Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

Billie Eilish – Therefore I Am

Getting some Descartes on des charts…


Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Eilish has two types of song — haunted ballads and shit-talking pop. This is the first song in the latter category that has really worked for me. She’s tried to put enough work in to make a song like this sound effortless, no longer concerned with direct provocation. Instead, she plays the pop metagame, using ellipsis and sing-talk to troll without trolling. It’s a perfect pop artifact, a piece that can’t work without the culture it’s immersed in.

Kayla Beardslee: Are the lyrics lame (or, at the least, silly in an uninteresting way) because they focus on one of the most overused philosophy quotes in existence while saying nothing new about it? Or are they smartly written because they prove Billie’s absolute lack of regard for the person she’s singing to, someone who’s worthy of nothing but the most basic of insults? I love unpacking lyrics in an annoyingly precise way, so my instinct leans toward the former interpretation, but the Lore around Billie Eilish pulls me in the other direction. The music itself is fine, if unsurprising. This song is fine. It’s fine. It’s fine! That’s really all there is to it.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “Therefore I Am” is perfectly perfunctory Billie Eilish pop, a mellower “Bad Guy” built around the titular, clever line. Nothing’s wrong here, but held against the transcendence of “My Future” and “Everything I Wanted” earlier this year, it leaves a lot to be desired. 

Asif Becher: It’s a relief to hear Billie moving away from the endless string of sleepy ballads she’s released this year. She has a choir girl voice and a long history of playing acoustic covers at home, which makes those choices understandable (though misguided), but she’s at her best when her sonic edges are a little more jagged. “Therefore I Am” shakes off the blurriness and plodding weight of her last few singles, and takes a slinkier, crisper approach which suits her well. It doesn’t have exactly the same crackle that brought “Bad Guy” or “Bury a Friend” their jolts of energy, but it’s a welcome return to form. Sidenote: “Sorry, I don’t think I caught your name” is a great entry into the “Billie Eilish Lyrics That Sound Like Fall Out Boy Song Titles” Hall of Fame.

Thomas Inskeep: She’s back to her old tricks, which is a shame, because I was hoping that “No Time to Die” and “My Future” meant she was heading in new, unknown directions. This features her same ol’ ASMR vocals and a loping beat reminiscent, unfortunately, of “The Real Slim Shady” — and only serves to remind me of why I didn’t respond to her debut album.

Edward Okulicz: Maybe I’m in the minority, but the worst bit of “Bad Guy” was the bit at the end. The same mood of unpleasantness without any real cleverness, feeling or humour (Eilish is brilliant at doing all three, often at the same time) permeates “Therefore I Am” and unusually for her, it’s as lyrically unadventurous as it is drab to listen to. Doesn’t matter. Her release history suggests she’ll drop another single soon; her track record suggests she’ll have better to come too.

Alfred Soto: She repeats herself — very well, she repeats herself. The beat’s Frankenstein stomp sounds as novel on the radio as her assertive murmuring; she makes Dua Lipa sound like Lita Ford. Billie Eiilsh competes against herself.

Vikram Joseph: The lurching vaudeville of “Therefore I Am” would have been wildly unfamiliar in the pop landscape of five years ago; it’s testament to Billie Eilish’s cultural impact that it now sounds almost mundane. But it does, partly due to some rather stock lyrics, and partly due to raised expectations. The put-downs (“I’m sorry, I don’t think I caught your name”) are fun, but in a year in which Eilish has released two subtle, emotionally and compositionally intricate singles which entirely busted open the box into which she’d been placed, this feels like an underwhelming default to type.

Juana Giaimo: This year, I started listening to music generally marketed for adolescents and realized that Billie Eilish is one of the few who critics respect and try to understand, which maybe has put a huge burden on her. She is both extremely popular and critically acclaimed! But it also made me think about ageism in the music scene (and in society in general), and I wondered if an older artist releasing the same songs would receive the same attention. As a 25 year old I couldn’t avoid cringing at the Descartes quote in the title, because it’s probably one of philosophy’s most misused quotes that also represents quite a lot of problematic thoughts of anthropocentrism. But upon listening to the song I realized that Billie couldn’t care less about all that — the laughs, the playful melody in the verses, the bouncy beat, the spoken pre-chorus where, in case you still didn’t notice, she straightforwardly says: “I couldn’t care less”. And I imagined a group of friends singing along to this and just having fun, maybe thinking they are quite rebellious. Maybe that’s why this song couldn’t have been released by an older artist; you simply start caring. As a teenage listener and critic I didn’t care about music criticism and simply listened to whatever I wanted, but now I do care even if I try to convince myself I don’t. I’m not sure if I like the song or not, but it made me think. And even when Billie’s life is so far from mine, hypocrisy exists everywhere, and I wish I could sometimes adopt her attitude too and say I couldn’t care less.

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7 Responses to “Billie Eilish – Therefore I Am”

  1. Big welcome to Asif! And excellent blurbs across the board, had a great time editing this.

  2. Welcome Asif!! As someone who’s been obsessing over Fall Out Boy in 2020, I laughed when I read your sidenote.

  3. Great to see another new face around here Asif! And as someone who is in choir and lives in the LA area, almost everyone I know from LACC talks about some tangential relationship they had with Billie Eilish when she was here LOL

  4. lol @austin I think the dividing line between LA arts scene zoomers and young millennials is whether you have tangential stories about billie eilish or phoebe bridgers

  5. @jacob The accuracy in that statement…no words…

  6. Asif, that Billie Eillish Hall of Fame joke was a knee slapper. welcome aboard.

  7. Welcome Asif! Loved your blurb :)

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