This week's top 2 artists happen to tie really nicely into last week's picks. I've talked about wanting to discuss Sasha Sloan's Self Portrait EP for like a month now, and I mentioned that last week. Then I sort of impulsively went with Billie Eilish as my second artist for the week. If you missed it, I talked about her brother co-writer, and producer, Finneas, last week. But this week has had Billie Eilish written all over it for me. On the plane ride I took on Saturday, I listened to "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" in full again because I was getting ready to talk about last Wednesday's Grammy nominations on the Empathy Factor podcast. Then I walked into a department store the next day, locked eyes with a pair of scary tall heeled boots with some serious laces and gold hooks all the way up and both fell in love and heard "you should see me in a crown" blaring from them. I love nothing more than a photo or object that I can hear as weird as it sounds. To top it off, Billie smashed the AMAs both as a performer and an audience member and did her third year of doing the same interview with Vanity Fair on YouTube which is always a highlight for me.
I've linked all the songs I talk about to their YouTube videos so you can easily listen to them.
I first got exposed to Sasha Sloan when I put on Harry Style's "Girl Crush" Spotify cover and let the algorithm roll with it's new suggestions. While a lot of what Spotify plays when left to its own devices is kinda meh, I always put it on when I have to clean or do some other task where I can't obsessively skip through the shuffle to see what it'll pull up for me. Sasha has been one of my biggest wins so far.
"Older" stopped me in my tracks. I loved her voice (it sorta reminds me of Julia Michaels), but the opening line whoa. "I used to shut my door/When my mother screamed in the kitchen/I'd turn the music up/Get high and try not to listen/To every little fight/Cause neither one was right/I Swire U;d never be like them/But I was just a kid back then." The imagery is incredible, but, also, it's a song about growing up and understanding why your parents fight. I've never heard a song about that or done from this perspective. It hit me at a moment in my life when I needed it and I relate to it a lot, but it's also just beautifully written, structured, and produced. I would type out the whole song here if I could because every single word is perfection, so just go listen to it here.
When I searched her in Apple Music, her newest EP pops up first. It's called Self Portrait and probably my favorite full EP of hers cause it has the most unique sound of all of them. The themes around most of her work deal with a lot of anxiety and mental health topics and then touch on things like relationships, romantic and friendship and family and self, societal perception, and other unique twists. The whole EP is only 23 minutes and it's worth listening to in full.
Generally when I discover a new album or EP, I make myself listen in order cause the artist arranged them the way they did for a reason, but I couldn't resist clicking on Track 5 from the jump. "At Least I Look Cool" is a title that sucks you in. It got me completely hooked. The song has a super strong baseline and a dark feel akin to Lorde with self deprecating detailed lyrics like Julia. It has a groove. But the whole song is about how she's doing stuff that everyone thinks is awesome but she's dying inside because it's all so not her... but at least she looks cool? I think we've all had those moments in life where we look around and are like "what am I even doing here?" The song starts "I drive a car that doesn't work/I shop at Target for my shirts/When I pay my rent, it hurts/But I got invited to this thing, so/I think I'm goin' out/I'm gettin' off my shitty couch/Ready to fuck my bank account/And I'm not myself but at least I look cool." The rest of it chronicles what goes down at that unwanted night out and the mix of total sincerity and relatable introvert struggle and the total irreverence, just go with it vibe creates the perfect, funny chill out song.
The other two from the EP that I have on my giant playlist are "Thoughts" and "Too Sad To Cry". "Too Sad to Cry" is about depression but written in a way that's so painfully relatable that you want to listen to it regardless of what kind of mood you're in. Her voice is also really pretty on this track. Like all of Sasha's music, it's so lyrically dense with details and constant new content that you want to pay attention and let the pictures form in your mind. Some of my favorite snippets are "Wasn't raised religious/But I wish that I was/Having nothing to believe in/Has been killing my buzz" "I'm too sad to cry/Too high to get up/Don't even try 'cause I'm scared to fuck up" "Lied to my doctor/She knew I was faking/Gave me some pills but I"m too scared to take 'em/I try and I try/But I'm too scared to cry." "Can't tell my mamma/It makes her worry/I'm not suicidal/But sometimes the lines get blurry." I like the song so much because it does what music and stories do at its most powerful: it pointed out places and details and feelings that I wondered if I was alone in and proved that at least one other person knew the exact same feelings.
"Thoughts" has a sort of dreamy, wavy feel in its music. Instead of depression, "Thoughts" dives into insecurity and anxiety. Again, it's the perfect combination of a sound I'm super into and lyrics that are compulsively relatable. This song also has a killer drum beat in the chorus that brings the song up to a new hight. One of my favorite lines that I think so perfectly and honestly takes on the negative side of the self love revolution coin is, "I swear to god I'm trying but sometimes I just don't know how to be, how to be a good friend to me." Sometimes it's harder to love yourself than a health magazine article or a Tweet makes it out to be. Sometimes you don't know why. I also love this line about self depreciation going too far from the start of the chorus, "'Cause I'm scared they're all laughing so I make the joke first/If I beat 'em to the punch, then I can't get hurt." "Thoughts" is such a relatable song because it is both a song about self love and self hate and extremely topical for today. It's clear that she knows logically that she's awesome, or at least doing fine, but there's that horrible inner voice that can't be stopped no matter how much you're told to love every part of yourself.
The rest of the songs are equally as interesting and worth listening to for their inventive subject matter. There's "Thank God" where she talks about how she's watched porn and sworn and will probably end up getting a divorce, and doesn't go to church unless forced so she's thankful that God made hell to give her "A place I can smoke/And tell fucked-up jokes/Eternally just be myself." It's a good laugh in the spirit of "At Least I Look Cool". "Keep On" is a low key power anthem about living with anxiety and that you'll be okay if you just keep it moving. "Dancing with your Ghost" is the most generic break up ballad of the songs, but I love the production and performance on this track, especially the swell into the chorus. Then, finally, "Smiling When I Die" is a total nostalgia song about realizing that you are getting older and growing up and there's no going back. She doesn't want to die with regrets, so she's going to do everything she's been putting off. It's a great song with a great message.
So that's all my thoughts on Sasha Sloan. I know I've compared her to Julia Michaels a ton in this piece, but they definitely work in the same vein and it's rare that I find lyrics that are as detailed and honest as Julia's. If I had to liken her to two artists (which I don't love doing cause everyone is very much their own artist but it's helpful for picking up a vibe) I'd call Sloan Julia Michaels x Lorde.
(Weird side note: I was listening to these tracks off my playlist and Watermelon Sugar came on right after "Thoughts" and, sonically, they actually pair together extremely well and distracted me from writing this post. )
So, at this point, there's no way you haven't heard of Billie Eilish. She's everywhere this year from the AMAs to the top of the Billboard Charts to the Grammy nomination lists and all over Instagram. As I talked about, Billie has surprisingly been weaved all the way through my week, and it made me realize that if you just listened to "Bad Guy" as your knowledge of Billie, you're doing yourself a huge disservice which is why I wanted to highlight her this week. Also, I'm always going to be excited about a 17 year old girl rocking the music world and making everyone pay attention to her for her art. Yes, we've had tons of teen pop stars in the past, though none super recently, but most of them have either come out of tightly run machines or come with their own mega music bots with tightly controlled images paired with weird hyper sexualization. Billie has none of that. It's her and her brother and a label that in her own words, mostly leaves her alone. Also, as a nearly 17 year old that was basically homeschooled and also graduated at 15, I'm glad that she's proving to the world that we're normal, functioning, socially adept people too.
Also, I don't think anyone is out there capturing Gen Z so accurately in what we're concerned about, what we think about, and the specific anxieties that come from growing up in this specific period of time. I mean, there was one interview that Billie and Finneas did where they were addressing how people call out their music as unrealistically dark, but they point out that it's only as dark as the reality we exist in. We're kids that weren't born or were too young to remember a world before 9/11, very few of us were ever told to just go play outside or roam the neighborhood. I grew up constantly afraid of getting kidnapped from the grocery store or the mall or my front yard. And there'I as more pressure to succeed in a constricting world than ever. Billie captures all of this without really trying cause it's her lived experience too. I've never really had the chance to be a fan of someone who I was the same age as at the time, and I find that uniquely fun.
So, I guess when talking about her songs more specifically, I have to start with my all time favorite songs of hers that is also one of my favorite all time favorite songs in general. "idontwannabeyouanymore". The only thing I don't like about it is how long the title is. I love the production on it, but the lyrics are so thought provoking and true. "If teardrops could be bottled, there'd be swimming pools filled by models/told a tight dress is what makes you a whore." "Hands getting cold/Losing feeling's getting older/Was I made from a broken mold?" and possibly one of top 5 lyrics of all time, "If I love you was a promise, would you break it if you're honest?" This song is a shapeshifter on the meaning front but still quite impactful on the cultural commentary on the whole. It has relationship elements but it also kinda talks about slut shaming/body shaming in a really thoughtful way.
Off of her first EP, don't smile at me (one of the best titles ever), I also really like "watch" because I'm obsessed with the matches and sizzle in the production, and it's probably one of her most anthemic songs in general. I love the lyrics, "If we were meant to be/We would have been by now." I also love this take on the forget you song. The EP in general has a ton of amazing production choices that adds heaps of texture to the record. "bellyache" is a great example of Billie's ability to play with characters and tell a story that isn't autobiographical in subject matter which I think is a really cool ability that not a lot of artists tap into.
On her first album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO? (a valid question that I would like someone to answer), she has a couple more standouts, but what I love about this album is that all the songs fit together like puzzle pieces. They're distinct songs, but they roll into each other so well, if I have my eyes closed I can't tell where certain songs end and others end. It makes for a strong, cohesive album that creates a portrait as a collective.
"xanny" has always been one of my favorite Billie songs from the first time I heard the album. I can't really tell you why. It's a dark, kinda weird song that's not what I typically like, but it has some great buried lyrics, and I love how in step, as always, the subject and production are. I also love for how some people like to twist Billie's dark ascetic into claiming that she does or promotes things like drug use while this songs is talking all about how she doesn't get the point of drugs. In on elf the verses she says, "I'm in their second-hand smoke/still just drinking canned coke/I don't need a nanny to feel better/on designated drives home/only one who's not stoned/don't give me a xanny now or ever." It's amazing how much of a picture she can paint in a few lines, but I love the irony of how despite her murderous/seduce your dad type character pieces, she's one of the more wholesome artists on pop radio today. She's not pretending it doesn't exist, but she's also clear you don't have to be a part of it. I also love the poetry in the lines "Please don't try to kiss me on the sidewalk/on your cigarette break/I can't afford to love someone/who isn't dying by mistake in silver lake."
The track immediately after, "you should see me in a crown" is another standout for me and might be the ultimate power song. It's what played in my head when I saw the badass boots. I love that it stars with a knife sharpening sound that carries through. It's a vibe. But I love how the song opens up in the chorus, and I want the beginning of the chorus on a T-shirt: "You should see me in a crown/I'm gonna run this nothing town."
The next song on the top picks of mine is the only one that kind caused a mini controversy. "wish you were gay" was a song that before I heard it also raised an eyebrow at the title. I love the production on the track and lyrically I get it. You always wonder why someone won't give you the time of day, so you make up explanations in your head to make yourself feel better. If the person was gay, that would explain it and that'd be fine. Not you're fault they're not into you. I don't think there's anything wrong with kinda having a petty moment and sinking into that feeling. I also love the line "Is there a twelve step just for you" in talking about getting over a person.
The last one I'm going to talk about for time's stake is "my strange addiction". She samples The Office at the beginning of the song which just fits perfectly into the song. The whole song and the album are so pop culture forward and of the moment, and this song encapsulates that so perfectly. I also love the beat in this song and how it interacts with her voice.
Honorable mentions go to "when the party's over" for it's point of view and take on a relationship song, "bad guy" for the video (which Billie edited herself), and "I love you" which is so honest and real.
Thanks for sticking with me through my deep dives into Sasha Sloan and Billie Eilish. I think that it's a pairing that works well together and with last week's Music I'm Loving Artists (If you want to see my thoughts on Harry Styles and Finneas, you can find them here). Also, I talk about Billie a lot in my AMAs wrap up on the blog and in my podcast along with talking about Grammy nominations. If you want to hear about that, you can check out that podcast episode here.