Society is funny about teenagers. We are quick to judge and stereotype; we write them off as beings entirely consumed by hormones and emotion, devoid of rational or introspective thought. Often we look at them as half-formed humans; not quite ready yet, still cooking. This is perhaps the reason we are so alarmed when a teenager comes along and offers us especially relevant insight into teen-hood. Fifteen-year-old Billie Eilish is that strange teen angel, watching from on high and providing commentary to her teenage experience with an almost unbelievable sophistication. Her debut EP dont smile at me is out today with Interscope Records and if you aren't paying attention yet, you should be.
Written by both Eilish and her brother Finneas O'Connell (who produces the EP and is nineteen – think about that while you read the rest of this review and possibly while you cook dinner tonight), dont smile at me speaks to every avenue of teenage experience with quiet brilliance. From hating yourself to hating everyone else, from falling in love to falling right out of it, Eilish doesn't preach but rather empathises, and her debut entirely does away with the shopworn notion that teens cannot intellectualise their own experience.
dont smile at me is obvious in its R&B and jazz influences. Both "idontwannabeyouanymore" and "my boy" are rife with R&B beats and odd chords coupled with Eilish's crystal clear vocal, which throws back to crooners like Frank Sinatra. It's the expert production that keeps it from sounding kitschy. Opening with "COPYCAT", Eilish and O'Connell set the soundscape: the electronics are lush and deep, the lyrics wildly clever, and Eilish's vocal floods your brain even as she sounds like she's whispering. In "COPYCAT" and "my boy", Eilish could be chatting to you over ice cream on a hot day in L.A. This is perhaps the most intriguing thing about don't smile at me; in one moment, she sings "my boy's being suss, he was shady enough" and in the next she's crooning "if 'I love you' was a promise, would you break it? If you're honest, tell the mirror what you know she's heard before: I don't wanna be you anymore" It is impossible not to marvel at the David Byrne-esque marriage between layman's terms and poetry in her songwriting. The uncontested highlight of the EP is "idontwannabeyouanymore". A delicate and poignant tune about being unhappy with your appearance and the way society dictates women's behaviour, it hits home for anybody who has been female and a teenager at one point in time – we all know what it feels like to wish you could slip into somebody, anybody else's skin.
dont smile at me is a sophisticated debut for a remarkable woman, one that will no doubt solidify Eilish as a major player in the pop industry in the years to come.