Billie Eilish’s New Single Is a Jubilant Middle Finger
Two years ago this month, I saw Billie Eilish perform live at the 9:30 Club, a space her fame was already outgrowing. The club was set up for maximum capacity, and she performed two shows back to back in an effort to meet the overwhelming demand. I was already a fan of her music, thanks to the influence of my teenage daughter, but that night I was utterly captivated by her energy on stage. Her songs can be dark and disturbing, moody and reflective, but the way she moved across the stage, it was clear that above all she was having a whole hell of fun.
When Billie Eilish released her debut full-length album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? in March of 2019, the songs were a mix of dark (“bury a friend”), wistful (“i love you”), and aching (“xanny”), but my favorites were the ones that captured that irreverent exuberance that had so enchanted me in her performance — her #1 hit “bad guy” being the prime example.
For a teenage girl to sing those songs represented such a reclaiming of power to me. She wasn’t trying to be nice or pretty or any of the things young girls are socialized to be. She was thumbing her nose at convention, dancing all the way to the Grammy’s where she cleaned up awards in a whopping five categories in a single year.
The singles Eilish has released since WWAFAWDWG have leaned in a softer direction. From the sad/sweetness of “everything i wanted” to the voluptuous vocals of “No Time To Die,” there was a maturity to the songs she was releasing, as if wanting to prove how much she had grown up since “ocean eyes” began catapulting her to fame at age 15. Her single “my future” was lovely, and a song even her youngest fans could embrace and sing along without raising any adult eyebrows. And to be clear, I enjoyed those songs. But I wasn’t blasting them in my car.
“Therefore I Am,” on the other hand, will be testing the integrity of my car’s sound system. This song is a bop, even better suited to an in-car boogie than a club (maybe she and brother/collaborator/producer Finneas knew we wouldn’t be seeing the inside of a club anytime soon).
The song drips arrogance — the swagger of someone who knows she’s earned the right to swagger. But it’s not mean, even as the lyrics mock and chide. The energy of the song is the laugh behind a middle finger, the skipping away from a bully who can’t touch you. There’s attitude, sure, but there’s also straight-up fun. Somehow, behind the taunting, there’s a deep well of joy. It’s infectious. I’m smiling all through the music video, watching her cavort around an empty shopping mall. She swipes snacks and sashays across the tiled floors, and all I can think is, I can’t wait to see what she does next.