By L Holland, University of Bristol

Billie Eilish’s new album Hit Me Hard and Soft is already fast on its way to becoming her third consecutive number one album. This album is reminiscent of her first – where her second album Happier Than Ever looked forwards, “I’m in love with my future, can’t wait to meet her”, this album looks backwards, showing grief and love for her 2019 self. It is, in her own words, “the most ‘me’ thing that [she’s] ever made”..

Notably, the album has been released without singles. Eilish explained her logic behind this in Rolling Stone:

Every single time an artist I love puts out a single without the context of the album, I’m just already prone to hating on it. I really don’t like when things are out of context.

For Eilish and her song-writing partner, producer and brother Finneas, this is their response to the removal of songs not only from their album context but from their musical surroundings, with the clipping of songs on TikTok creating viral sounds out of five to ten second bites. In resisting singularity, Eilish follows the likes of Prince, who famously proclaimed at the 2015 Grammys, “albums, like books and black lives, still matter”.

This design of the album as a whole is apparent from the production. Songs flow into each other and often the tune or harmony of the next song occurs before the previous song ends, displacing where the songs start.

We hear this at the end of Skinny, where romantic strings (played by the Attaca Quartet) fade out, before a heavy synthesized beat enters at 3:36, leading into the track Lunch. This encourages us as listeners to listen to the album as a whole, because splitting the songs up would leave a jarring beat floating at the end of one song with no payoff to the other.

Songs across the album will often start one way and end in a very different style. Bittersuite begins with dense synths, fades into sparse, bossa-nova influenced glockenspiel backing and then ends back on droning synths and the tune of the final track, Blue.

The string motif from Blue is teased in the first track Skinny and can be heard in The Greatest, comes halfway through. The motif flows from the very first to the very last track, cementing the work as an “album-ass album” . Across its 44-minute length, Hit Me Hard and Soft encourages us to play through, to slow down, and float through the album.

This whole album is fluid and watery – and not just the album cover, the shoot for which required Eilish to spend six hours underwater. Water itself is the ultimate hard and soft – it can both flow gently and become a hard immovable force when hit too forcefully. But musically the album also evokes this sense of being underwater, often due to Finneas’s production.

Multiple songs feature heavy filters, which make Eilish sound far away or underwater. For example, the middle of L’Amour De Ma Vie features Eilish’s voice put through multiple filters and possibly pitch-altered up, giving her voice a far away, ethereal quality.

The end of Wildflower is similar. The song’s separated coda section also features Eilish’s voice heavily filtered, her voice multiplied and split into open octaves, making it sound like an echo.

The Greatest, arguably the emotional climax of the album, features fluid time-signature changes in the middle, which again signify a kind of watery drift. This is because we cannot predict where the beat will come, as the stresses are uneven, we must simply submit to the song’s ebb and flow.

The lack of singles should not imply that there are no stand-out songs on this album. Lunch is fast becoming a queer summer anthem, cementing Billie’s place as a queer icon and officially adding “to the canon of great songs about eating someone out”. This is currently the only song on the album to have a music video, and it evokes the late 1990s/early 2000s through using digital cameras and retro video effects.

Through references to this era, Eilish makes the song’s explicitly queer nature that much more stark – she retrofits the past with the explicitly queer sexual pop that so many of us craved. As multiple YouTube commenters have noted on the music video, Lunch sees Katy Perry’s 2008 hit I Kissed A Girl, which centres sapphic desire around the male gaze and, in stark contrast, unabashedly shouts about the joys of queer sex:

I could eat that girl for lunch
Yeah, she dances on my tongue
Tastes like she might be the one…
Oh I just wanna get her off

Eilish has described this song as “actually part of what helped me become who I am”. This song is an act of self-actualisation, then, not just for Billie but for the rest of us who grew up queer in the early 2000s. And it’s a banger.The Conversation

L Holland, PhD candidate in Department of Music, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.