Deconstructing Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy"

Analysis | par Franskaya

Franskaya's Blog

This blog article by Franskaya delves into the intricacies of Billie Eilish's popular song 'Bad Guy', highlighting its originality in contemporary pop. The song stands out with its hypnotic bass, minimalist arrangement, organic rhythm, a voice that is more whispered than sung, a layering of different and contrasting vocal captures, and a playful and catchy synth lead. An ultra-effective earworm that has delighted over a billion listeners on YouTube, this song is, in Franskaya's opinion, the author of this captivating analysis, an artistic masterpiece in the modern musical landscape.

A Brief Analysis of a Refreshingly Original Pop Hit

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

Billie Eilish's meteoric rise in the music industry has made her a household name worldwide. Known for her bold style, enigmatic lyrics, and captivating voice, she has captured the hearts of millions. Among her tracks, "Bad Guy" stands out as a distinctive piece in the modern pop landscape. In this article, I delve into the musical arrangement of this hit, uncovering the secrets behind its success.

In this series of articles, I dissect contemporary hits to understand their mechanics and identify what makes them successful.

Released in 2019 as part of her debut album "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?", "Bad Guy" quickly drew attention with its minimalist arrangement and the intriguing aesthetic of its music video, now boasting over a billion views on Youtube. The song was composed by her brother Finneas O’Connell, mixed by par Rob Kinelski, and mastered by John Greenham.

Photographie de Billie Eilish

The song is unique due to its fast tempo of 135 in the first part, followed by a completely different second part at a tempo of 60. I will focus more on the first part in the following lines.

The first notable element is the distinctive bass riff that captivates us from the first notes, combined with Eilish's whispered voice, creating a unique musical universe. This simple yet inventive motif hooks the listener with its almost hypnotic melody. The heavy bass, described by MusicRadar as typical of trap music, contrasts sharply with the singer's feminine voice and blends perfectly with the ultra-minimalist drum rhythm.

The percussion is spaced out and minimalist, with an organic feel due to the omnipresent human sounds, typical of Hip-Hop or R&B. A few finger snaps, a shaker in the chorus, and some claps in the second verse are enough to infuse a surprisingly danceable atmosphere.

Notably, the mixer employed a subtle "gating effect" on the drums, enhancing their punchiness. This technique, common in sound engineering, momentarily cuts certain audio frequencies to highlight specific sounds, like the kick drum.

Another standout feature is the catchy synth lead, described as playful and cartoonish, which enters later in the song, akin to a bridge. The track's minimalist aesthetic, inspired by experimental electronic music, primarily consists of a synth bass, an 808-style kick drum, and finger snaps.

Photographie de Billie Eilish

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Eilish revealed using the sound of an Australian pedestrian crossing, confirmed by her brother Finneas on Jimmy Fallon's show, explaining its use as high hats. He often captures everyday sounds, incorporating them into his music to distinguish himself from other producers.

The mix features a lot of silence and space. Unlike many contemporary songs that seek to fill every void, this arrangement accommodates both sound and its absence.

As with any great pop success, it's Billie Eilish's distinctive vocal performance that captivates the listener.

Photographie de Billie Eilish

There's a stark contrast between the bold lyrics of "Bad Guy" and Eilish's soft, whispered voice, adding a layer of mystery. At the beginning of the song, Eilish accuses her lover of being a "bad guy", then suggests she's tougher, ultimately casting herself as "the bad guy". With her hushed, nonchalant, and exaggeratedly relaxed voice, it's as if she downplays her own role in the narrative, adopting a defiant and superior attitude. This whispered irony contributes to the song's enigmatic nature.

However, the playful synth lead contrasts sharply with this ironic theme, which Eilish jokingly says her mother might not approve of.

Another important element of the mix is the overlaying of different vocal takes. Varying in pitch, timbre, and texture, these layered vocal harmonies contribute to the song's strange atmosphere and aim to convince that she is indeed the "Bad Guy".

Finally, I note that the song is in the key of G minor and follows a very minimalist progression Gm-Cm-D7 (G minor, C minor, D seventh major). The song has been classified by the media in genres such as electropop, dance-pop, "pop-trap", and "nu-goth pop", and draws inspiration from typical Hip-Hop techniques (loops and samples) that Eilish and O'Connell are fond of.

In short, this music, which defies conventions, is both minimalist, creative, provocative, and captivating. It is characterized by a very effective bass line, a unique and memorable repetitive synth lead, bold lyrics, and a vocally defiant performance. Knowing her vocal talent, isn't singing and whispering, in fact, contradictory?

In my opinion, "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish is more than just a pop hit; it's a unique artistic masterpiece that will be listened to and marveled at for a long time to come.

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Portrait of Franskaya, music producer and composer from Quebec, Canada


Blogger, author, artist, Franskaya is also a songwriter, sound technician, and music producer from Quebec, Canada. Don't miss the next post by following him on his Facebook page or click here to learn more about the author of this article.

Cover image of the music single Toqué by Franskaya


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