What is sad girl pop? The genre has taken off, and we can argue about who started the trend, but no matter who you think the originator is (Olivia Rodrigo? Taylor Swift? Joni Mitchell?) — Billie Eilish is, at the very least, a huge stop along the way. I tend to dislike the term “sad girl pop” for the way it trivializes the incredible songwriting and big feelings of young women and puts dynamic artists in a narrow (and not that accurate) box. However, it is also an apt descriptor for the age. There are many young women who write about being sad. And why shouldn’t they be?! Things are a mess.
What I’ve always appreciated about Billie is that she deftly navigates being sad about the personal and the political/sociological. She’s not too cool for a sad breakup song, but she’s not too commercial for sad cultural commentary. She’s talented enough to do both at the same time.
Today, Billie dropped a two song EP called Guitar Songs. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the vibe is playing around a campfire to your loved ones. But the lyrics are cutting. As The Guardian put so beautifully, “We get the visceral sense of a young woman watching things she holds dear being destroyed, or almost destroyed, and agonising over what happens when we stop looking.”
“TV” is a song both about numbing your feelings with TV… whether that’s feelings about your friends, your significant other, or the Supreme Court “overturning Roe v. Wade.” It would be a nihilistic, what’s the point kind of song, except she ends with a haunting chant, picked up with the strength of a live crowd, of “maybe I’m the problem.” While not exactly a happy thought, there is hope in taking ownership of making our relationships, our lives, and our world a better place.
Similarly, “the 30th” is a sad song about one of Billie’s loved ones being in a terrible crash (they survived). I found most striking her thoughts around passing the car crash without a thought, not realizing it was her loved one until late in the day.
"In a standstill on the 5 Thought it was unusually early traffic Usually, I don't panic I just wanted to be on time When I saw the ambulances on the shoulder I didn't even think of pullin' over I pieced it all together late that night"
To me, both of these songs are about the constant state of overwhelm we feel. Of course, we need to watch TV — because as another sad girl sad — “It’s brutal out here.” Of course, you can’t internalize every car crash. It would be too painful to bear, and so we go on about our lives. This is understandable, but at the same time, maybe it means we’re the problem.
With the climate crisis in particular, I often worry about how numb and overwhelmed we can become to what’s happening — fires, flooding, famine. Heat. We can’t bear it and we look away. We are not supposed to be able to bear it, and we should not feel bad. We cannot each be responsible for the weight of the world, but I hope that we can each take a little bit. Think about that one place, that one person you love that’s suffering, because of the climate crisis. And don’t look away.
Together, we can solve this. Find a way to take action today with the Climate Action Explorer. We don’t have to be singing “Maybe I’m the problem,” together. Let’s sing, “Maybe I’m the answer.”