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From Bedroom Crooner to Global Sensation: A Discussion of ‘Hit Me Hard and Soft’ by Billie Eilish

This year has proven to be one for music history books. With famed artists such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande dropping chart-topping albums earlier this year, we were all biting our nails in anticipation of the release of Billie Eilish’s third studio album, ‘Hit Me Hard and Soft.’ The title, along with the imagery of Billie being pulled into deep, dark waters for the album’s cover, was a promise from Billie to return to the raw and honest art that we have all grown to love her for, and she did not disappoint. Billie and Finneas have managed to craft a true work of art that speaks to the soul in numerous ways that can only truly be heard through several listening sessions. If you were not a “Billie-stan” before, this album is sure to surprise and comfort you simultaneously. 

At only ten tracks, ‘Hit Me Hard and Soft’ is Billie’s shortest studio album to date. However, this did not stop her from being able to connect with her audience and fully articulate the song’s emotional weight.

The album opens with “Skinny”, a tragic ballad about the detrimental effect heavy scrutinization has on self-image. With lines like, “People say I look happy / Just because I got skinny,” this opening track deeply resonates with the misery that exists because of people’s need to comment on every aspect of your life. This is especially true for celebrities who became famous at a young age and have had their entire childhood on public display (“Twenty-one took a lifetime”). Its spacious, aching string quartet makes the song feel almost as if it were a sister song to “What Was I Made For? (Billie’s Oscar-winning track from “Barbie”).”

Following right after “Skinny”, the sure-to-be club hit “Lunch” perfectly and humorously conveys the primal attraction you could have for a person, specifically a woman in Billie’s case (Let’s go Lesbians!). The rhythmic, yet progressive, production feels like a return to the playful pop seen in Billie’s debut album, ‘When we all fall asleep, where do we go?’ My personal favorite lyric in the track, besides “I could eat that girl for lunch,” is definitely “Tell her, ‘Bring that over here’ / You need a seat? I’ll volunteer.” Every line, bass strum, and snare hit work in sync perfectly to create this summer gay-pop banger we knew we desperately needed (Sorry, Jojo.).

Next on the track list is the ethereal “Chihiro.” Inspired by the Studio Ghibli movie “Spirited Away,” it takes listeners into a different spiritual realm with its muted vocals and thick, milky bass. Playing on the themes of its muse, “Chihiro” evokes feelings of longing and missed connection. The repetition of the line, “Open up the door / Can you open up the door,” conveying that search for love but in such an innocent way that reminds me of the film’s ten-year-old protagonist, also named Chihiro. The end of the track transitions into an arpeggiated synth that completely overwhelms the track by the end, a technique used by many DJs to rile a crowd, adding to the album’s overall motif of being drowned out by your own feelings. 

“Birds of a Feather,” is sure to become a timeless hit in the years to come. This song is a true testament to the quality of talent shared between both Billie and her brother Finneas. There is no other feeling that can explain this track other than love in its purest form. Every time I hear, “I don’t know what I’m crying for / I don’t think I could love you more,” I can literally feel my body become overwhelmed with pure positive emotion. This is truly a song for people who feel so hard that they don’t know how to put it into words. My favorite part of the track is the lead synth line, which almost seems to mimic a bird’s tweeting making the track feel like a run through a field of sunflowers. Anyone who believes Billie Eilish only makes sad music is sure to be shocked by this one. 

“Wildflower” and “The Greatest” both serve as soft, yet extremely heartbreaking, acoustic cushions in the middle of the album. Both tracks slow the pacing down immensely, but they both raise the stakes in terms of emotional complexity. “Wildflower” dips into the extremely complex emotions of being in a relationship with your friend’s ex, and the toll that can take on someone’s psyche even if neither the friend nor the ex seem to care. “But I see her in the back of mind all the time / Like a fever Like I’m burning alive, Like the Sun,” evokes such a strong, aching feeling in listeners that is extremely reminiscent of the guilt being communicated. “The Greatest” is a track that also conveys a profound, lingering feeling. However, this song caters towards the self-sacrificing ways in which we can engage with love. It talks about how we can try anything just to feel the same appreciation that we give from a partner. This track is self-deprecating and soul-crushing in the most beautiful ways.

[Fun Fact: Throughout the entire album, Billie belts higher than we’ve ever heard from her, reaching a D5 in the climax of “Birds of a Feather”]

Billie digs into her jazzy inspirations for “L’Amour de ma Vie.” Billie and Finneas were not afraid of getting mean in this one. In heavy contrast with the previous song, it tells the very relatable story of the potentially messy aftermath of a relationship and the nonchalant energy we can get post-breakup. It is sung from the perspective of a person who did not feel the love as strongly as their partner claimed to feel themselves. The tone shifts from apologetic to more accusatory once it gets to the lyric, “You said you’d never fall in love again because of me / Then you moved on immediately.” This tone is carried into the shift from minimalist jazz to autotune techno through the closing lyrics as Billie screams, “I'm so glad it’s over now.”

“The Diner” is a return to the villain-esc, darker sound heard from Billie in songs like “you should see me in a crown” and “bury a friend.” Drawing on inspiration from personal experience, Billie sings this eerie track from the perspective of a stalker. Like the other songs mentioned, Billie and Finneas made excellent usage of vocal distortion and a raw, unsettling style of production to create the perfect track for strutting the streets on both Halloween and New York Fashion Week. 

The penultimate tracks “Bittersuite” and “Blue” show off Billie and Finneas’ excellent ability for blending songs within songs. “Bittersuite” is a moody love track that opens with an artful use of Billie’s airy vocals and synth distortion, transitions to a reggae-like groove very reminiscent of Bossa Nova, and ends with a synthesized version of the melody of the first half of “Blue.” During my first listen, I marveled at how Billie and Finneas were able to smoothly blend seemingly completely different sounds to be cohesive to this singular story they were attempting to convey. “Blue” is a blast of nostalgia for any long-time Billie fan. Billie wrote the first half of this track, nicknamed “True Blue,” shortly after releasing “Ocean Eyes” in 2016. Unfortunately, the original demo got leaked on the internet, and many fans lost hope in ever hearing a finished “True Blue.” However, Billie not only released a reworked, finished version of the song but also combined it with the haunting “Born Blue” to create this beautiful closing track. It completely encapsulates the energy of the entire album. Billie and Finneas even go as far as to reference lyrics or phrases from the whole album just within the first verse. It is tear-jerking. It is groovy. It is storytelling at its best. The usage of a leaked song from the beginning of her career on a track about the tragedy of childhood fame is pure genius. "Blue” is the perfect way to end the impactful piece of work that is ‘Hit Me Hard and Soft.’

If you are a fan of dissecting music production and symbolism, want new songs to add to your gay club playlist, or desire to hear the most depressing lyrics written in the past 3 years, then this is the perfect album for you.  Billie Eilish and Finneas are masters of the dedication and attention to detail it takes to create such a successful project as this. Debuting at #1 in over 14 countries and getting over 500 million streams in less than a week, this is Billie’s most successful album to date. Billie has truly found her specific sound in music, and it is exciting to see both her and Finneas grow and mature while remaining the insanely talented artists we have grown to love. I truly recommend listening to this album in the dark all alone. Do not listen to the music and wonder who Billie wrote it about. Instead, listen as it relates to you. Who do you see in the back of your mind? Who is your bird of a feather? Who do you want to eat for lunch (metaphorically, of course)? Listen fully and listen deeply. Something may hit you harder than expected. 

Written By Jai Leprince

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