cries of duh followed by a cartoonish synth melody, underlining just how playful the song’s darker elements are.

Josh Langhoff: Eilish sometimes sounds like the Cardigans if they only did Black Sabbath covers, “evil” squeezed between an extra set of scare quotes, and sometimes she’s Nellie McKay on downers, ennui shaped like wit but without the laughs. Sometimes she’s good and sometimes she sings ballads. And somehow that combination produced “Bad Guy,” the elusive Somehow Perfect Pop Song That Sounds Like Nothing Else On The Radio. I can’t say I love it, but all her murmuring and posturing makes Top 40 radio seem, after too many years, like a playground of endless possibility. What’d we do to deserve this and “Old Town Road”? 

Jessica Doyle: Yes. Some are red, and some are blue. Some are old, and some are new. Some are sad, and some are glad, and some are very, very bad. Why are they sad and glad and bad? I do not know. Go ask why that menacing bass and Eilish’s whisper didn’t deserve better lyrics.

Tobi Tella: Billie Eilish’s artistic direction and style of music makes it seem almost impossible for her to make a legitimate banger, but this fits in perfectly with the rest of her album tone-wise and also completely slaps. The simplicity of the production, literally created in a bedroom just adds to the perfect low-key vibe. The lyrics do make Billie sound a little like a teenager who will cringe reading them in 10 years, but as an 18 year old, sometimes doing stupid stuff you know is destructive and immature is FUN, and this completely captures that feeling.

Will Adams: I love love love the idea of this shifty, close mic’d oddball dancepop song being as big of a mainstream hit as it is, even if it’s one of the more slight offerings from the album. Extra point for the coda, where Billie drops the coy and reminds you how quick she is to put her foot on your neck.

Pedro João Santos: The coda lamentably inverts the light heart of “Bad Guy”: the colourful, whispered titillation conjugated with what’s left unsaid, a sort of puerile pleasure dutifully translated by the Theremin-esque synths; not the heady, overlong consummation that it unfolds onto by the end. I must say I’m exhilarated that someone knew how to ape “Las de La Intuición” nearly 15 years on, although startled by the fact that it was Billie Eilish the one to do it.

Scott Mildenhall: Done well, it’s enjoyable to hear a musician having such fun, but especially so when one unexpected element of a song comes in to underline just how much fun they’re having. In this case, it’s the gloopy searchlight noise, playing out like the theme tune to a 1970s cop show set in space, in a way that cannot be anything but gleefully goofy. Such bold and playful invention is something pop music would suffer without. Extra points for the consideration to leave a gap before the outro so that radio stations can cut it out.

Iris Xie: I still think this song should’ve been cut off at the 2:14 mark, because it said everything it needed to say.

Katie Gill: That purposefully obnoxious “duh” sums up what Eilish wants to say more than the rest of the song combined (and is currently in the running for my favorite 2 seconds of 2019 pop music). This image of her as the bad guy isn’t serious. It’s bratty and playful, more her creating something she can have fun with instead of taking herself seriously. Unfortunately, that something interesting here is buried in a three minute piece that somehow manages to be three completely different songs which never actually coheres to a single whole.

Reader average: [6.42] (7 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

8 Responses to “Billie Eilish – Bad Guy”

  1. ahahaha jessica <3

  2. I’m a little surprised to have been the only 10 here. I’m a LOT surprised that mine is the only 10 any Eilish song has gotten at TSJ, which has now covered seven of them.

  3. I’m 100 percent in on Billie Eilish. “You Should See Me in A Crown” is a banger and while I don’t like this as much as I do that one, hearing this as normal pop music absolutely rules.

  4. Andy, in retrospect “Bury a Friend” was probably a 10. Wish I’d had the energy to write up this one, too. (And I agree with Will; I like the coda.)

  5. @Josh: I heard this first on the radio without knowing for sure who was singing, which is a significant reason it is a 10 for me.

    @Ian: I don’t know if I would 10 any of her other songs (maaaybe “Bury a Friend”), personally, but it really floored me, reading back through the other entries this morning, that she’s elicited a lot of great writing and racked up a lot of 8s and 9s and no 10s! The consequence of throwing off-speed stuff rather than the heater, maybe?

  6. They aren’t born typing :(

    Soooo I discovered this weekend that young people get VERY upset when you keep calling her “Billie Eyelash.” I remain perplexed as to why The Conversation has gelled around her, but I have accepted that I am finally O-L-D after I paid real no-foolin’ money for Radiohead’s Offal Computer.

  7. (To be clear, I was not the one calling her Billie Eyelash. I realized when my siblings started talking about her that I had never actually said her name aloud before!!)

  8. aw boo, totally missed this one, at least a [7] for me