No singer has taken over pop culture so completely the way Billie Eilish has in the past few years. From teenaged underground upstart to ‘world-famous singer’ in about ten seconds flat, Eilish has had the kind of rapid rise that often overshadows the music itself.
Luckily, Eilish’s music is unique enough that it holds up to scrutiny. Produced with her brother Finneas, Eilish employs stark contrasts and slightly demented soundscapes that turned bedroom pop into nightmare fuel. It would have been oppressive had it not been so damn catchy.
After the wild success of her debut LP When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Eilish took a slightly jazzier route with this year’s Happier Than Ever. In between, she sang one of the best James Bond themes in recent memory and was able to at least slightly curtail the massive whirlwind of fame around her. As live performance becomes more widespread, it looks as though Eilish will be taking festivals by storm this summer, gaining her place at the top of the pop mountain.
In honour of the artist’s 20th birthday, we’ve compiled 20 of her best songs so far. For someone so young, it’s amazing how much quality material Eilish has been able to crank out. Here are the best of the bunch.
Billie Eilish’s 20 best songs:
From her most recent release Happier Than Ever, ‘Oxytocin’ is the perfect example of Eilish taking catchy elements and making them ever so slightly unsettling. The over-sexualisation of someone who is still for all intents and purposes a child is the darkest streak that runs through Eilish’s celebrity, but shout out to her for apparently seducing the Almighty herself.
19. ‘Bad Guy’
So, here we are at Eilish’s biggest hit. And so soon, too. Why so low on the list? Because it’s Eilish at her most populist, going broader and catchier and weirder but only to a certain extent before it all becomes incredibly… uncomfortable.
Is there something incredibly creepy about a 17-year-old bragging about seducing your dad? Sure. Do I feel icky just typing out the lines “I’ll let you play the role / I’ll be your animal” in regards to a kid? For sure. Is this all the point? Probably. But Eilish is a lot more than just ‘Bad Guy’, and that’s why it’s not higher on this ranking.
This take on party culture isn’t exactly the most subtle or nuanced, and the Uber reference is probably either going to age amazingly or horribly but definitely one or the other. But otherwise, it’s an incisive look into the world of braindead wastoids who would rather hide behind the second hadn’t smoke than sharing anything beyond ashtrays.
For anyone that thinks that Eilish is just a whisper-thin ghost of a singer, take a listen to ‘Bored’, in which she gets some great trills and melody lines that utilise her full vocal range.
This 13 Reasons Why soundtrack cut was one of the earliest Eilish tracks and it set the perfect precedent for her future work.
16. ‘You Should See Me In a Crown’
The peak of Eilish’s mix of dubstep-adjacent electronica and minimalist ambience, ‘You Should See Me In a Crown’ is more often than not the track I’ve found has either converted non-believers or solidified their distaste for the artist.
There’s no going back after ‘You Should See Me In a Crown’, not that anyone who loves the song would want to.
15. ‘Billie Bossa Nova’
How successful was Eilish’s transition into the world of Amy Winehouse? Depends on who you ask, but the greater integration of live instrumentation and less synthetic production will probably age better than the somewhat lukewarm reception that Happier Than Ever received upon release.
‘Billie Bossa Nova’ is the biggest left turn into actually comforting sonic stylings, and it remains the most surprising evolution so far from the young singer.
Remember folks: there was a time when Billie Eilish wanted to be Lana Del Rey. Her collaboration with Khalid is a lovely slice of piano pop, but it’s clearly an early stepping stone for the singer.
The biggest problem with ‘Lovely’ is that Khalid sings circles around Eilish, but the song is so indelible that it has to take a spot on this list.
For how strongly she is influenced by hip hop, it’s surprising that Eilish doesn’t have more rap crossover tracks in her catalogue. Don’t Smile at Me‘s closing track features Vince Staples stepping in for exactly 25 seconds to contribute a short guest verse, but the rest of the song is another memorable and fatalistic track that brings in sound effects to create a dense backing track that sticks with you.
12. ‘I Love You’
Anyone who was surprised by Eilish’s radical turn into the acoustic guitar-led world of Happier Than Ever actually got tipped off that this was the future on the penultimate track to When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, ‘I Love You’. In an alternate universe, Eilish might have been a fascinating mirror image of Phoebe Bridgers if all of her tracks sounded like ‘I Love You’.
11. ‘When the Party’s Over’
Finneas is the not-so-secret weapon in Eilish’s corner: producer, songwriter, musician and moral support. Her brother is the one who tosses her the softballs that let her hit home runs out of the park, giving her the ideal set-up to tap into her darker emotions. No song in her catalogue uses stillness and quiet quite in the same way that ‘When the Party’s Over’ does.
It’s oppressive and all-consuming.
10. ‘Therefore I Am’
The closer that Eilish gets to conventionality, the stranger she gets. It’s a bizarre contradiction, but ‘Therefore I Am’ is the perfect example.
What would be a standard R&B/hip hop track in anyone else’s hands feels cold, removed, and biting with Eilish spewing burns like she’s barely awake and definitely not paying attention. It should be an unfocused mess, but instead, it’s one of her catchiest songs. Go figure.
9. ‘Getting Older’
‘Getting Older’, brings together all the thoughts that no 19 year old should ever have to think about: ageing gracefully, being past your prime, not being ungrateful. She acknowledges that, no matter how supportive friends or family or industry professionals or adoring fans might be, she’s going through it all alone.
The strangers that meet her at her door might want her, but they don’t want the real Eilish because Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell can’t afford to come to the door.
Don’t Smile at Me looks more and more like a trial run for Eilish in the modern-day as it gets older and older, but a few transcendent tracks have retained the incomparable singular qualities that made her almost fully formed from the start.
That’s what the summery, delightfully contradictory ‘Bellyache’ does, where Eilish can sound downright radiant about murder and guilt. Living in an unsetting world is Eilish’s comfort zone, but it was never in great incongruity than it is here.
7. ‘Lost Cause’
The idea of the “mature” Billie Eilish just feels stupid. I don’t know if anyone ever let her be a kid, but her preoccupation with decidedly adult themes is a throughline that connects all of her work.
‘Lost Cause’ is surface-level amazing, with the Lauryn Hill-like beat and awesome bassline, but a close look finds Eilish roasting this poor person like she’s lived a hundred lives before he’s even begun to grow up in his first.
6. ‘Happier Than Ever’
The title track to her most recent album finds Eilish in a reflective mode. Utilising a slow burn before reaching its guitar hero apex, Eilish revels in the space she gets away from someone with who she might feel bad for separating.
But she knows she’s wasting her breath on this idiot, and once the track kicks into its cathartic finale, ‘Happier Than Ever’ turns into a scorched earth shout-along for the ages.
5. ‘My Strange Addiction’
So yeah, her love of The Office is a big part of Eilish’s identity and her connection to the scores of kids and young adults who also spent years on Netflix watching season after season. I’m more of a Parks and Rec kind of guy, but no song works better as a microcosm for why Eilish is so beloved by so many like ‘My Strange Addiction’.
It helps that it’s a great song, too.
4. ‘Everything I Wanted’
The blissfully downbeat track that actually takes on the other side of love, ‘Everything I Wanted’ doesn’t strike back or kick out at some asshole, nor does it show Eilish teasing with someone who doesn’t stand a chance against her.
It’s about real, strong, fulfilling love. An unexpected turn for sure, but one that Eilish really inhabits with finesse. It is this ability to play into her own emotions that has made Eilish such an authentic and prosperous star.
3. ‘No Time to Die’
It could have just been a paycheque job. That’s what it is to most people who sign on to do a Bond theme, but Eilish had enough skill to actually take the assignment seriously and deliver something for the ages.
Featuring a seamless combinational or her signature deconstructionist style and the usually-bombastic fanfare of a Bond theme, ‘No Time to Die’ is the perfect accompaniment to the darker and more emotional end to the Daniel Craig era of 007.
2. ‘Bury a Friend’
Here in D.C., ‘Bury a Friend’ was the song that was constantly played on alt-rock flagship radio station DC101 upon When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?‘s release. It was positioned as the song that was going to break Eilish in a major way before ‘Bad Guy’ swooped in.
I maintain that ‘Bury a Friend’ is the catchier, more interesting, and better song of the two. In terms of the style that Eilish pioneered in the late 2010s, no song is as nakedly sinister as ‘Bury a Friend’.
1. ‘Ocean Eyes’
It’s kind of amazing that Eilish managed to get it so right so quickly. Thanks to songwriting and production assistance from Finneas, the song that broke the singer into the mainstream remains the most indelible and hypnotising piece of work that Eilish has ever released.
The funny thing is that the pop melody and vulnerability in ‘Ocean Eyes’ wouldn’t necessarily be the factors that carried over to the rest of Eilish’s work. Instead, it remains one of the most enjoyable outliers in her catalogue, and one that is only getting better with age.