With her album anti-rollout, Billie Eilish wants us to respect albums – and Mother Earth

Jenessa Williams explores the backstory behind Eilish’s third era, and what she stands for an an environmentally-aware artist


When the industry zigs, Billie Eilish likes to zag. Whether it’s refusing to conform to perceptions of what a female-identifying popstar ‘should’ be wearing onstage, lobbying fans to vote or questioning why her sexuality had to be headline ‘coming out’ news, she’s an artist that can frequently be relied on to disturb the status quo, saying what’s on her mind and proving the value of doing things her way. 

The same goes for her music. While festivals were squabbling over the same stale middle-aged male artists, she had enough big pop songs to become Glastonbury’s youngest ever solo headliner in 2022, delivering a performance of ‘Your Power’ that actually called out Roe vs. Wade. Earlier this year, ‘What Was I Made For?’ swept the 2024 awards season, becoming one of the most celebrated aspects of the Barbie movie and one of her most special songs to date. It’s difficult to predict what she’ll tackle next, but with Finneas at her side, the results are always exciting.

Fans may have joked about surviving the ‘Eilish drought’, but earlier this month, cryptic billboards appeared with no prior warning around the world, featuring lyrics and her instantly-recognisable ‘Blohsh’ logo. Millions of her fans were added to her instagram ‘Close Friends’, where further cryptic phrases were teased. And then, the real news came: her third record, ‘Hit Me Hard And Soft’ would be arriving in just over a month’s time, but there would be no prior singles. Just ten tracks, due in one go on May 17th, and described by her PR Team as ‘her most daring body of work to date’:


a diverse yet cohesive collection of songs, ideally listened to in its entirety from beginning to end. The album does exactly as the title suggests: hits you hard and soft both lyrically and sonically while bending genres and defying trends along the way. Hit Me Hard And Soft journeys through a vast and expansive audio landscape, immersing listeners into a full spectrum of emotions. It’s what the multiple GRAMMY and Academy Award winner does best, continuing to affirm Billie Eilish as the most exciting songwriter of her time”.

So far, so enigmatic. And yet in her desire to lure audiences back to the thrill of a complete record, Eilish’s rollout feels decidedly in line with her contrarian nature, leading the charge for artists to think more critically about the systems that they allow themselves to get caught up in. Ever since the streaming revolution, artists and fans alike have been encouraged to value the ‘single’ above all else, neatly tucked into mood-based playlists or marketed via memes, brand ties, lavish music videos and lore-based backstory. Making albums can be expensive and time consuming, and with less risk-taking going on at the deal-making level, artists are often encouraged to opt for a steady string of singles and EPs rather than committing to a bigger project, especially one that requires a cohesive narrative or for the artist to take time away from the public eye to make it.

In an era of ‘data fandom’ where chart positions and metrics matter more than anything else, very few pop stars are immune from the pressure to generate attention via teaser snippets, visuals, remixes and constructed beefs or backstories, keeping themselves in the news. Even the songs themselves are getting shorter; a race to the TikTok-friendly chorus in order 30 seconds is built on the assumption that mainstream audiences don’t have the attention span for anything else. 

In actively removing herself from this competition, Eilish seems to have grown tired of the kind of promo work that can make a musician feel more like an influencer than an artist. But she also confronts a lack of mystery in modern music, where so many records have already been dissected and half-heard by the time the actual album is out. As an artist who is young enough to have never really known what it was like to purchase a CD without being able to hear a snippet on iTunes first, there’s something quite encouraging about Billie’s attempt to rekindle the magic of discovery for her generation, to believe that her listeners trust her enough to guide them into a new era without unleashing the full toolkit of marketing techniques. In fact, she got quite pissed off when Rolling Stone apparently leaked the tracklisting, seemingly unable to let things be. 

Of course, the anti-rollout rollout could be read as something of a marketing ploy in itself, a way to create conversation about the lack of conversation. According to CrownTangle, the decision to invite in her ‘close friends’ on Instagram led to seven million new followers inside of two days; not bad by any social media managers standards. There is power in actively refusing the idea of splicing your art into tiny consumable TikTok snippets, but there is also shrewd recognition that, with the ongoing UMG licensing impasse, there isn’t necessarily much promo that an artist like Billie can really be maximising on anyway. Why not repackage that lack of opportunity as an artistic choice?

However, with a less cynical hat on, the way that Billie is choosing to sell the record also links to a growing responsibility about the kind of fannish consumption habits that she wishes to encourage. Eilish and her family have been talking about the climate activism and the importance of eco-awareness in the music industry for years, and walking the walk at the same time: powering her festival sets via temporary solar farms, encouraging fashion brand partners to stop using fur, releasing less fashion merch, requesting vegan-only tour catering. 

Even before ‘Hit Me Hard And Soft’ was confirmed, she spoke to the press about her distaste for artists who release excessive variants in order to manipulate extra income from loyal listeners, comparing it to The Hunger Games. Some interpreted it as a diss at Taylor Swift (who is indeed the queen of extensive vinyl variants), whilst others saw it as a bit of an own goal, given that Billie herself has been known to indulge in special editions and collectors versions that, while making use of recycled materials, could still be perceived as wasteful. Nonetheless, a new ‘Sustainability’ page on her website lists a plan of action that is fairly transparent by most artists standards, including BioVinyl, plant-based inks, and a distinct lack of plastics. There will be eight vinyl variants made available through her website, but importantly, they will contain the same track listing, meaning that no fan will have to buy multiple copies just to access all the songs. It’s not the same as abstaining entirely, but for an impossibly-huge popstar trying to fulfil at least some degree of her fans’ demand, it’s still a comparatively positive step.

In choosing not to play ball with the attention economy, the faith that Billie and Finneas have in their own work — and the desire to be thoughtful about how it impacts the planet — is surely a sign of the belief they have in the thing that they have made. ‘Hit Me Hard And Soft’ will have to go pretty hard to contend with some of the other huge releases of the coming month — Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, TwentyOne Pilots. But having seen what she’s capable of before, who would truly bet against Billie Eilish? Sign us up for one of those vinyl variants, and let the game-less games begin.