Monday, May 10th, 2021

Billie Eilish – Your Power

Quieter, at least in sound…


Alex Clifton: This is so haunting, especially coming from a nineteen-year-old — it hurts to know that someone so young has already had to deal with such abuses in power and trust in her life. It’s beautiful, simple, stark, and so, so vulnerable; I didn’t have the bravery at her age to come out against those who took advantage of me, and I still struggle to do so a decade later. It’s easy enough to point out that by taking control of her narrative, Eilish is reclaiming her power, but I hope she knows that a song like this will help countless others do the same.

Leah Isobel: “I thought that I was special/You made me feel/Like it was my fault/You were the devil” collapses a lifetime’s worth of processing into an elegant, despairing quadtych. There’s not really anywhere for Billie to go before or after that. There doesn’t need to be. The song builds its entire moral and emotional universe out from the way those images fall into each other, teasing out the tension between what should have been (“try not to…”) and what actually, irrefutably was (“…abuse your power”). You can’t find enlightenment in that tension, though I have tried many times.

Mark Sinker: This tale was ancient back when I was Billie’s age, of course — when we (“we”, as a handwaved age-cohort) had leapt within short months from seizing on the idea that music was of course part of the remedy and the fightback against misused power (whether this meant rock or punk or pop or whichever micro-genre slice we embraced that week as the solution) to the beginnings of a pervasive sense that cruelty and predation was grafted into the purposed bones of all of them, that this is maybe why they work at all, and we would have to remake everything to ever begin to be free of them. This intimation of freedom is what was so exhilarating; this is what cathected music into us as an activity to be pursued and explored. Four decades on, and Billie is one of the three titans of pop that I bond with my niece (14) over — and that feels like a complicated tangle, because (first) the other two are currently Stormzy mainly for his swears, and the Crazy Frog #ffs… and (second) well, must the entire horrible mountain always be climbed right from the start every day? As for the first, enjoying her music for signifying this pleasing family bond is plainly a way of sidestepping its richest exhilarations; the things it says about being free if not from me myself, then from mine. As for the second, I don’t think we achieved nothing, I don’t think we knew nothing, I don’t think we were wrong or dumb or useless as kids — and yet here we are, and here is this song needing to be sung right now, very much as if we were wrong and dumb and useless after all. It should not be children heading into this fight, and yet here we all still are.

Al Varela: This is a really harrowing song to release as a single in the lead-up to your album. Billie is no stranger to dark topics in her music, but this feels different. It’s drawing upon a topic that’s not only taboo in art, but especially in music where this kind of thing happens far too often. There’s no real way to escape from it either. The music itself is so bare-bones that you can only focus on the lyrics, and confront the reality that girls like Billie face this constantly. This abuse of power comes from people who claim to have your best interest in mind, yet only when you grow older do you realize how badly it’s poisoned you. The lyrics are so undeniably powerful that I can’t let the otherwise simple production override how impressed by it I am. And also how terrified it makes me. 

Andrew Karpan: While I really buy the drama of this record — the next track on Happier Than Ever is allegedly a song called “NDA,” so it’s tempting to think of this as some kind of acoustic intro for some kind of explosive guitar solo set up over there — it’s probably more interesting as an expression of range. And what range! She can pull off Taylor Swift far better than Swift can pull off singing over trap beats. But I’m not quite sure how interesting that really is. Much like the Vogue cover that accompanied its release, it’s a work of dress up meant to protect the song from sounding too intimate. It’s a work of “larger commentary,” as Craig Jenkins called it or as she herself has said, “an open letter.” And she’s not wrong — more than anything, it feels written down. 

Alfred Soto: A realized gesture though Not For Me. Although she specializes in quiet, Billie Eilish doesn’t grab me when she offers her parched tones instead of a more full-throated experience.

Kayla Beardslee: This is so boring. I know the lyrics are about something serious, but the music is doing nothing to make me care.

Katherine St Asaph: That “Praying” thing again, where artists feel compelled to deliver their serious confessions in austere, penitent acoustic arrangements, for fear a pop song would be dismissed on sound before the first word. Unfortunately, they’re absolutely justified in that fear: this is, too often, what it takes to be heard. I just wish it weren’t. Imagine if this said all the same things but sounded like “Bury a Friend.”

Ian Mathers: I cannot wait for the people who wrote bad thinkpieces about “Bad Guy,” “Bury a Friend,” et al. to get their hands on this and continue to completely miss the fucking point. No, one shouldn’t have to disclose their trauma in order to get people to take them seriously (or for any reason other than that they want to). And no, talking about that shouldn’t mean people start viewing all of your work through that one lens. God forbid Eilish just make another gorgeous song that’s got more going on under the hood than half of the people who are going to talk about it will acknowledge (TSJ excepted, naturally).

Samson Savill de Jong: On an objective level, insofar as “objective” is a concept that exists, this is a good song. It does what it sets out to do, and does it in such a way that any changes would surely have made it worse. But it’s one of those songs that I have to give dispassionate praise to because it fundamentally isn’t for me. Not because the content speaks to experiences I haven’t and won’t have (although maybe if I had experienced this kind of sexual and sexist abuse of power it could resonate more strongly), because I want and encourage songs that are actually about serious topics, and this song in particular I think is extremely sharply written with some devastating lines. I mean it’s not for me sonically; this kind of acoustic piece doesn’t do it for me. When I think about acoustic songs I like (e.g. Pink Floyd’s “Mother” or Foo Fighters’ acoustic “Everlong“) they have a sense of building to a crescendo, the soft acoustic standing in contrast to the power bubbling just beneath. “Your Power,” in contrast, is delicate and fragile, not so much angry but broken, worn down by the bullshit — which is a good thing. The song wouldn’t work if Billie just sounded pissed off; the tone absolutely fits the feeling that she wants to create. 

Will Adams: Like Kimbra’s “Everybody Knows,” there’s a stark, raw quality to this, a “you know what you did” delivered with bitter disappointment. Billie in ballad mode could ruffle those who prefer her creepier aesthetic, but for me it’s resulted in some of her strongest moments, and “Your Power” is firmly one of the latter.

Thomas Inskeep: Striking. The simplicity of the song, and its arrangement and production, is unlike anything we’ve heard from Eilish (and her producer/co-writer/brother Finneas) before: it’s just Eilish’s voice (treated almost hypnotically) and an acoustic guitar. Which is all the better to spotlight its lyrics about power dynamics and abusive relationships. I’ve warmed to Eilish gradually over time, not much caring for most of her debut album, but finding my respect for her work growing as she’s released a continual drip-feed of non-album singles, and wondering what her next step would look like. Well, it’s here, and it looks awfully impressive.

Reader average: [6.62] (8 votes)

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One Response to “Billie Eilish – Your Power”

  1. I just had to read Mark’s blurb out loud to my wife, that’s how hard it hit me.