Deconstructing Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy"

Blog Article by Franskaya

Date: 2023-09-17

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A Brief Analysis of a Refreshingly Original Pop Hit

Understanding the mechanics of a distinctive music - A perspective from an electronic music composer.

Since her meteoric rise in the music industry, Billie Eilish has become a name that resonates worldwide. With her bold style, enigmatic lyrics, and captivating voice, she has won the hearts of millions of fans across the globe. "Bad Guy" stands out as a remarkable piece in the contemporary pop landscape. In this article, I delve into the musical arrangement of this hit to uncover some of its secrets.

Released in 2019 as the fifth track on her debut studio album, "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?", "Bad Guy" immediately caught attention due to its minimalist musical arrangement and the visually intriguing aesthetic of its music video, which has surpassed one billion views on YouTube to date. The song was composed by her brother, Finneas O'Connell, mixed by Rob Kinelski, and mastered by John Greenham.

Picture of Billie Eilish

The song is atypical due to a fast-paced first section at 135 beats per minute, followed by a completely different second section at a tempo of 60 beats per minute. In the following lines, I will focus more on the first part.

The first noteworthy element is its distinctive bass riff that captivates us from the opening notes, and, combined with Eilish's whispered voice, transports us into a unique musical universe. This motif, both simple and inventive, hooks the listener with its almost hypnotic melody. This rather heavy bass, described by MusicRadar as typical of trap music, provides a stark contrast with the singer's feminine voice and blends seamlessly with the ultra-minimalist drum rhythm.

On the percussive front, it's notable that they are spaced out and minimalistic, and one could describe them as rather organic due to the omnipresent human sounds, typically reminiscent of Hip-Hop or R&B. The occasional finger snaps, a shaker in the chorus, and a few claps in the second verse are enough to infuse an unexperctedly danceable atmosphere.

It's worth noting that the mixer employed a subtle gating effect to add punch to the drums. For those less familiar with audio engineering jargon, this effect momentarily cuts certain audio frequencies to make room for specific chosen sounds, typically the kick drum.

The second dominant element of the track is the catchy synth lead, described as playful, "Goofy Carnival", and "Cartoony". This element makes its appearance later in the song, akin to a bridge.

Picture of Billie Eilish

For the majority of the track, the minimalistic aesthetic, inspired by experimental electronic music, primarily consists of a synth bass, an 808-style kick drum, and finger snaps. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Eilish unveiled that she incorporated the sound of an Australian pedestrian crossing, a revelation corroborated by her brother Finneas during his appearance on Jimmy Fallon's show, where he detailed its usage as high hats. He further disclosed his penchant for capturing everyday sounds, seamlessly integrating them into his music, all in an earnest attempt to sets himself apart from fellow producers.

Throughout the mix, ample space and silence are intentionally incorporated. Unlike many contemporary songs that aim to fill every sonic gap, this arrangement embraces both sound and its absence.

As with any pop sensation, it's Billie Eilish's distinctive vocal performance that truly enchants the listener.

Picture of Billie Eilish

There's a marked contrast between the bold lyrics of "Bad Guy" and Eilish's soft, whispered voice, creating an intriguing ambiguity. At the song's outset, Eilish accuses her lover of being a "bad guy" but later suggests that she's tougher, ultimately casting herself as "the bad guy". With her hushed, nonchalant, and excessively laid-back vocal style, it's as if she downplays her own role in the narrative, adopting an attitude of defiance and superiority. This whispered irony adds to the song's enigmatic quality.

However, the playful synth lead starkly contrasts with this ironic theme, which, according to Eilish, her mother might not entirely endorse.

Another noteworthy aspect of the mix is the overlaying of different vocal takes, featuring varying pitches, timbres, and textures. These layered vocal harmonies contribute to the song's eerie atmosphere and convincingly reinforce the idea that she is indeed the "Bad Guy".

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that the song is in the key of G minor and follows a minimalistic chord progression of Gm-Cm-D7 (G minor, C minor, D seventh major). The media has classified the song into genres such as electropop, dance-pop, "pop-trap", and "nu-goth pop". It draws inspiration from typical Hip-Hop techniques like loops and samples, which Eilish and O'Connor frequently incorporate into their music.

In summary, "Bad Guy" is a song that defies conventions, offering a unique blend of minimalism, creativity, provocation, and captivation. It features a highly effective bassline, a memorable and repetitive synth lead, audacious lyrics, and a vocally defiant performance. Considering Billie Eilish's vocal talent, the juxtaposition of singing and whispering in the same song yet swims against the tide. Knowing her vocal talent, isn't singing and whispering, in fact, contradictory?

"Bad Guy" is more than just a pop hit; it's a one-of-a-kind artistic masterpiece that will be listened to and analyzed for years to come.

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