Five Burning Questions: Billie Eilish Leaps to No. 2 on the Hot 100 With ‘Therefore I Am’

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Billie Eilish is back — though truthfully, she’s never really been gone, having released a steady stream of singles over the past twelve months, including the Hot 100 top 20 hits “Everything I Wanted,” “No Time to Die,” and “My Future.”

Nonetheless, her most recent one-off release — the loudly understated “Therefore I Am” is proving her most chart-resounding since her When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? debut in early 2019. After debuting at No. 94 on the Hot 100 last week with half a day of streams and sales (and a couple full days of radio), this week the song soars all the way to No. 2, becoming her highest-peaking hit on the chart since “Bad Guy” climbed to No. 1 last August.

Has Billie maintained her momentum from her incredible 2019 breakout? And will “Therefore I Am” be matching “Bad Guy” on the Hot 100 soon enough? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.

1. Therefore I Am” jumps 94-2 on the Hot 100 this week, becoming fairly easily her highest-charting hit since “Bad Guy.” Why do you think this song has come the closest to the levels of that breakout hit of the several she’s released since When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Rania Aniftos: Both songs have an undeniable edgy factor that is unlike anything else in the pop world right now. I’m not surprised that “Therefore I Am” is comparable to the success of “Bad Guy,” as they both have Billie’s hushed, almost spoken-word vocals in the verses against a thumping beat, plus the blasé lyrics that portray an ultimate cool girl, which has proven to be the singer’s formula for success.

Katie Atkinson: It’s the closest sonically to “Bad Guy” out of all her subsequent singles, between the spooky beat, talky verses and DGAF attitude. It’s also the most radio-friendly song she’s had in a while, clocking in at under three minutes, and its midtempo beat basically feels like a dance track after her string of sparse ballads (the funky midsection of “My Future” notwithstanding).

Katie Bain: At the risk of sounding reductive, I do believe the answer is swag. While her releases like “My Future” and “No Time to Die” have been vehicles for Billie’s exceptional, delicate voice, “Therefore I Am” doubles back to the zero fucks given attitude and beat heavy production of “Bad Guy.” We all love Billie in any form, but I — and I’d argue a lot of others amongst her core fanbase — tend to like her best when she’s doing that sort of indignantly self assured, coolest-girl-at-any-given-high-school thing that she does so well. And she’s definitely doing that on “Therefore I Am.”

Andrew Unterberger: Billie Eilish’s other recent singles felt more like her wading into new sonic and thematic territory, while “Therefore I Am” is absolutely dead-center back in her sweet spot of Tim Burton-esque alt-pop. “Therefore I Am” has a major chorus, one of Billie’s most engaging vocals, and perfectly jagged-but-not-quite-abrasive Finneas production — all perfect for, say, soundtracking footage of The Queen’s Gambit’s Beth Harmon being super-intense. It feels like her biggest swing for the charts since “Bad Guy,” and it’s no shock at all that it’s doing this well.

Christine Werthman: “Therefore I Am” sounds like a WWAFAWDWG outtake, so it’s no surprise that it’s doing well. It’s got the Eilish trademarks — whomping beat, smirking delivery, haunted house vibe — that make it feel, unlike the other tracks, like a song that warrants a “She’s baaaaack” tweet.

2. Since WWAFAWDWG, she’s released four standalone singles — “Everything I Wanted,” “No Time to Die,” “My Future” and now “Therefore I Am.” Which is your favorite of the bunch and why? 

Rania Aniftos: As much as I love singing along to that infectious “Stop, what the hell are you talking about?” line, I have to choose “Everything I Wanted.” It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever heard Billie, and the dark inspiration behind it is something that unfortunately many people can relate to. On a personal level, I’m someone who has a very strong bond with my own sibling, so the ode to Finneas and how he helped pull her out of that harrowing time struck a chord for me.

Katie Atkinson: While I think “Therefore I Am” will be the biggest hit, my favorite is “My Future.” As a teenager in the late ’90s, I grew up with incredible pop music — but maybe not the healthiest musical messages when it comes to relationships (“My loneliness is killing me” comes to mind). I’m so jealous of today’s teenage girls hearing one of the world’s biggest pop stars tell them it’s OK to love your future self more than needing some boy around. The song also boasts a beautiful melody and surprising bossa nova interlude to back up profound lyrics like “Know I’m supposed to be unhappy without someone/ But aren’t I someone?”

Katie Bain: I love “Therefore I Am” for the reasons mentioned above, but Billie’s voice paired with the old school elegance and symphonic majesty of a James Bond theme, as heard on “No Time To Die,” is a satisfying evolution of the form. (The form being 007 bangers.) Plus, the heights her voice reaches on this one are really stunning.

Andrew Unterberger: While not as attention-choking as her biggest Fall Asleep hits, I think there’s a decent chance that “Everything I Wanted” is ultimately remembered as Eilish’s best song, period. There’s a trembling vulnerability and sensitivity to it that you’re lucky to get from a handful of pop songs in a decade, and both her delicate vocal performance and Finneas’ gorgeously understated production are immaculate. But there’s really no wrong answer here: Every Billie Eilish single is its own universe, and that’s what makes her such a special artist right now.

Christine Werthman: “My Future.” I like an understated Eilish. The song starts slowly and then picks up the pace, in a way that feels perfect for a one-shot video that opens with her alone on a stage and then migrates to her leaving the building and taking a walk down a city street (though the animated video she went with is also pretty good). It’s a beautiful showcase for her vocal control, but more playful than “No Time to Die,” and while it is a love song to her future self — her “‘Cause I, I’m in love/ With my future/ Can’t wait to meet her” is her “‘Cause her name is Ari” — it resists being corny and still feels very her.

3. The Billie-directed, mall-set, DIY-looking “Therefore I Am” video — does it work for the song, and does it work for you? 

Rania Aniftos: It’s perfect for the song. Compared to some of her other more serious musical themes that required cinematic music videos, “Therefore I Am” is much more laid-back. The breezy trot around an empty mall after closing hours, arms overflowing with snacks, aligns with both Billie and the song’s DGAF mentality — and it’s just a lot of fun to watch.

Katie Atkinson: Yes and yes. The lyrics have such a carefree attitude, and what better place to spend a carefree day than at the mall? On a deeper level, Eilish stopping at the various snack stands throughout the mall could be read as a middle finger to body-shamers who try to bring her down. As she says in the song, “Get my pretty name out of your mouth.”

Katie Bain: Yes, and yes. The concept — “I’m at the Glendale Galleria! Except it’s closed! And I’m stealing pastries from the food court!” — is simple bordering on stoney. While I understand that most modern teenagers don’t really hang out at the mall, I love this video because it simultaneously demonstrates that Eilish is still a young person with a young person’s absurdist sense of humor and also that she’s got the star quality to effectively carry a single take clip of herself looting a Wetzel’s Pretzels. Plus, that swaggery thing I mentioned above is on full display here.

Andrew Unterberger: Not sure yet. I was definitely kinda taken aback by its simplicity on first viewing, especially for an artist who made her stardom on such eye-popping visuals. But now I’m wondering if her cavorting around an eerily empty mall might ultimately be just as creepy and unsettling as her crawling up the walls or crying black oil or what have you. If it was 25 years ago and I was seeing the video five times a day on MTV, it’d probably grow on me.

Christine Werthman: It’s fun, albeit a little basic compared to some of her other visuals. Perhaps I’m not in love with it because it’s too familiar and reminds me too much of myself at the mall when I was a teenager in the 1990s going to Hot Topic, only she has better clothes and I never stole food. You’re better than that, Billie. But god, what I wouldn’t give for a mall soft pretzel right now.

4. Do you think the strategy of individual song releases has helped Eilish maintain her incredible momentum from the chart-busting, Grammy-sweeping WWAFAWDWG? Or is it inevitable that she’ll cool off a bit before the release of her proper sophomore LP?

Rania Aniftos: I was expecting a gap between her debut and sophomore album, given that she was supposed to embark on a massive world tour before the coronavirus pandemic shut live music down. Singles are the ideal way to hold fans over until she gets back in the studio, and allows listeners to hear her creativity and thoughts on an individual basis. It’s obviously working in her favor, and as a fan of Billie’s, I’m not complaining.

Katie Atkinson: Tuesday’s Grammy nominations prove there definitely hasn’t been a cooling-off period, as she scored another pair of Big Four nods after she swept the top categories last time around. Plus, her younger audience doesn’t care if they get a dozen one-off songs month by month or a dozen songs tied up as an album — as long as they get their songs. Where Do We Go? allowed Eilish to have her coronation in the establishment music industry, but she’d already been wearing a crown for the last few years, as far as her listeners are concerned, and will keep wearing it until she takes a musical break.

Katie Bain: A string of really solid singles from a white hot artist is certainly going to keep things buzzy, but if her sophomore album delivers in the same way WWAFAWDWG did, I don’t see any reason why the excitement around Eilish should wane after it’s out.

Andrew Unterberger: We’ll see — 2020 was supposed to be a victory lap year for Eilish post-Grammys, but while she’s stayed productive and had hits, we just haven’t gotten to see her star grow to near-stadium proportions like we should have been able to. The bigger question than whether her album will be able to put up WWAFAWDWG type numbers by the time it’s out may be whether any album will still be able to, in a somewhat depressed current market for blockbuster album releases. Maybe best just to keep it to singles for now after all.

Christine Werthman: The halting of her tour due to the pandemic could’ve been a setback, but Eilish was too hot coming off of those Grammy wins to have people forget her. Why put out a whole new set when you haven’t really finished the full promotion of the last one? Answer: You don’t. You put out singles, keep your name out there and come back swinging when you’re able to tour again.

5. Do you think “Therefore I Am” will become Billie Eilish’s second No. 1 Hot 100 hit?

Rania Aniftos: Definitely. The song’s been blowing up on TikTok, and I’ve contributed to too many FBQs about the app to underestimate its power on the charts.

Katie Atkinson: If it weren’t for that Thursday release, it might have already hit the top. Now, it could be a much longer climb. While it’s possible, I’m going to bet on a No. 2 peak.

Katie Bain: I mean, definitely. If it can jump from 94-2 in a week, I don’t doubt it can take that extra step to No. 1 and — much like a gaggle of 18 year olds at a Panda Express — probably hang out there for a while.

Andrew Unterberger: It certainly could, though if the radio support for “Mood” continues to verge on the historic, it might need a little extra boost to get over the hump. If it’s gonna make a push to get there though, it better do so soon — Mariah’s coming, and from all indications, she’s not messing around this year.

Christine Werthman: Sure! Unless someone is dropping some hot fire during Thanksgiving week? But I’m thinking it’s going No. 1.

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