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Is Billie Eilish the radical saviour pop needs?

In 2018 singer Billie Eilish released her debut album ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’

With it the teenager pretty much immediately changed the face and sound of modern pop music.

Her album won all four of the major categories at the Grammy awards that year. The first time that’s happened since 1981.

Her hit Bad Guy took out the top spot on the Hottest 100, making her both the youngest person to win the countdown and the first solo female artist.

Now, she’s back, with her follow up second record: ‘Happier Than Ever’.

It’s a very different sounding album, and it feels like a response to the immense pressure and scrutiny she’s faced since becoming a pop superstar. 

To talk about it, and the way Billie Eilish is reshaping the music industry around herself, we’re joined on the show by music critic for The Saturday Paper, Shaad D’Souza.

 

Guest: Music critic for The Saturday Paper, Shaad D’Souza

Show Transcript

OSMAN:

Hey there, I'm Osman Faruqi and welcome to The Culture, a weekly show from Schwartz Media, where we take a deep dive into the latest in the world of music, streaming, TV, film and everything in arts and entertainment.
 

In 2018 singer Billie Eilish released her debut album: ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
 

With it, the teenager pretty much immediately changed the face and sound of modern pop music.


The album won all four of the major categories at the Grammy Awards that year. The first time that’s happened since 1981.
 

Her hit song Bad Guy took out the top spot on the Hottest 100, making her both the youngest person ever to win the countdown and the first solo female artist.

 

Now, Billie’s back, with her follow up second record: Happier than ever.

 

It’s a very different sounding album, and it really feels like a response to the immense pressure and scrutiny that she’s faced since becoming a pop superstar. 

 

To talk about it, and the way that Billie Eilish is reshaping the music industry around herself, I’m joined on the show by music critic for *The Saturday paper*, Shaad D’Souza. Shaad, thanks for joining me on The Culture!

 

SHAAD: 

Thank you for having me back. 

 

OSMAN:

I can’t wait to talk about this album with you, but before we get into it let’s set the scene a bit. Can you tell me about what the build up to all this has been like has been like? I mean Billie Eilish is one of the biggest and most successful musicians in history already off the back of just one album. The expectation must be huge?

 

SHAAD: 

I mean, second album for any pop star, it's, uh, people call it kind of like a crucial time. I don't know how true that is anymore, but I guess kind of like ideologically, spiritually, like second album, especially if someone like Billie, you know, her first album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go, came out in 2019. It was huge. She swept the Grammys and became like the second person ever to do that in the big four categories. Massive album had a number one hit in Bad Guy and it kind of turned her into this gigantic star. And the thing that I think adds a little to the pressure of Billie as a big pop star is that she kind of became known for being weird or for lack of a better term. And the music that she became really popular with was a little bit abrasive. And so there are kind of these like intense sounds, uh, in the songs, like there's a very dark tone to it. And the kind of aesthetic for the whole record was quite ghoulish and weird. And like she had green hair and she...

 

OSMAN:

Very witchy sort of vibes.


SHAAD: 

Yeah, totally like this really intense, kind of like gothic, kind of like very macabre teen thing. And so, if you were Billie, you'd be very stressed out about this idea that you had been typecast, because it's pretty interesting. You listen to the album and of course, you hear all these this kind of like macabre affect. But like the songwriting itself is not that necessarily untraditional. All the big moments on the record, like a song like When The Party's Over, which is like I still believe it's probably kind of like her best song

 

Archival Tape -- WHEN THE PARTY’S OVER - BILLIE EILISH:

“Call me friend but keep me closer (call me back)

And I'll call you when the party's over.”

 

SHAAD: 

And so then over the past couple of years she's been, releasing kind of increasingly low key singles. So the roll out for this album- so this album came out on July 30th, the first single from it came out on July 30th, 2020. So it's been a year build or what we might call like anti-build because she's, the singles are so low key and so obviously immediately anyone kind of a little bit keyed in is like something has changed or something will change. 

 

OSMAN:
And in between her first album and this one, she also recorded the theme to the upcoming James Bond film, No Time To Die. I think it’s pretty good! I mean it’s no Skyfall, the one by Adele, which I think is the best Bond theme ever, but it’s pretty incredible for someone her age to have that kind of feather in cap.

 

SHAAD: 

Um, OK, first I would be, I would say so many significant kind of needle pushing pop stars have been teenagers, so that's like Lorde specifically.

 

Archival Tape -- ROYALS - LORDE:

“And we'll never be royals (royals)

It don't run in our blood

That kind of luxe just ain't for us.”

 

SHAAD: 

Royals, really kind of like changed the way Top 40 Pop sounded. Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights came out when she was 16. 

 

Archival Tape -- WUTHERING HEIGHTS - KATE BUSH:

Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff, it's me, Cathy

I’ve come home, I'm so cold.”

 

SHAAD: 

Odd Future, Tyler was 16 or 17.

Archival Tape -- YONKERS - TYLER THE CREATOR:

“Swallow the cinnamon, I'mma scribble this sin and shit

While Syd is telling me that she's been getting intimate with men

(Syd, shut the fuck up) Here's the number to my therapist

(Shit) You tell him all your problems, he's fucking awesome with listening.”

 

SHAAD: 

Taylor Swift, to a lesser degree, didn't really change things aesthetically. But, you know, a very significant artist, and so many more examples.

But I think Billie is an interesting case and always has been, because if you're looking for it, you could see in Billie either someone incredibly radical and transgressive, or you could see someone incredibly traditionalist. And both sides exist in her. But people seem kind of like hard pressed to take in both at the same time. It's polarising not in that people love or hate her, but just in what people find in her. And so on one hand you're like, 'Oh my God, this girl was like these crazy nails and this green hair, like she won all the Grammys and did a James Bond theme'. And then on the other hand, you're like the way she sings, has so much vibrato and is so kind of like quote unquote soulful or quote unquote jazzy. Um, she sings really traditional ballads and her music is really sedate. And then of course you have the fact that she is a young white woman, and like that's kind of the oldest pop star archetype in the book. And so, you know, she had this kind of quite crazy look and like these crazy aesthetics, like, you know, bleeding from her eyes and her music videos and stuff. But like, it's not really any degree removed from the realm of like what the pop industry likes to grab hold of. So, yeah, it's- it's quite interesting because if you were being extremely cynical, and sometimes I do feel this way, you could be like Billie is the natural representation of the music industry finding its footing in a landscape that was about to be dominated by these macabre, kind of like Soundcloud rappers and that kind of thing. And Billie is the natural embodiment of how the industry would co-opt something like that. And I don't think that's necessarily 100% true. But I think she is a great vessel for establishment figures to kind of like feel like zeitgeist-y, while still sticking entirely with what they know. 

 

OSMAN:

That's a really fantastic framing. One of Billie’s first songs to blow up was Ocean Eyes, which she dropped back in 2016. I wonder if you can just give us fill in the- fill in the blanks for us a little bit. How does she go from releasing that one track back on Soundcloud to then releasing the biggest record in the world a couple of years later? What happened in between?

 

SHAAD: 

She released this song Ocean Eyes that she produced and recorded with her brother Finneas. 

 

Archival Tape -- OCEAN EYES - BILLIE EILISH:

“Those ocean eyes
No fair.”

SHAAD: 

He's a very important figure in this. They make all their music together. She's never worked with an outside producer.

 

Archival Tape -- OCEAN EYES - BILLIE EILISH:

“You really know how to make me cry

When you gimme those ocean eyes

I'm scared.”

 

SHAAD: 

It blows up on SoundCloud. And then she releases an EP. It's called Don't Smile at Me. And that has a bunch of OK tracks. That's probably kind of like the weakest part of her oeuvre, she was very much finding her footing then, and like I remember a lot of the songs on Don't Smile at Me are kind of like busker-ey.

 

Archival Tape -- BELLYACHE - BILLIE EILISH:

(Guitar)

 

SHAAD: 

Like this song Bellyache. It's built around this kind of like acoustic guitar riff and like some synths and I was very like...

 

Archival Tape -- BELLYACHE - BILLIE EILISH:

“Where's my mind?”

 

SHAAD: 

...Ugh, like it...it just wasn't nice to me. And then, um, When We All Fall Asleep Where Dso We Go, I don't like love that record, but I think it's really, some of it's really good.

 

Yeah and she's someone who like, we'll get to this when you talk about Happier Than Ever because I think it's like a marked improvement on the other one, which is kind of saying something. But like I think you can really see her evolution as a songwriter, as a melody writer. 

 

Archival Tape -- BILLIE EILISH - VEVO INTERVIEW:

IN: But the process was very natural...

 

OUT: ...And I actually feel much more confident in my craft now...

 

SHAAD: 

But yeah, I think she is someone who keeps getting better and better and better.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

OSMAN:

So since that record came out, this- one of the key discussion points around, Billie, is the immense pressure and that that has resulted from the fame, the, the having a massively successful album, a sold out global tour, being in the public eye so often as a teenager. We've seen it before, but we were seeing it in real time again with, with Billie. 

 

Archival Tape -- GAYLE KING INTERVIEWS BILLIE EILISH:

 

IN: I don’t want to be too dark but I genuinely didn’t think I’d make it to 17…

 

OUT: ...I remember crying because the way I was gonna die was because I was gonna do it

 

OSMAN:

She's been quite vocal and upfront about the way that that has impacted her. I mean, I, um, I'm just, you know, an idiot with a podcast. And when I go on Twitter, I find it very overwhelming and stressful. She's talked a lot about even her fans, who she says want to support her and, and show their love for her. The way that they interact with her, the way that she's constantly picked apart and scrutinised is something that has really changed the way she thinks about the world and her art. Can you talk me through some of the things she's told us about that? 

 

SHAAD: 

I personally think it's unethical for industry machinations to make teenagers so incredibly famous. And like, obviously, you can choose to be that famous when you're young or whatever, but like, it makes me extremely depressed. And I think it should be illegal for people so young to be famous. And I think it should be, I think they should be like some equivalent to child labour laws around, like exploiting young people for that their art.

 

OSMAN:

And there's also a spectrum right? It doesn't mean that they might not- If someone's 17 year old girl wants to make a record, that doesn't need to necessarily mean you need to also have this kind of intense public persona or social media presence where you are constantly available, putting yourself out to the world. It doesn't need to be everything right? 

 

SHAAD: 

Exactly. And Billie- for Billie it's compounded because she was kind of an Instagram celebrity first, a musician second for a period of time. Um, she was known for, like, wearing these crazy outfits and, and for having this really striking look. And her username, where are the avocado's, it's like, you know, it was very that kind of like, influencer vibe. But it makes me really sad. And again, we can talk about this when we get into the album because the album's very deeply sad, but like it never feels anything other than quite wrong to me that there are teams of like grown adults whose job it is to make these kids the most famous people in the world. I mean, we live in this, like, cult of celebrity that obviously has something to do with it. Like, people are desperate for like idols and icons and stuff. But like, in a perfect world, I don't think anyone would be that famous. And I don't think anyone would be kind of like thrust into fame so fast if they did have to be that famous, like, being a teenager is already the most horrifying thing. And then she has, like, people kind of like scrutinising her body and like picking apart her day to day choices and that kind of thing. And she's kind of opened up in interviews around this album about how...yeah, horrifying that all is. And the album is very much about that as well. 

 

OSMAN:

Can you talk to me about her, her monologue, which is a bit of a response to a lot of this?

 

Archival Tape -- NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY -  BILLIE EILISH:

(Instrumental)

 

SHAAD: 

Yeah. So during the last tour there would be a section of the tour where there would be a video on screen of her kind of undressing. And then over the top, there's a spoken word monologue, um, where she kind of talks about how people are constantly scrutinising her and like it ends with her saying, like, is that my responsibility? Like what other people think of me? 

 

Archival Tape -- NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY -  BILLIE EILISH:

Some people hate what I wear

Some people praise it

Some people use it to shame others

Some people use it to shame me.”

 

SHAAD: 

It is the kind of centrepiece of this record.

 

Archival Tape -- NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY -  BILLIE EILISH:

But I feel you watching

Always.”

 

SHAAD: 

It is a very powerful indictment of how much stress and pressure is put upon her.

 

OSMAN:

In the immediate leadup to the new album, Happier Than Ever, we saw Billie reveal a new look - she did these cover shoots for Vogue where she was going for what kind of 1950s Hollywood aesthetic. It was pretty different from what we’d seen before, it seemed like a pretty significant and deliberate attempt to change her public image?

 

SHAAD: 

Yeah, in her Vogue cover story, she styled herself in Burberry corsets. She styled it herself and it was like the cover story written by Laura Snapes was kind of like all about her struggles with body image and, and very much like 'I'm doing this because I feel empowered to do it. I want to wear these corsets because people get mad at me, and like I don't give a shit because it's my body'. Yeah, obviously she used to wear these really baggy clothes and then she kind of stopped and then, people would use the paparazzi photos of her as these kind of like, ideological weapons for lack of a better term. And she kind of made it clear that she didn't want to be an advocate for anything and she didn't want to be an example of anything bad or good, like she just wanted to be a person, as everyone does.

 

OSMAN:

And even from the moment that we saw that kind of changed visual aesthetic of Billie, it seemed like the new record was going to be quite different to the first one. The idea of a, a goth-y, witch-y, sound didn't quite seem like what we were going to get this time. But I have to say, even knowing that and even that being flagged by her through the release of some of the singles, I've been pretty surprised by how different this sound- you spoke of the start of this chat Shaad about is Billie a progressive, radical artist in terms of redefining what Pop sounds like, or is she a traditionalist? Is she a return to something that has defined pop for so long? I think that's such an interesting and important framing for it. When I think- when I listening to this record, you and I were messaging a little bit and I said it's first track- I was one or two tracks- and I'm like this is kind of adult contemporary Regina Spektor sort of vibes. And you're like, I think it's more Norah Jones. And I think that's right. And to me it is a little bit weird and so surprising that we're talking about Billie Eilish's second record and we're talking about terms like adult contemporary Norah Jones. Um, and it does fit in with that aesthetic, that kind of visual rebrand as well. But it feels like a hard turn. Talk to me about how you feel listening to the album, your immediate reactions.

 

SHAAD: 

OK, do you want to- first do you want to get my Galaxie brain take on it? 

 

OSMAN:

Absolutely. Let's go.

 

SHAAD: 

So, maybe this is me getting kind of a bit conspiracy theorist. But, obviously first album Billie, she looks crazy and cool and weird, but is making traditional music. It's kind of- it's a kind of sheep in wolf's clothing. Um, for the music industry to be able to capitalise on abrasive and transgressive sounds without it being very abrasive and transgressive. If you were Billie Eilish, you hated the fact that you were potentially being made into kind of like a scapegoat or a tool for something that you didn't necessarily connect with. You hated the fact that people were always kind of like telling you what to do or the people had expectations of you. In many ways, the most rebellious thing you could do would be to do a complete about face and lean into this archetypal role as like a very traditional, normal pop star. And so the most normal thing you could do would be to bleach your hair back- back to blonde, no matter how intense the process was. And I think she earnestly really likes this music. She's namesake's people like Julie London and Frank Sinatra, which is like really crazy. Like I didn't know...they really know the people like listened to that music.

 

Archival Tape -- BILLIE EILISH - VEVO INTERVIEW:

IN: I wanted to make a very timeless record…

 

OUT: ...The songs in the album are all over the place and, um, very versatile

 

SHAAD: 

I think she genuinely wanted that. But also there's something almost kind of like trollish and very cool and very genuinely rebellious about not giving in to this idea that you are a vessel to sell something back to the kids, you know. It's so much harder to position this record as like something trendy or like a commodification of any kind of trend or aesthetic because it's so like, 'Like what? Like why?' Yeah so, my kind of Galaxy brain, my instinct is that she's very consciously stepping into this role that only she can call the shots on. And of course we know that her and Finneas only made that music together. Like I doubt much label meddling happens. But like, it would be very easy to feel like to a point you were just doing what other people wanted you to do and you liked it.

 

OSMAN:

Yeah I think there's some evidence for that, like Billie says very upfront, that she doesn't think about singles or hits and she kind of doesn't like the idea that she has to pick them because she just makes music. And what she thinks works is often not what resonates. I think a lot of artists say that very few artists are like, this is the song that I want to be a huge hit, especially when they're about to drop an album and they want everyone to listen to the album. But the tracks that have been released as singles so far, none of them feel anywhere near as sort of breakthrough or as, you know, huge as a song like Bad Guy, for example. But the album, when you listen to it in totality, does feel quite coherent. It does feel like there's a specific project there. Talk to me a bit more about how you felt, because you're right, it is disarming and a bit disconcerting when you first put it on your like. All right, we're doing something very different here. That's certainly how I felt. But tell me about your reactions. 

 

SHAAD: 

Yeah. So I really liked the singles. I love My Future, which is the first one that came out a year ago. 

 

Archival Tape -- MY FUTURE -  BILLIE EILISH:

“But I, I'm in love (love, love, love, love)

With my future.”

 

SHAAD: 

I love Lost Cause, which is this kind of like RnB, like it's kind of like a kiss off track, but she's still singing really quietly. 

 

Archival Tape -- LOST CAUSE -  BILLIE EILISH:

“But you got no job

You ain't nothing but a lost cause

And this ain't nothing like it once was

I know you think you're such an outlaw (think you're such an outlaw)

But you got no job.”

 

SHAAD: 

But yeah, my instinct is that I really like it. And I think her sense of a melody is so strong here and so incredible. I think the lyrics are really beautiful. It's really sad. Like I find it pretty hard to listen to it because it is so sad. And this first song Getting Older where she sings about how she hates making music now…

 

Archival Tape -- GETTING OLDER -  BILLIE EILISH:

“Things I once enjoyed

Just keep me employed now

Things I'm longing for, mmm

Someday, I'll be bored of

It's so weird.”

 

SHAAD: 

...Um, because it's just like what people expect of her.

 

OSMAN:

It used to be a fun thing and now it's just a job that she doesn't like.

 

SHAAD: 

Yeah. Exactly.

 

Archival Tape -- GETTING OLDER -  BILLIE EILISH:

That we care so much until we don't

 

SHAAD: 

I really like it. Um, I would remove a- anywhere between four and six songs.

 

OSMAN:

It is really long. It's 16 tracks and some of them are like long tracks as well

 

SHAAD: 

It's an hour. It is an hour of music. I mean, it's like listening to it, I was like, 'Oh my God, this is-' and like I don't mind records being that long. I mean, Os, you and I are both big fans of the band Vampire Weekend.

 

OSMAN:

We are, we are. 

 

SHAAD: 

They released an hour and six minute, uh, album called Father of the Bride. But it's like, that's such a grab bag and you can kind of just like go in anywhere, and there's big peaks and valleys, and you can tune out. And then this is this 16 track, 56 minute record where kind of so like nearly every line counts, like there are lots of production choices that, you know, really lend themselves to kind of headphones and stuff. It's all really low key. It's all really down and it feels pretty like intense to get through. And so my instinct would actually be that all the kind of like banger-y tracks, all the ones that you kind of closest to Bury A Friend or a Bad Guy, they're the other ones I would probably cut. So I would probably ditch. Sorry, I'm just telling...

 

OSMAN:

Tell me what you'd cut, I love this.
 

SHAAD: 

So ditch Oxytocin, which is what I see a lot of people talking about

 

Archival Tape -- OXYTOCIN -  BILLIE EILISH:

“I can see it clear as day

You don't really need a break

Wanna see what you can take

You should really run away.”

 

OSMAN:

That's- but you're right, that's the one people are talking about because they're talking about it as this is the closest to a breakthrough hit that people who like Billie want. 

 

Archival Tape -- OXYTOCIN -  BILLIE EILISH:

“I wanna do bad things to you (To you)

Don't wanna treat you well (Well)

Can't take it back once it's been set in motion.”

 

SHAAD: 

I ditch Oxytocin, I ditch Goldwing. I ditch, uh, I ditch Not My Responsibility and the reason for that- so that's the monologue that was in the live show. And I think it's one of those things that works amazingly in a live show and in the album, the album is so nuanced and so amazingly written. And I find it so, um, like intimate like in terms of her outlook or whatever, that Not my Responsibility, I find actually comes across more ham-fisted than anything else on the record. And like I think she says everything she says in that song in a much more subtle and interesting way elsewhere. So I get rid of that. I get rid of Overheated. 

 

OSMAN:

I love this kind of review where we just list the tracks that we want to cut. This is great, this should be a new thing that we do.

 

SHAAD: 

Yeah, yeah I get rid of Overheated. And I get rid of NDA and Therefore I Am. So...

 

OSMAN:

That's- what are you- what are you left with?

 

SHAAD: 

I'm thinking that's about six songs, so we're left with the ten very sedate songs, apart from Happier Than Ever. 

 

Archival Tape -- HAPPIER THAN EVER -  BILLIE EILISH:

You call me again, drunk in your Benz

Drivin' home under the influence.”

 

SHAAD: 

And so I think what happens in this 10-song version of the album is that you have very kind of like mid highs until the end when you have this fucking rager track.

 

Archival Tape -- HAPPIER THAN EVER -  BILLIE EILISH:

“And I don't talk shit about you on the internet

Never told anyone anything bad

'Cause that shit's embarrassing, you were my everything.”

 

SHAAD: 

Which my my instinct was that I was like, I'm done with this 90s rock thing. We both listen to the Olivia Rodrigo album. 

 

OSMAN:

Yeah, it reminded me a lot of that, bringing back the pop punk sort of vibe.

 

SHAAD: 

But I like it, if the album was shorter and it built to this psychotic peak where she just screams like I love it. 

 

Archival Tape -- HAPPIER THAN EVER -  BILLIE EILISH:

(Screaming)

 

SHAAD: 

But in general I think song to song, apart from probably like NDA, Overheated and Oxytocin, which I think are underwritten in a sense, I think it's like beautifully written. I think she's gotten so, so good. I love how low-key it is. She's found better context for her voice, which I, I was, I was reading my review of the first one for The Paper yesterday, and I was like, this is a really random review. But like I don't not agree. Like, I was like, she sounds really anonymous when she uses a soulful affectation. But here she obviously wants to do that more and has written melodies that suit it more and is working with production that suits her more. 

 

OSMAN:

I mean, I agree with you that it's long. I hadn't quite and got to the point of which ones I want to cut and some of the ones that you want to cut. I would probably want to keep. But all of that said, I think you're right in the sense that by the time you get to the end of this album, you are kind of exhausted. You kind of have had the same, you've been on the same level for a very, very long time. And then you get to the second last track, which is Happier Than Ever, which is the longest track. It's just under five minutes long. And the second half of that track in particular is this huge, you know, boost the energy levels just go up. There's that kind of distorted guitar. There's her screaming. And you're kind of like you sort of wake up a little bit then, like, all right, let's do this again. And then, you know, I don't really want to go through 14 tracks again before I get to this one. So I think you're right in terms of how maybe some choices and some more some more confidence almost in being able to say I'm disconnecting from that sound that you expect and want, even though a lot of the album is doing that and just saying has a tight project that is different. It's what I want to be now. It's vulnerable. The music writing is tight, it's melodic, and you can just listen to it, you know, five times in a row. And it's going to be a great time. 

 

SHAAD: 

My other thing is like even though it's so low key, I find it really fun when she does experiment within the confines of that. And so like, I Didn't Change My Number

 

Archival Tape -- I DIDN’T CHANGE MY NUMBER -  BILLIE EILISH:

I didn't change my number

I only changed who I reply to

Laura said I should be nicer

But not to you

I love a "You mad at me?" text.”

 

SHAAD: 

I love like that kind of like hotline bling. Kind of like organ loop or whatever and like the way she's kind of like telling this guy like, 'Oh all my friends told you you were shit and like I should have believed them'. Um, Billie bossanova, um I also really like which is she, I saw in like the Spotify notes that it's kind of this like fantasy of just like meeting up with someone in a hotel and stuff. And like I think that the writing on that is really interesting and like, um, really vivid, um, like Lost Cause, which is obviously that kind of like this really stripped back and be one that's like anthemic but not anthemic. Like, I think that song’s incredible. Like she has so much like when it's not quite morose, it's like really fun and like the fact that it's low key doesn't prohibit it. If anything, it has more, it's more dynamic than the first one emotionally and kind of stylistically, even though it is quiet and weird, you know, and yeah, and the end is obviously much heavier than the start.

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OSMAN:

Let's talk about some of the themes that she's talking about or singing about on the record. Uh, you mentioned the British Vogue cover. She also did a cover feature for Vogue Australia friend of the Brodie Lancaster.

 

SHAAD: 

Former neighbour, Queen.

 

OSMAN:

In the interview, she talked about how much her guard had been up over the last couple of years and how she was wanting to use this album as a way or she's using this album as a way, I think, to let her guard down a bit. And it's really interesting because the tracks that you've been talking about and some of the best tracks are her talking about relationships and break-ups. And that's something that I did not see coming. It wasn't something that was part of a public or social media narrative of Billie. 

 

SHAAD: 

When I listened, I was surprised that it was a Break-Up album. I mean, I would say I'm pretty kind of keyed into what's up with Billie, but I didn't watch the documentary because the run time kind of scared me off. It's like two and a half hours or three hours or something. She like I knew she had kind of been alluding to having dated people and stuff like that, but I was, yeah, really surprised. And yeah, a lot of the best songs on the record are like, um, Break-Up Break-Up songs like Happier Than Ever. Um I Didn't Change My Number, like Lost Cause are all really kind of like um sassy and weird and like um I feel like she strikes a really good balance between kind of like um windedness and defensiveness and kind of like aggression. Like it feels really truthful. I mean, what's so interesting about Billie is that to some degree she's kind of cypher and like because she's been famous since the start, I feel like the guards were already up for her to have at least some level of privacy. And obviously that kind of worked and didn't work. But like, um, yeah, I don't know. I feel like even though people know a lot about her, she's not one of those people whose life is kind of like narrative-ised in the public realm, you know, not in the same way that kind of like Taylor Swift's was, or like, um, I don't know, pretty much any pop star's is, or like, oh, any rappers is, you know. And so, yeah, that's the other thing about this record is that like I think for the first time, you know, in a long time listening to a big budget pop record, I don't feel like this is commentary on the media narrative of her life. I feel like it is like a genuine document of her life, which is kind of an, a remarkable thing to hear in a pop record, to be really honest. 

 

OSMAN:

And you mentioned this idea that, you know, the music is produced and written by her and her brother Finneas together. And you suggest that perhaps, you know, not a lot of label involvement in that, and I think that also checks I think it makes sense she's able to just make the music that she wants to make because she's locked in a studio with her brother. Uh, Finneas produced all of this record as he did the first record. What do you think about the decision to do that, do you think it's a safe choice? Would you like to see her work with some other producers? Do you think that might elicit something more exciting than what we're getting from Billie at the moment? 

 

SHAAD: 

Uh, it depends on your definition of exciting. I don't really know what- what another hit from her would look like, and because she's only ever worked with Finneas, it's kind of hard to say, and it's impossible to know what her- what music with other people would sound like. My instinct would be that like if they work well together, why not just work together? Because really what we're seeing here is that Finneas doesn't necessarily have any kind of like production quirks in the same way that we know someone like Jack Antonoff does. Um, and like Billie...

 

OSMAN:

Thank God there is one pop star right now who is not working with Jack Antonoff. I know that your pro Jack Antonoff, I'm largely...

 

SHAAD: 

I'm not pro Jack Antonoff. Didn't you know that?

 

OSMAN:

Oh, I'm confusing you with somebody else. 

 

SHAAD: 

You definitely are, the amount of shit I've talked on that guy. Anyway, um, yeah, I like, uh, I feel like it would be much of a muchness for her to work with someone else because it's like if your songwriting obviously is naturally evolving, you obviously can naturally do it yourself. Your brother is an in-house producer who can do any style that you want. It seems like it would just be pretty arbitrary and more kind of like, um, fervour for the narrative than anything for her to work with, like, I don't even know who, apart from Jack Antonoff, would be the right producer for her to work with. I was, actually on the way here, I was kind of trying to think about who in kind of like a dream pairing I would put her with. And I don't think there's anyone that really jumps out in the same way that, like, I have like a laundry list of people I would love Taylor Swift to work with. 

 

OSMAN:

Yeah. Yeah. 

 

SHAAD: 

Um, like I've no idea what will happen next, which is kind of an exciting way to feel. 

 

OSMAN:

I mean, it's a great way to feel, if the fact that we can get things that are so different from someone like her at this stage, I'm excited to see what the next thing is. It could be more like this. It could be something totally different as well. 

 

SHAAD: 

Um yeah. I feel like it's really hard to say where she's going to go next and like, you know, considering what a rough go of it she's had, I think that's probably a really good thing. And I hope she gets to take a lot of time off. 

 

OSMAN:

Shaad D’Souza, what a great way to leave it. Thanks so much for chatting to me on The Culture today. 

 

SHAAD: 

Thank you for having me.

 

OSMAN:

The Culture is a weekly show from Schwartz Media.

 

It's produced by Bez Zewdie and Atticus Bastow, Our editor-in-chief is Erik Jensen, and our theme music is by Hermitude.

 

I’m Osman Faruqi, see ya next week.

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