Billie Eilish Breaks the Mold With ‘HIT ME HARD AND SOFT’

Billie Eilish’s new album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, lives up to its title. It has bold sonic elements but can also be tender and subtle; it captures big feelings of heartbreak and desire, while expressing little anxieties at the same time; and when it comes to vocals, she wields an impressive belt alongside her signature whisper. But it’s also not just about the extremes. As Eilish sings on her closing track, “I try to live in black and white, but I’m so blue.”

The 22-year-old artist and her brother and collaborator, Finneas, have just the skills to take all of these elements and create something truly unique. They experiment with song structure—much like she did with the title track of her last album, Happier Than Ever—while also delivering captivating melodies. She details a devastating breakup and its aftermath, as well as the thrill of exploring her sexuality, with incredible storytelling. Does that come as a surprise from someone who has been impressing us with her songwriting ever since she was 15?

Just in time for Pride month, Eilish delivers an electric, queer album, examining sides of herself we’ve never seen before. The result is cinematic, deep, exhilarating, and mature. Here, two ELLE editors break it all down.

First Impressions

Erica Gonzales: Wow. Lots of thoughts. I haven’t really been keeping up with her personal life, but I thought she was dating some guy. I didn’t realize when they broke up, and I didn’t realize that this was going to be a breakup album. And not just a breakup album—it also seems like a breakup-queer liberation type of album, or an exploration of that.

Samuel Maude: I loved it. I haven’t loved a Billie Eilish album before. I’ve liked songs, but I’ve never been into a Billie Eilish album as much as I think I’ll be into this one, and I think the reason I love it so much is because it tells a story. It really, like you said, tells the story of queer liberation, of love. She paints herself as the villain sometimes, which I think is really interesting.

It feels like a game-changing album for her. This felt like, to me, her breaking out of a mold. It felt like she did whatever she wanted. I think it worked. There are so many moments of surprise on that album. I'm coming off of this high of listening to it.

Erica: It felt like there were elements of Happier Than Ever and of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? sound-wise. If I’m getting this right, the first half of the album felt a little more acoustic, a little more subdued, more mellow. There was even one, “BIRDS OF A FEATHER,” that was a rare pop love song from her, and that was really interesting. But by the time we got to “THE GREATEST,” with that tempo and vibe switch, I feel like it flipped a switch in the track list, and then we get into more WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP-like territory, with hip-hop production, darker synth, gravelly moments.

Song Structure

Sam: One of my favorite Billie songs is “Happier Than Ever,” because of the switch in the middle, where it goes from soft to this all-out rock song, and I think she explores that many times in this album, where there are sonic shifts in the middle of songs, and I think it works for her really well. It keeps you on your toes.

Erica: The transitions were very good, too. Oh my God, it was when she was like, “You moved on,” in “L’AMOUR DE MA VIE,” and then it repeated and sped up, that was really cool. It seems like she realized how well the “Happier Than Ever” format worked, and then employed it in “THE GREATEST,” which I thought swells into a rock opera.

Sam: Yeah, 100 percent.

Erica: And then she does it again in the end, in the last song “Blue,” but twice, which I thought was interesting, because it’s like she’s saying, “I’m not just leaning on this formula; I’m going to do it differently every time,” or at least this time.

Sam: I really am so shocked by this album. She flipped so many songs on their heads.


Sam: She paints herself as the villain in the beginning, lying about someone being the love of her life, saying, “I love you,” when you don’t really mean it. And then when the song shifted, too, there was a little bit of a shift of, you also were the villain here. It flips the song. I also think she really experiments with genre. It’s so fascinating.

Erica: And she did that in the last album, too, like “Billie Bossa Nova.”

Sam: Ending a song with, “It’s such a pity we’re both so pretty.”

Erica: Lives will be changed. In the second half of “L’AMOUR,” where it started to sound like Charli XCX, Grimes-y...

Sam: Both of us were like...

Erica: We looked at each other, just screaming internally.


Sam: I felt like “BITTERSUITE” was the queer liberation song. She used the word “discreet” in it, which, a lot of times, is used in the queer community to talk about someone who isn’t 100 percent comfortable with being out and open yet, but still wants the sexual experience of being with the same sex. You open up Grindr, and you see profiles that just say, “Discreet” with no picture, and that word choice felt intentional to me. It felt like talking about doing this in the shadows, like someone coming to terms with their sexuality. And maybe it was not even Billie in that song, and the person she was with wasn’t there yet, and I thought that was really interesting, too. She almost raps in that song, too, which was cool.


Sam: I think of Billie as a quiet singer. She’s the whisperer, the ASMR artist, but there were moments I was like, vocals.

Erica: “THE GREATEST,” for sure.

Sam: I wrote it down during “BIRDS OF A FEATHER.” I think there were some moments where she had some vocal overlay that was really cool, and in the back, she was belting, and I was like, we’re not used to this, and that’s something I love about her first EP. This was a very vocally impressive album at the same time.


Sam: When she says, “I try to live in black and white, but I’m so blue,” it’s her accepting her sadness, and it hit. This is cathartic. This feels like the music I need right now. The lyric, “I don’t blame you, but I can’t change you,” really stuck out to me. It’s a very simple lyric, but to get to a point in any type of romantic flirtationship, situationship, relationship, whatever, and to realize that is a really mature thing. I felt like I was Billie, and I went through something similar here, or I’m still going through it. Thanks, Billie, for giving me an album to process those emotions.

Erica: I think she formatted the track list really well, and the fact that she ends on “BLUE,” where she comes to the realization, I can’t change you, but you still fucked me up, was very smart. We were with her believing that this person was the love of her life, realizing that she was a fool for believing that, going through the breakup, having this sexual reawakening, and then in the end, she literally does look back. She name-drops most of her songs at the beginning of the last song.

Sam: I didn’t even catch that.

Erica: She says, “Birds of a feather,” she said, “L’amour,” she said, “Back of my mind, I’m still overseas.” I was like, “This is very reverse overture.” I thought it was very smart. It was like, “Let’s reflect on the journey we just went on.”

Water Themes

Sam: In her profile from ELLE’s October 2021 issue, she talks about how she’s so scared of swimming. And for the “Happier Than Ever” video, which is mostly underwater, she swam because she wanted to get over that fear. She spent most of the video underwater. And that cover story also opens with her jumping into a pool at her album release party and swimming for the entire night. So then, to come to this album where all the visuals have been her underwater, I also felt like that was so symbolic, in this weird way, of her facing her fears.

Erica: Literally diving in.

Sam: This is an album about her accepting queerness, in a lot of ways, and diving in—and that’s a very scary thing to do.


Erica: Happier Than Ever was about her growing up in the spotlight, talking back at her critics and commenters online. It was very much a coming-of-age in the spotlight and also figuring out her footing like, am I happy? Am I not? And so I was curious to see what this album would be about.

In her Zane Lowe Apple Music interview, she said this album is “purely” her, and that they were “drilling deeper.” They wanted to go even more vulnerable than they have before, and it really felt like that.

Sam: When Finneas and Billie said, “This is her most personal album,” I was like, “It is,” which is a good feeling.

Erica: There were moments in the lyrics where Billie is capturing a lot of inner anxieties. I feel like she captures those little feelings that you have in a relationship that you don’t say out loud. Her being like, “All the times I waited for you to want me naked,” the way she phrased a lot of the lyrics was very...

Sam: Triggering?

Erica: Some could say triggering.

Sam: I was seriously like, “This is bad for me.” Or good for me, I don’t know. I think she also explores vulnerability outside the context of relationships. I’ve lost some weight recently, and on “SKINNY,” hearing her talk about attraction really affected me. “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.” I felt that deep in my soul, and it’s a moment I think a lot of people will relate to, just like I did. I was me at my previous weight, and beautiful, and I am also me now, still beautiful.


Erica: She uses very sexual wordplay. “I could eat that girl for lunch,” “Dancing on my tongue.” Ah!

Sam: I think Billie, during Happier Than Ever, started to embrace sex a little more, but I don’t feel like she’s been ever overtly sexual in that way.

Erica: Yeah, not like this. I appreciated that. It’s spicy in here.

Sam: Lean in.

Final Notes

Erica: I just wrote, “BITCH!”

Sam: [Opens notebook to reveal notes] “FUCK!!! ATE!!!!”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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