The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Billie Eilish hits listeners hard and soft in her third studio album

The 22-year-old artist fully embraces herself in this evocative and avant-garde music endeavor that explores love, lust and loss

<p>The production of “HIT ME HARD AND SOFT” pushes Eilish's creative boundaries and forms a listening experience that subverted expectations entirely.</p>

The production of “HIT ME HARD AND SOFT” pushes Eilish's creative boundaries and forms a listening experience that subverted expectations entirely.

Billie Eilish, alternative-pop artist and nine-time Grammy Award winner, released her new album May 17 entitled “HIT ME HARD AND SOFT.” The 10 deeply soulful songs together make up a nearly 45-minute listening experience filled with unorthodox musical patterns that do just as the title suggests and alternate between moments of hard intensity and soft tranquility. 

The album, produced and co-written by Eilish’s brother Finneas O'Connell, jumps back and forth between soft ballads and electro-pop synths to create what feels like a fever dream inside Eilish’s scattered mind. It is a vulnerable expression of insecurity, sexuality and unapologetic love that allows Eilish to reflect on past romantic relationships and navigate young adulthood.

Eilish surprised fans with the announcement of “HIT ME HARD AND SOFT” on Instagram in early April — just a month and a half before the album’s release — with the catch that she would not pre-release any singles so listeners could digest the whole album at once. 

In her May 2024 cover story with Rolling Stone, Eilish expressed that this album feels like a return to the more youthful version of herself present on her first studio album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”

“This whole process has felt like I’m coming back to the girl that I was. I’ve been grieving her,” Eilish said. “I’ve been looking for her in everything, and it’s almost like she got drowned by the world and the media.”

With bigger and bolder songs that more closely resemble the risk-taking nature of her older music, Eilish has found herself again in “HIT ME HARD AND SOFT.”

Eilish begins with a slow and falsetto atmosphere in “SKINNY” as she unleashes a sorrowful ballad that itches the ear with her soft, breathy vocals. The singer unpacks her myriad of insecurities, which include how she is perceived by those around her as a result of her changing physicality. 

“People say I look happy / Just because I got skinny / But the old me is still me and maybe the real me / And I think she’s pretty,” Eilish sings, soft as a whisper. 

The track has no clear narrative but instead is a raw jumble of Eilish’s deepest thoughts as she copes with life’s never-ending changes that can make emotional stability feel out of reach. Amidst all this chaos of questioning and second-guessing, she sings to a specific individual at certain points with an angry sadness that implies a past relationship with the lyrics “I never did you wrong / I, I loved you for so long.”

These last lines are followed by a somber string outro from two-time Grammy Award-winning Attacca Quartet — comprising two violinists, a violist and a cellist — whose work is laced throughout the album along with Eilish’s drummer Andrew Marshall. The strings foreshadow a melody heard later in the album, creating a motif that elicits a sense of pain and sadness.  

Breaking from the tension in “SKINNY,” Eilish takes her music in a funky direction with “LUNCH” as she whimsically embraces the pleasures of being intimate with another woman who “tastes like she might be the one.” Marshall’s steady drumbeat is accompanied by the occasional keyboard that carries the song’s propulsive rhythm while Eilish proudly proclaims her desperate longing for the woman to whom she is singing.  

The sexy anthem takes an unexpected turn from its cohesive sound — a pattern that repeats itself in this album — toward the end, where a hint of electric guitar and synthesizer is paired with a voice effect that breaks up Eilish’s sentences. The ending drumbeat is then accompanied by Eilish’s own panting breath that adds a certain flavor to “LUNCH.” 

Eilish named her next track “CHIHIRO” after the protagonist of Studio Ghibli's Oscar-winning Japanese film “Spirited Away” — a favorite of Eilish’s. The roller-coaster of a tune is a sure creative stand out from the other tracks and perhaps one of her most abstract songs to date.

“CHIHIRO” sounds like an ordinary creation of Eilish’s until a synth riff slowly creeps its way into the second verse and grows louder until it takes over the song, giving the track a thumping rave-like beat that might play in a nightclub. The electronic pulse weaves its way in and out of the song, evoking the feeling of being transported into another universe.

Eilish is suddenly light as air in “BIRDS OF A FEATHER” where she exchanges all the moodiness of the previous track for something gentler in this campy yet sweet love song. The song interestingly juxtaposes a blissful sound with strangely dark lyrics that feel almost unsettling. She sings, “I want you to stay / Till I’m in the grave / Till I rot away, dead and buried / Till I’m in the casket you carry.” 

Bliss proves itself temporary when Eilish transitions to the dark “WILDFLOWER.” The soft guitar-led song echoes with piercing sadness as it reveals the intrusive thoughts that burn “like a fever” about a partner’s past lover. “You say no one knows you so well / But every time you touch me, I just wonder how she felt,” Eilish sings numbly. 

The song has a unique undertone of guilt, as Eilish describes an instance where she comforted this woman after her breakup and then got into a relationship with the woman’s former lover. Some fans speculate the song title “WILDFLOWER” is an easter egg alluding to Eilish's past relationship with Neighbourhood lead singer Jesse Rutherford and his former partner Devon Lee Carlson — co-founder of Wildflower Cases

“THE GREATEST” and “L’AMOUR DE MA VIE” both tackle the struggle of unrequited love in which Eilish is both a victim and victimizer, respectively. The two tracks sound entirely different from one another but distinguish themselves together as the fiercest songs in the album filled with plenty of sass and lengthy belts. 

The chorus in “THE GREATEST” climbs its way up the musical scale with each line and takes a more dramatic approach in lyric delivery, whereas the jazzy “L’AMOUR DE MA VIE” sounds rather casual, before it fully cascades into EDM dance music in the last two minutes. 

Eilish deviates from her own feelings for the eighth track and sings from the perspective of a stalker in the uncanny “THE DINER.” The song sheds light on the darker side of fame alongside a quirky beat that fans have playfully pointed out sounds oddly similar to the Kahoot game theme song. 

The stalker begins, “Don’t be afraid of me / I’m what you need / I saw you on the screen / I know we’re meant to be.” Eilish has undergone frightening experiences with stalkers in the past, including a man who camped outside a school near her family home and repeatedly sent her distressing letters. She takes her power back in this song by depicting the delusional speaker as a nutcase similar to her real-life stalker. 

Even in her darkest songs, Eilish has embraced the idea of love to the fullest for eight tracks — whether reflecting on failed love that once was or hoping for an everlasting one. Yet she holds herself back for the first time in “BITTERSUITE” where she desperately yells “I can’t fall in love with you / No matter how bad I want to.” 

The song follows the pun in the title, where Eilish is left alone and bitter in a hotel suite as she loses sleep thinking about a past lover. O'Connell's music production shines here, with various sounds ranging from hype keyboard synths to slow bossa nova elevator music which eventually lands at a beat that evolves into the electric melody of the album’s final track, “BLUE”.

“BLUE” is a masterpiece that, like the rest of the album, is all over the place. 

Eilish riffs her way into a reflection that references nearly every other track on the album with a verse made up of lyrics pulled from each previous song. She employed this chilling signature before in “Goodbye,” the final track on “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”

The wistful chorus voices Eilish’s inability to move on from someone — who may or may not be the same subject in most of the album’s songs — as she nearly cries, “I’d like to mean it when I say I’m over you / But that’s still not true, and I’m still blue.” 

If even possible, the song gets bluer after two minutes in an intimate ballad that haunts. All drumbeats and background vocals subside as Eilish sings quietly to her lover with only a piano to help carry the sound.

“I don’t blame you, but I can’t change you / Don’t hate you, but we can’t save you,” she admits. 

“HIT ME HARD AND SOFT” ends the same way it began, with the return of the melancholy string motif. The outro leaves listeners time to process what they have just heard as they absorb the beautiful cry of the fading violin.

Eilish and O'Connell pushed creative boundaries in “HIT ME HARD AND SOFT” and formed a listening experience that was hardly ever predictable. The transportive album tests different genres, instruments and sounds that all somehow manage to blend seamlessly into one cohesive anthology that resonates deeply with avid fans and casual listeners alike for its audible vulnerability and candid lyricism. 


Latest Podcast

Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.