Somebody needed to finally ask.
It took Billie Eilish to step up and actually pose the question in the form of the titleforher 2019 full-length debut album,WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO?[Darkroom/Interscope Records]. These fourteen tracks materialize as ghostly genre-lesspop projections of life’s firsts for the multi-platinum songstress as she ruminates on her first brushes with loss and love amidst the monsters under her bed and the triumphs at her feet.
As such, the question still goes unanswered—because it can’t be answered—but that just might’ve been her point all along...
“Nobody knows what the fuck dreams are, dude,” she exclaims. “You can’t give me a good enough answer as to what dreams are. Nobody can. Dreams are a big thing in my life though. They’ve always really occupied me.It’s allinthe music.”
One daydream manifested to set the stage for such provocation. Within three years since her 2015 debut, Billie quietly, yet unapologetically infiltrated the forefront of pop. Earning six gold certifications (“Bellyache,” “IDONTWANNABEYOUANYMORE,”Don’t SmileAtMeEP, “Copycat,” “My Boy,” and “when the party’sover”) and two platinum certifications (“Ocean Eyes” and “Lovely” [feat. Khalid]), she tallied over 6billion cumulative streams by 2019, anddontsmile at menotably held a spot in theBillboardTop 200 for over a year. Meanwhile, she garnered acclaim fromVogue,Vanity Fair,New York TimesRolling Stone,Billboard, Spotify, Apple Music, and moreand graced the stage ofEllenandThe Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Not to mention, she sold outfourworld tours andhas top billing everywherefromLollapaloozatoCoachella.She maintains a direct connection to fansthrough open dialogue and one-on-one social media communication. This honesty helped her attractmillionsoffollowersonline.
Along the way, she and her chief collaborator, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and big brotherFinneasO’Connell crafted what would becomeWHEN WE FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO?Keeping the creativity in-house, literally, they retreated back to Billie’s childhoodhome. Once again, they worked inFinneas’ bedroom—two feet from Billie’s room—where the songs not only came to life, but also all of the dreams.
“There were a lot of opportunities and things I said,‘No’to,” she grins. “We had to do this album our way. I realized how lucky I am to have my brother in this. If I didn’t have him, I would have to figure out what the hell I was doing without someone else there with me!”
2018 turned around when Billie unearthed what turned into the first single “bury a friend.” In a year marked by the losses of inspirations such as Mac Miller and Lil Peep as well as tragedies a la Stoneman Douglas, mortality weighed heavy over the zeitgeist. Political discord reached untenable heights and the threat of climate change grew more prevalent. This landscape set the stage for “bury a friend.”Punctuated by horror movie screams and drill samples, the graveyard waltz of her jazz-y cadence claws at the senses before snapping into a glitchy chorus as she asks,“when we all fall asleep, where do we go?”
“When we made ‘bury a friend,’ the whole album clicked in my head,” she goes on. “I immediately knew what it was going to be about, what the visuals were going to be, and everything in terms of how I wanted it to be perceived. It inspired what the album is about.‘Bury a friend’is literally from the perspective of the monster under my bed. If you put yourself in that mindset, what is this creature doing or feeling? I also confess that I’m this monster, because I’m my own worst enemy. I might be the monster under your bed too.”
In the end, it’s not where we go when we fall asleep, but where we go while awake. Billie is taking us farther than ever with eyes wide open.
“I want people to listen,” she leaves off. “I want to be heard, and I want people to feel heard. Nothing on this album sounds the same, but it all adds up to a whole. Since I first started doing music, my life has changed a lot. One thing that hasn’t changed in my music is that I still just do me, and I don’t even know what that means.”
She doesn’t have to.