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Billie the Badass is Back: A Student Review of “Therefore I Am”
Written by Kaitlin Aquino
November 23, 2020
Billie Eilish is finally back to being the badass many of us first knew her to be. Months after the release of “my future” — her synthy, soulful, dreamy indie ballad — the five-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter dropped her newest single, “Therefore I Am” last Thursday morning.
The new standalone single is a welcome but familiar reprieve from the more somber melodies of her more recently released “my future” and “everything i wanted.” Stylistically and rhetorically, “Therefore I Am” more closely resembles Eilish’s “COPYCAT” and “you should see me in a crown.” It’s a dark, empowering, villainous tune, complete with the perfect balance of Eilish’s signature irreverence. Her stifle of a chuckle during her “what the hell are you talking about?” is just as infectious as the song’s “sturdy bassline.”
But as danceable and catchy “Therefore I Am” may be, it still fails to meet the “bad guy” level of expectation Eilish has set for herself with her previous musical releases. Perhaps her generous tease of the song the day before its release spoiled part of the novelty of its premiere. Compared to that of “Therefore I Am,” Eilish’s preview of “my future” felt much more careful and strategic. The day before its release, Eilish only dropped the pre-chorus of “my future” on Instagram, still leaving the heart of the song — its swelling, indulgent chorus — a mystery. That did not seem to be the case when marketing “Therefore I Am.” Although it was refreshing to see a more transparent marketing approach from the typically cryptic Eilish, this level of transparency left little surprise for listeners once the full song dropped.
However, a shrunken sense of novelty shouldn’t take much away from the “Therefore I Am” listening experience. After multiple plays, a song starts to stand alone — independent from its pre-release marketing hype. Still, after what I can confidently say were at least 30 listens since its release, I have yet to call “Therefore I Am” one of Billie’s greatest hits.
While the song starts off strong, it gets repetitive fast. “Therefore I Am” doesn’t even hit the three-minute mark, yet it still has four full choruses jam-packed inside its two minutes and 54 seconds. The song could have done without the last chorus past its fake ending, which, if eliminated, would’ve left listeners hungry for more. As a firm believer of the notion that it’s better for artists to leave audiences wanting more rather than exhausting them with too much of the same material, it was disappointing to see that Eilish tacked on one final chorus at the song’s last 20 seconds rather than cutting it short after the denouement or introducing a new musical bit at the end.
Moreover, the lyrics of “Therefore I Am” just don’t seem to make sense. On the surface, Descartes’ cogito feels a bit shoved into the chorus for the sake of the rhyme. It’s not entirely clear what Eilish’s intent is in using it. It’s difficult to tell whether the scathing “You think that you’re a man / I think, therefore I am” attacks the song’s subject for believing they deserve the title of a “man” rather than actually trying to be a mature male adult, or for being concerned with such labels of maturity, unlike Eilish who, according to the song, does not think she is necessarily anything — she is simply existing.
But maybe the chorus doesn’t mean one or the other. Maybe it’s both; maybe it’s something entirely different. In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Eilish did say that her new song is “very, very up for interpretation” — a common out used by avant garde artists to reconcile their works’ lack of coherence.
Aside from not being entirely clear, “Therefore I Am” boasts some hypocritical undertones. In the verses, Eilish whisper-raps about how she “couldn’t care less” about her song’s target — a very bold claim to make. If you couldn’t care less, Billie, why did you bother taking the time to write, record and release an entire song about them?
Even though Eilish did not confirm who “Therefore I Am” is about — or if it is even about anyone — this wouldn’t be the first time she wrote a song attacking someone she knows personally. According to Eilish, “COPYCAT” is directed at “this fucking girl” who “keeps doing everything I do,” she said in a Genius official lyrics and meaning video. Likewise, “Therefore I Am” seems to be about someone Eilish can’t shake off. Despite not having confirmed whether the song is targeted at anyone she knows, her verse about not wanting “the press to put your name next to mine” seems a little too specific to not be inspired by Eilish’s personal experience.
Still, if being hypocritical is what it takes for Eilish to release more music, then I can’t really complain. I’m happy as long as my all-time favorite artist gets to make more music for her fans, myself including, to enjoy, regardless of how flawed it may be.
Finally, considering Eilish’s track record, I was expecting her “Therefore I Am” to be much more relatable than it turned out to be. The song seems to be a rant about someone in her life who is trying to use her for her clout. As a commoner whose only experience with fame is the over 600 likes I received on an edit I posted to my anime stan account, I simply could not relate. Unlike Eilish, I don’t have “interviews, interviews, interviews” where I have to pretend to be “confused” after hearing a certain someone’s name.
In contrast to “Therefore I Am,” “my future” is a harmonious anthem of self-love, growth, and self-preservation. I would be lying if I said it didn’t bring me to tears after my first listen. The lyrics hit way too close to home, serving as a much-needed reminder that I need to prioritize myself before anybody else.
Perhaps I set myself up for disappointment by expecting that her newest release would be in the same vein as “my future.” Besides, it’s not like artists aren’t allowed to deviate from the themes and styles of their previous work. I love that Eilish is taking on new topics and experimenting with different styles of music production. As per the lyrics of “my future,” Eilish is growing — not just as an artist, but also as an individual.
Flaws aside, “Therefore I Am” is still a solid banger. It’s great to have yet another classic Billie Eilish “fuck you” anthem in my playlist of songs that make me feel like a bad bitch. Perhaps I just need to wait for “Therefore I Am” to grow on me, as I did with Eilish’s iconic “bad guy,” “COPYCAT,” and “you should see me in a crown” — all which I now consider to be some of her greatest hits.
Overall, for a song that is not only hypocritical but also an unwelcome reminder of the course that stopped me from pursuing a philosophy double major, “Therefore I Am” has a melody I have definitely found myself involuntarily singing in the shower or while accidentally putting too much pepper on my sunny side up eggs. For the meantime, as I wait for her new album, “Therefore I Am” is enough — its tune memorable and lyrics empowering with just the right amount of Eilish’s humor.
As with “bad guy” and with much of Eilish’s music, “Therefore I Am” makes listeners want to forget trying to be the main character and instead embrace being the villain.
Author Bio: Kaitlin Aquino is an intern for Anteater TV for the 2020-21 academic year and is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Irvine.