The Listener

Thick 12-year-olds listen to Ariana Granda, smart ones to Billie Eilish

13 April 2019

9:00 AM

13 April 2019

9:00 AM

Grade: A–

If your 12-year-old daughter’s a bit thick, she probably likes Ariana Grande. Come on, dads — you’ve got to face up to this stuff, you’ve got to JUDGE. Be ruthless. If, however, she’s a bit smarter, but also sullen, lazy and probably prone to self-harming, she’ll be a big Billie Eilish fan.

Only just 17, from Los Angeles, Eilish is kind of sparse and woke emo electropop misery, very self-consciously ‘edgy’. An agreeably large number of her songs seem to be about killing herself, or just ceasing to exist. The rest are a little darker, and terminally angst-ridden. She has a very pretty voice, usually deployed as a can’t-give-a-fuck semi-whisper, as if she doesn’t really want to be singing at all and would rather just, like, go back to bed, OK? It’s not the voice of an ingénue, however. It has a rather weary knowingness about it.

A little annoyingly, then, she’s also very talented indeed, even if the lacerating introspection of the lyrics veers between adolescent drama-queen mithering and the frankly indecipherable. The melodies, often provided by her brother, seem wrenched not from generic R&B but have their roots in Weill, or maybe Jacques Brel. But swathed in clever sonics and punctuated by silence or indeterminate noise. The lovely ‘Wish You Were Gay’ is kind of Devon Sproule-ish, if Devon knew where the charts were. ‘Bad Guy’ is catchy, muttered, electropop. The lead single, ‘Bury a Friend’, has a melody that will stick in your head for a week.

If she can resist the temptation to top herself we may have a major talent on our hands.

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