Arts and Entertainment

The Cinematic Hit Me Hard and Soft

Billie Eilish and Finneas, on Hit Me Hard and Soft, continue their artistic metamorphosis and nearly reach the heights of their debut.

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A debut album is said to be the period in which a pop star’s essence is captured and frozen into pop culture forever. Not many have done it as iconically as 17-year-old Billie Eilish with her 2019 debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, a unique and oftentimes daring record that was a bright forecast for the future of mainstream pop. Her music was as distinctive as her baggy clothing but more subdued and not quite as flashy. Deep, rumbling bass lines consume the low end of each track as Eilish’s ASMR-esque crooning soars above it. This combination spotlights her intimate vocals, inviting the listener into her world of heartbroken lovers, tragic friendships, and growing pains. Being one of the most famous teenagers alive did nothing to alleviate those pains, and she would explore the suffocating and lonely underbelly of fame on her sophomore record Happier Than Ever (2021). Eilish’s latest effort, Hit Me Hard and Soft (2024), doesn’t reach the same heights as her debut, but it is a mile-long leap in the right direction. 

Hit Me Hard and Soft opens on a dour note with “Skinny,” which recounts Eilish’s experience as a tortured artist; its lyrics are reminiscent of “Getting Older,” a song from Happier Than Ever that, sadly, overshadows its successor in almost every way. The slow burn of the song’s subtle synths mixed with Eilish’s masterful storytelling not only eclipses “Skinny”’s slow and nondescript guitars but also makes the track feel like a regression thematically from the last album. However, Eilish still accomplishes what she’s best at—tearing at heartstrings, with the lyrics: “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.” However, the track’s placement as an opener on the album immediately lessens its impact; it introduces a theme that doesn’t get explored or resolved afterward, as most of the tracks on Hit Me Hard and Soft focus on love turned sour and sapphic.

Thankfully, after the opener, the album gets exponentially better. Highlights such as “Lunch” and “Birds of a Feather” play it sweet, sincere, and a bit generic (in the best way), which just amplifies their romanticism. On “Lunch,” Eilish relays pickup lines for a girl she “could eat [...] for lunch” over some generic but sweet indie guitar riffs. Each innuendo and rhyme satisfyingly falls into place like a flirtatious nursery rhyme: “Tell her, ‘Bring that over here’/ You need a seat? I’ll volunteer / Now she's smilin’ ear to ear / She’s the headlights, I’m the deer.” Eilish does the same on “Birds of a Feather,” injecting the song with so much lyric and vocal earnestness that the listener becomes completely invested in her lovesick daze, with its sugary piano and thumping drums. She even belts on the song’s final moments, shouting, “I’ll love you ‘til the day that I die / ‘Til the day that I die / ‘Til the light leaves my eyes,” a simple yet passionate sentiment to end the sweetest of love songs with. 

Although Eilish and producer Finneas rest on their laurels in the aforementioned tracks, they also manage to sneak in some successful left turns. On the third track, “Chihiro,” Finneas produces Eilish’s most captivating and entrancing track to date. The deep bassline cushions the gentle and hypnotic refrain, “Open up the door, can you open up the door?” The song pulls the listener out of the trance with a release of extravagant synths as Eilish screams in the background, “I don’t, I don’t know why I called / I don’t know you at all.” The song is an experience that feels shorter than it lasts and embodies “main character energy.” Similarly, on the seventh track, “L’Amour de Ma Vie,” Eilish transitions from a smooth pop-rock ballad into an explosion of synths and driving kicks that nearly turn hyperpop. It makes the song’s breakup narrative all the more effective, as during the second half, Eilish screams in an auto-tuned craze, “Wanna know what I told her / With her hand on my shoulder? / You were so mediocre.” These lyrics also contribute to the larger theme of men being romantically unsatisfactory to Eilish and her own discovery and happiness in her queer identity. Although it was disheartening to first hear the discourse about her sexuality in “Lost Cause,” the music video goes deeper and shows a reporter outing her for a good headline. Through it all, Eilish remains on top of all that gab by writing love (and breakup) songs for either gender.

The closer, “Blue,” although alluring in its separate suites and transitions, exemplifies the main issue impeding this album’s potential: it’s too short to really say anything. Although this record has a standard runtime of around 40 minutes, a good chunk of that time is spent on the album’s many transitions and instrumental motifs. Though they make the album feel more expensive and cinematic, the novelty washes away, and some of the instrumentation becomes superficial, like an unconvincing veneer. The production may lead some fans to proclaim this to be her best project to date and others to simply brush it off as pretentious, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle: Hit Me Hard and Soft is certainly a strong and worthy effort by Eilish and Finneas, but fans shouldn’t hail it as their magnum opus.