I’m neither a musician nor a composer, but I do love music. And one song has me trying to deconstruct why I like it so much.
Here goes my attempt to explain the perfection of Billie Eilish’s “I Love You“.
First, the song is slow and spare. Very few notes and words. This negative space gives every note and word the ability to have maximal emotional impact.
Second, she chooses words with very common ending sounds like “oo” and “eye” so that she has many words to choose from. Those well-chosen words can be short and simple but still convey intense meaning.
This is a kind of Hemingway-like genius. As the master himself said:
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader….will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. – Ernest Hemingway
Third, she sings the verses very quietly. You’re drawn in to listening the way you listen harder to someone who’s whispering.
Fourth, the refrain builds from that quiet baseline to a crescendo of a held word, along with a single held note on a bass guitar or string instrument. “I love yooooooooooooou”. This prolongs the climax of emotion and the point of the whole song..
So that’s it. Slow and spare. Simple, emotionally laden words. A quiet that draws you into listening. And a refrain that brings home the emotional point of the song.
Have a listen for yourself.