Billie Eilish is about as close to an overnight sensation as one can hope for within the music world. After her first single in 2016, “Ocean Eyes,” Eilish, 17, put out her debut album “Don’t Smile at Me,” and the album is now RIAA Certified Platinum. Once she broke into the mainstream music scene, she made sure to shatter everything in her path. This momentum quickly led to a collaboration with rhythm and blues’s new golden child, Khalid, a holiday campaign with Apple and a song for the Oscar-nominated film “Roma.” Her most recent song is yet another thought-provoking entry into her growing oeuvre.
Eilish released her latest haunting single titled “bury a friend” in preparation for the release of her second album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” The production of the track is haunting, clever and driven, three of Eilish’s staple characteristics in her songs. On the other hand, the lyrics of the song, although capturing the macabre and confident tone of much of Eilish’s work, genuinely freaked me out upon first listen.
It is no secret that celebrities living in the limelight have emotions and issues that are suppressed out of fear of critique from the public eye. From stories of the suicides of Kate Spade and Robin Williams to tragic overdoses from icons such as Tom Petty and Prince, it is clear that being in the entertainment industry can be problematic for one’s mental health.
Dark themes in pop music are hardly new. Shawn Mendes’ 2018 hit “In My Blood” addressed his battles with intense anxiety, and the lead track on Kanye West’s latest release, “ye,” is titled “I Thought About Killing You.”
Now, Eilish’s latest single has a refrain where she sings, “Step on the glass, staple your tongue / Bury a friend, try to wake up / Cannibal class, killing the son / Bury a friend, I wanna end me.”
As a pop culture fiend and audiophile, I appreciate vulnerable lyrics, bold musical theses and in-your-face storylines; however, we must also remember that the performers we follow on Instagram and sing along to on our walk to class are ultimately human beings too. They have good days, they have bad days and they have larger bank accounts than the average college student. In Eilish’s interview with Genius, she said the questions she sings at the beginning of “bury a friend” are inspired by the real-life monster under her bed.
These monsters ask her questions like “Why don’t you run from me?” and “Why aren’t you scared of me?” In “bury a friend,” Eilish bears her soul to her young audience in the same in-your-face fashion as the album that turned her into musical dynamite, but this song resonated a little differently. Bold lyrical statements regarding suicide and caving into inner demons make it difficult to move on to the next track when this one ends.
It’s a track that supersedes the boundaries of haunting — the track buries itself under your skin. The unsettling high-low octave blends of Eilish’s voice sound like something straight from a nightmare. For someone already struggling with their demons, the track is more than horrifying – it reiterates the voices of anxiety and depression, two things scarier than fictitious monsters.
As an avid Eilish fan, the takeaway here is that her contemporary production-driven tracks are ear candy that my sonic sweet tooth cannot get enough of, and “bury a friend” is no exception.
However, as a human being, everyone must be reminded that no matter what you are going through, physically, emotionally or mentally, there are people out there to talk to and help you get through your most challenging moments. You are not alone.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-783-2433. At NYU, contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999.
Email Michael Muth at [email protected].