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Converting the guardians of the music Golden Age :Billie Eilish and the secret to turning Millennial

Written by RD Morris

As teenage pop phenomenon to newly-blonde bombshell Billie Eilish releases her self-titled photo book, who’s buying it? Great masses of young people have had it on pre-order for months, but Billie’s fan base has grown; beguiled Millennials are now on board.

The revelation that a Gen Z icon was turning older heads came as a surprise to me – a child of the 80s who spends evenings playing prog rock on vinyl, singing along to synth-pop CD compilations and scolding Alexa when she shuffles to anything recently released!

Comfortingly, I’m not alone with my inherent love of retro music. In a study published by Public Library of Science ONE, scientists suggest that we Millennials consider the ‘Golden Age’ of popular music to be from 1960 to 1999, with anything beforehand to be old hat, and everything since to blur into the unmemorable. And yet, I’ve just listened to Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? in its entirety and was immediately ensnared by this new sound. There must be a secret to how she snatched me from the safety of my sentimental song lists.

It’s not just one secret, but three.

1. Genre Bingo

If you search ‘Billie Eilish Genre’, the internet will answer you with one word: Pop. If you listen to Eilish, you will find your mind replying with a variety of search results.

‘Bury A Friend’ pricks Gen Y ears by recalling tunes that for some are simply part of life. Comparisons have already been made with 60s rock classic ‘People are Strange’ by the Doors, but other allusions are also hidden there (depending on the listener). The beats of the song’s beginning bring to mind 70s glam ‘Rock and Roll Part II’ by the rightfully-unpopular Glitter. The jarring noises of twisting screams and wild scratches across violin strings conjure the painful shrieks of performance artist and notorious Beatle wife, Yoko Ono.

‘Bad Guy’ positions itself somewhere between the industrial electronica of ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk, and 80s staple ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order. The finger clicks are resonant of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ and then there’s the video. Everything shouts 90s rave culture through colour, dance and fashion. You’ll think of Mr Oizo but you won’t know why.

I’m not suggesting that any of these are conscious references by Eilish and her brother, Finneas O’Connell, yet I can’t help but believe that golden age music has guided the way the siblings create sound. With Billie breaking from the preconceived idea of the pop star by recreating the feeling of listening to bygone music, it becomes easy for lovers of those decades to enjoy her eclectic tracks.

Therein is secret number one; the free and uninhibited way that Eilish and O’Connell pick and mix sounds reminiscent of other genres provides a sense of security for older listeners.

It is beautifully nostalgic.

2. Talent Show

There are two fundamental factors that elevate Eilish to the level of golden age musicians: texture and lyrical maturity.

Taking just two tracks from the first album, it is clear to hear the artistry in the use of layers. By stacking multiple levels of melody, musical accompaniment and looped effects, these songs become elaborate and unpredictable. Adding such ambient sounds as traffic signals beneath the chorus of ‘Bad Guy’ or a dentist’s drill to the percussive glitches of ‘Bury a Friend’, the music is so laden with texture that it glugs into your ears like a thick syrup.

Imagine Sargent Pepper without a ringing alarm, a cheering crowd or a cockerel. Or Dark Side of The Moon without ticking clocks, a cashier’s till or maniacal laughter. These effects are not new, but they are unusual in the mainstream today. What Eilish and O’Connell achieve in the first album alone is a song list so loaded with sound that it weighs heavy with both audible richness and palpable talent.

Accompanying this musical mastery isn’t the usual unintelligent lyrics of the contemporary pop star. As Billie sings, the construction of true poetry within each verse shines a bright and lyrically-mature beacon. ‘Bury a Friend’ is like reading Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic fiction, poeticised and put into pop.

There is a genius in secret number two; Eilish and O’Connell’s ability to compose music and lyrics rings a loud chord in older ears.

It is unexpectedly intellectual.

3. Finding Fame

Long gone are the days of playing one album at a time after delicately placing the needle at the start of a record, rewinding a cassette tape or placing a CD into your Hi-Fi. Nowadays, everything is at our fingertips – or on command of our lips – and our worlds are more musical for it. With us Millennials rediscovering the music of the golden age by shuffling unlimited catalogues of digital music, how is the modern catching our attention?

Notably given her age, Billie has achieved significant musical heights, yet her style, distinctive hair-do, remarkable influence, eloquence and wit precede her. With the industry, her peers and fans recognising her with countless awards, a Bond song under her belt and a new album release on the horizon, she is hitting the tick-list for music superstardom. And the association with Bond should not be underestimated. For Millennials, that means McCartney and Wings, A-ha, Duran Duran, Connery, Moore and a widely-acknowledged canon of quality and popularity.

That’s secret three; Billie’s been widening her audience without any of us noticing. We recognise her, not knowing how or why.

She is surprisingly, yet comfortingly, familiar.

If the pop music golden age is having a sequel, Billie Eilish is certainly tugging on the ears of other generations to take her towards the hall of fame. By delivering both ability and expressionistic freedom combined with a sensitivity to music history, she has our attention. This may be just the start of her significant career in music.

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