Billie Eilish’ all the good girls go to hell, Lucifer and the embodiment of individualism [Paper]

I wrote an extensive paper on pop star Billie Eilish and her song all the good girls go to hell. If you are interested, you can read it right here. I wrote it in the context of my research master in Religious Studies at Utrecht University and my interest in music, popular culture & the transformations of western culture, identity politics, symbolism and transgression.

Lucifer falling from the sky
Billie Eilish’ all the good girls go to hell and the embodiment of expressive individualism

Tim Bouwhuis
Core Themes in the Study of Religion- Blasphemy
Prof. Dr. Anne-Marie Korte

On September 4, 2019, the management of the American pop singer Billie Eilish released the music video for Eilish’ all the good girls go to hell.[1] Almost two months later, the video has been watched up to 75 million times on YouTube and a 2020 concert in the Ziggo Dome (a music arena in Amsterdam) was sold out within three minutes.[2] Eilish is one of the most popular pop artists of the moment, gaining popularity in the wake of, among other female break-out stars, Ariane Grande, Taylor Swift, and Lana del Rey.

At the start of the video, black wings burst out of Eilish’ shoulders after her back has been injected with a dozen of needles. Eilish then falls from the sky and trudges forward through the hills of California. At a certain point, her black wings are enflamed and the fire spreads. Eilish continues her troubled walk while shadowy silhouettes dance in the flames surrounding her.

My argument in this paper departs from the suggestion that the winged creature that Eilish embodies is Lucifer, [originally] a biblical figure who is said in Isaiah 14:12-17 to have ‘’exalted his throne above the stars of God’’, intending to ‘’be like the most High’’.[3] There are two important indicators that explicate the centrality of Lucifer in the song’s narrative from its start. The first indicator comes from the lyrics: the first line of the song reads ‘’My Lucifer is lonely’’. The second indicator is the use of a visual trope from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a 1667 poem[4] that covers Lucifer’s[5] rebellion against God, his descent to hell and his appearance on earth as a snake in the paradise of Genesis. In the nineteenth century, engravings of the French illustrator Gustave Doré (1832-1883) were issued and later added to some of the many reprints of the poem, including the ‘’complete and unabridged’’ edition that I possess myself.[6] One of the first shots of the video is building forth on a particular engraving of Dore, one that shows how Lucifer falls from the sky[7], similar to the fall of Eilish in all the good girls go to hell:

This initial suggestion brings about two related questions: How, and, more importantly, why is Eilish employing text [lyrics] and imagery evoking this figure? This paper approaches these questions through the lens of the cultural and religious context(s) in which all the good girls go to hell was created. My aim is to explain why Eilish’ performance as Lucifer neatly fits the (counter-)cultural environment in which both the song and the music video originate. I do so by means of establishing an explicit connection between the literary construction of Lucifer as a romantic hero and the countercultural position of the [revolting] artist as genius. My argument is that Billie Eilish’ music video displays a performance of what I call expressive individualism (following Robert Bellah [1985] and Charles Taylor [2007]), an ideology that she subsequently embodies through the figure of Lucifer.

The paper consists of two sections. First, I trace the configuration of Lucifer as a romantic hero from its appearance in Paradise Lost to some ideological core elements of American counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. This fierce time-lapse is no attempt to construct an overarching genealogy, but a comparative argument that suggests particular characteristic continuities. In this regard, I argue that Milton’s mythological reconstruction of Lucifer directly relates to the romantic appeal of rebellion and transgression that we find in this countercultural environment. This relation defies any prescriptive boundary between the religious and the secular, the physical and the metaphysical, the mythological and the real. Therefore, I use Christopher Partridge’s work on the reciprocal constructions of the sacred and the profane in popular music (2014) to assess the seemingly paradoxical relation between the enchanted world [in which a figure like Lucifer can manifest] of religion and the supposedly ‘profane’ sphere of popular music. 

A concise historical discussion of American counterculture is necessary in order to situate the song of Billie Eilish; in my perspective, contemporary popular music is thoroughly grounded in what we now denote as ‘counterculture’. It has merely evolved and changed, not in the least due to radical technological developments. In the second section of the paper, I expand on this observation through my analysis of all good girls go to hell as an example of expressive individualism, an ideological project that has its roots in counterculture. It is in this part that I analyze Eilish’ embodiment of Lucifer in the music video and argue how her performance unites Lucifer, the romantic hero, and the pop artist as genius. This ultimate identification can then also help to understand why Eilish and her music are either celebrated as the summum of artistic expression or rejected as the fruits of blasphemy and devil worship.

I

John Milton’s magnum opus Paradise Lost proved itself a contested work of art from the first time it was published. Not only did many critics allude to the poet’s mirror images of political personae and the position of the devil as his own ideological substitute, the work appeared to stimulate a revision of ethical standards that was firmly rejected by some of Milton’s contemporaries.[8] Paradise Lost famously led the British poet William Blake (1757-1827) to declare that Milton ‘’was a true poet and of the devil’s party without knowing it’’.[9] David Loewenstein argues that Milton ‘’imagines [Lucifer as] an equivocal monster who can skillfully employ more than one kind of rhetoric of rebellion’’.[10]  I can by no means do full justice to this consistent ambiguity of the work itself. Instead I focus on the precise characteristics of Lucifer in the poem that were taken up and reappropiated in particular streams of western cultural memory. In this section, that brings us to the appeal of romanticism and the heroic figure of Lucifer to American counterculture.

In a 1976 article, John M. Steadman writes that ‘’the validity of his [Lucifer’s] title as hero has been the oldest, and possibly the most persistent, of many controversies over Paradise Lost’’.[11] The term ‘hero’ is equivocal from the start. We know that we will not be able to escape diverging conceptions of what a hero is and which qualities should be attributed to him or her. Steadman, for instance, discerns a pseudo-hero (‘’praiseworthy only in the eyes of a fallen world and by the standards of a false (…) heroism’’) from a corrupted hero, a man who perverts from true heroism through his alienation from virtues that could have been employed for the sake of the good as well.[12] On the level of heroic qualities, many neoclassical critics at the time of Milton regarded Lucifer as the hero of the poem merely because he was successful, whereas several of the romantics already shifted the grounds of debate from his narrative development to his moral character; that is, to his ‘’strenuous pursuit of liberty, (…) his fortitude and constancy against overwhelming odds’’.[13] A subsequent question is how we have to judge this type of hero. Do we have to stick to literary gauges or can we enter the realm of ethics? Is Lucifer’s heroism merely poetic or morally subversive? While for most of Milton’s contemporaries the presence of some ethical intent was implicit in the definition of the epic genre, the advent of modernity has generally taken the sting out of this intent and substituted it with rhetoric appeal. This significant shift has constituted the intellectual framework through which we can understand romanticism in the context of American counterculture.

In his book The American Counterculture (2007), Christopher Gair emphasizes that what has only later become known as ‘the’ American counterculture has often been mythologized, to the extent that is has become difficult to distinguish this mythology from actual history.[14] In a way, this already indicates counterculture’s fundamentally romantic character: gaining sociocultural weight throughout the 1960s, it sought to ‘’create a series of perceived alternatives to the dominant capitalist society inhabited by their parents and other members of the [so-called] ‘parent culture’’’’.[15] Some of the basic tenets of countercultural thought expressed a romanticized urge toward social change, one that could somehow transcend the paradox that is was precisely the surplus of capitalist wealth in the American ‘post-scarcity economy’ that could facilitate and feed this desire in the first place.[16] The power and significance of music lay in its potential to amplify counter-hegemonic values and practices. According to Sheila Whiteley, counterculture really started to flourish after it had been associated with the hippie movement, and music, among other art forms, proved itself an important key to collective rebellion.[17]

In this context, romanticism was at the heart of resistance, since its intent could be effectively opposed to the [capitalist] hegemony of rationalism in the West. For the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), ‘romantic’ meant precisely ‘’that [which] oversteps all bounds’’; owing some ancestry and continuity to early nineteenth-century Romanticism and the related Gothic tradition, countercultural romanticism privileged experience and ecstasy to reason.[18] Adherents to this romantic ideology employed a notion of separation that is quite reminiscent of the Durkheimian hegemonic notion of the sacred, in the sense that the countercultural sphere was set apart from the rest of society, as an enchanted and idealist, truly ‘better’ world.[19] This is where Christopher Partridge argues that the popular music culture that originated in this romantic environment is fundamentally transgressive, cherishing what is damned and making profane what is considered sacred[20]; for the countercultural rejection of the ‘parent culture’ necessarily includes the rejection of the ‘parent religion’, which is institutional Christianity.[21] While it is not necessarily true that all adherents of countercultural ideology were also publicly resisting institutionalized religion, many Romantics did draw on the distaste that their nineteenth-century predecessors had had for the church and its unjust and repressive authority. Milton’s romantic Lucifer neatly fit this discourse, because his symbolic value as the eternal enemy of God and Christianity automatically positioned him at the juxtaposed end of the political spectrum.[22] Thus Lucifer is both the personification of transgression and the romantic hero engaged in countercultural resistance.

II

Moving towards my analysis of Billie Eilish’ all the good girls go to hell, my argument is that counterculture’s ideological indebtment to Romanticism and Lucifer’s direct appeal to counterculture are keystones to understanding why Eilish is embodying Lucifer in the first place. While I am obviously aware that today’s popular music culture[23] has changed and evolved from the 1960s onwards, I follow Sheila Whiteley’s suggestion that counterculture, as a form of popular narrative, asserts its relevance in our perceptions and understandings of the hegemonic struggles that have continued to inform everyday life.[24] In this section I argue that Eilish’ has essentially adopted the pre-existing countercultural romanticist ideology, but adjusted and modified it in order to display contemporary sociopolitical and religious sentiments.

My concise description of the music video for all the good girls go to hell in the introduction already indicated that its narrative is rather straightforward. The video starts with a swift succession of disturbing graphic imagery: Eilish’ back is laid bare and injected with a dozen of needles, after which black wings burst out of her shoulders. This is what we can call the first phase of the video: the creation of Eilish’ Lucifer figure. Worth noting is the fact that the first shot [see ] of all the good girls go to hell mirrors an equal shot from the music video for bury a friend, released on January 30th, 2019.[25] In an interview[26], Eilish has stated that the album centers around the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. This especially applies to the bury a friend music video, that evolves as a paranoid vision of a lucid dream. Without providing an extensive analysis of bury a friend, I want to stress that its narrative does serve as a prelude to all the good girls go to hell. Not only is it impossible to bypass the graphic match between the two shots of the needles, bury a friend shows us how that precise moment is preceded by a process of seizure. There are recurring shots of people wearing black gloves who gradually overpower Eilish. Because we only see their hands, the question of responsibility remains a by-product of the actual nightmare. At the same time, we now know that there is a narrative that precedes the quick creation phase at the start of all the good girls go to hell.

The appearance of Eilish’ wings is superseded by a sharp cut that gives us the image of the fall [].[27]Eilish lands in a pool of black tar, and the substance further pollutes her wings. This is the second phase of the video: the fall and the subsequent landing. After about fifteen seconds, she succeeds in her attempt to rise from the tarred pool and her walk through the fiery landscape – the third phase –  begins. The visual apotheosis comes when then the fire ignites her wings, causing her to stumble but not to perish.

Eilish’ appearance in the video rests on a crucial paradox: that between ‘falling’ and ‘rising’.  At first glance, ‘’having fallen once, the fallen angel must continue to fall’’[28]; her walk is not a triumph but a traject of suffering. This lack of a victorious turning point actually delineates the regression of the devil’s character in Paradise Lost: ‘’Satan’s character does not ‘’develop’’; the changes we recognize are symptoms not of moral growth but of decay. Though they may resemble a process of development – the progressive maturation of the first-world conqueror – they are, in fact, a developing perfection in non-being: a growing maturity in ‘’privatives’’, evil and misery and death. (…) Like the decay of Satan’s visible glory, his transformation from godlike to brutish shape is a reflection of the alteration in his character. ’’[29]

This process of spiritual decreation may see itself reflected in the narrative of the video, once we take the song’s lyrics [see attachment 1] into account, a more complicated picture arises. All the good girls go to hell constructs a dialogue with institutional [catholic] Christianity from the moment that Eilish sings ‘’Peter’s on vacation’’, referring to one of Jesus’ disciples in the biblical gospels and one of the icons of roman patriarchy. This dialogue, however, defies the patriarchal image of God within the catholic tradition [and plainly within most Christian denominations] at the moment it explicitly states that ‘’even God herself has enemies’’. This crucial twist is followed [in the same refrain] by the suggestion that God [She] will want the devil on her team ‘’once the water starts to rise and Heaven’s out of sight’’. Eilish thus subverts the idea that women are totally other than the patriarchal God of monotheistic Christianity[30]; not only does she follow pop artist Ariane Grande in her discourse on God as a woman[31], her suggestion that this God would want ‘the devil on her team’ challenges corresponding dualistic conceptions of good and evil.

The closing lines of the song (‘’There’s nothing left to save now’’) match the destructive imagery in the video, but the blame is put elsewhere: ‘’Hills burn in California – my time to ignore ya – don’t say I didn’t warn ya’’. While Eilish, the first person in these lyrics, cannot or will not keep the hills from burning, she is well aware that people call upon her supposed saving powers: ‘’Look at you needing me’’; ‘’Man is such a fool – why are we saving him’’ – ‘’Begging for our help, wow!’’. Since the ‘you’ in the first line is not explicated, I can only suggest that ‘you’ may be God, which again challenges the dualism of God and devil. The ‘we’ in ‘’why are we saving him’’, on its turn, implies a partnership between Eilish and Lucifer, similar to the sudden plural ‘we’ in Genesis 1:26 [‘’Let us make’’]. There are two arguments for this observation. The first is that this partnership is already embodied in the video, with Eilish becoming and subsequently performing Lucifer. The other indicator is the recurring line ‘’My Lucifer is lonely’’, which ontologically separates Eilish from Lucifer. The line suggests that Eilish possesses [a] Lucifer or that [a] Lucifer possesses her; this makes sense in the context of the video for bury a friend, in which Eilish receives injections before the wings can start to grow.

There is [at least] one significant element to all the good girls go to hell that I have not yet discussed: its references to the sociopolitical climate crisis. The publication of the video on YouTube was accompanied by the hashtag #climatestrike, a signifier that may preemptively twist the viewer’s perception of the video’s iconography [that is, once noticed]. Through this lens, lines such as ‘’Animals, evidence’’ and ‘’Hills burn in California’’[32] have to be interpreted as direct references to real-time destruction. Thus the song unfolds at two different-and-yet-connected levels: a psychical sense of change aligns with a metaphysical sense of chaos and subversion.     

Now that I have offered my analysis of the song, both in visual and textual terms, I hope to substantiate Eilish’ transgressive discourse by means of a logical follow-up question: if this song indeed expresses what I think it does, why? At this point I want to argue that Eilish’ performance fits the framework of what Robert Bellah[33] and Charles Taylor have called ‘expressive individualism’. I refer to this ideology as the result of a set of sociocultural developments [in the west] that has merged individualism with the continuous need to express that individuality.[34] In this section, I am interested in one particular type of individuality: that of the artist as genius. In his essay ‘’Expressive Individualism, the Cult of the Artist as Genius, and Milton’s Lucifer’’, Patrick Madigan traces this concept, which denotes the exteriorization of artistic self-expression [in contemporary popular music culture], back to nineteenth-century Romanticism[35] and, essentially, to Milton’s characterization of Lucifer.

These three connections may appear grotesque, but they actually echo the cultural continuities that Partridge discusses when he talks about the romantic appeal to transgression that informs popular music culture. The most significant difference is that whereas Partridge’s chapter on Romanticism[36] is still very much focused on the communal elements of the ideology, Madigan stretches it to the current age to discuss what could be called the sacralization of the individual. In a way this process is the extrapolation of what Emile Durkheim coined the ‘cult of the individual’. A sociological explanation for the shift towards this ‘cult’ would be that the more complex division of labour in the west gradually leads societies to invest more in every individual, resulting in the process of sacralization.[37] What Madigan’s analysis adds to this observation is that it sets out which particular cultural developments [the advent of consumerism, the influence of celebrities on lifestyle, the general replacement of Judeo-Christian ethics with a secularized moral framework] have boasted this process and how they have stimulated the efflorescence of expressive individualism. The discourse of expressive individualism that he sketches is a romantic discourse that aligns with nearly all the characteristics of counterculture and romanticism that we have already discussed yet, and its archetype for human fulfillment, Madigan argues, is Milton’s Lucifer.[38]

What is striking in the case of Billie Eilish is that she is embodying the metaphysical, symbolical archetype of ‘expressive individualism’ that rejects the Father as father[39], not only through her feminization of God, but also by means of her music per se; for the core feature of the artist of genius is that she no longer strives for mimesis (imitation) but attempts to create something that has never existed before: her art. Just like Lucifer in Paradise Lost, the artist employs her self-created identity – ‘’I know none before me – I am self-begot’’.[40] The Satanic image, as Steadman phrases it, in the work of Milton is an aspect of the hero’s élan toward self-definition, and thus, to a degree, the devil’s own creation.[41] And indeed, Milton’s devil doubted not only that God had created the angels, but that he could create anything to start with.[42] Therefore, Eilish’ performance of resistance is both internal and external to the narrative of the song: the meta-level of artistic creation underpins Lucifer’s actual walk in all the good girls go to hell.

The explicit visual references to Lucifer and Eilish’ portrayal of him (or her) as a romantic yet tragic hero also help us to understand why many people who identify as Christians firmly reject Eilish’ music and express this publicly. We find these kinds of thoughts reflected in YouTube videos with titles such as Did Billie Eilish Sell Her Soul? and Billie Eilish ADMITS Who She REALLY Is.[43] Steadman hits the nail on the head when he states: ‘’To one, the devil is consistently evil and consistently absurd. To another, the devil is progressively evil and essentially tragic’’.[44] We must recall that in Paradise Lost ‘’The heroic standard is ambiguous, and Milton subverts it by applying it to an instrument of destruction rather than production, and to an inventor who is a malefactor rather than a benefactor of mankind’’.[45] The word inventor is a perfect indicator for the tension between expressive individualism and irreversible decay. For admirers of Eilish, the music videos displays a tormented genius that identifies with suffering in order to ask attention for a cause greater than herself.[46] The point is not that the destruction [‘’Hills burn in California’’] is not real but that it actually strengthens the call of the artist.[47] In this receptive context, the figure of Lucifer itself may be additionally empowering but only in an artistic, metaphorical sense. The countercultural reception of Lucifer and his romanticism are politicized in a concrete fashion, so that it is no longer the mythology, but the message that thrives the performance.

For Christians who express a fiercely negative response to the video, the destruction that is displayed cannot be separated from the Lucifer figure that is embodied by Eilish. Not only is the destruction considered real and forthcoming, the combination of the imagery and Eilish’ own identification with Lucifer is deconstructed as a sign of tangible metaphysical influence that transcends the mythology of Milton. In this particular framework of explanation, the artistic evocation of Lucifer may well be the most dangerous utterance of blasphemy.

Conclusion

David Loewenstein was right when he stated that ‘’Paradise Lost shows us, as powerfully as any literary creation can, that the (…) monster of rebellion will always be apt to renew itself’’.[48] In all the good girls go to hell, Eilish’ embodiment of Lucifer signifies a performance of expressive individualism, in which the artist is the tragic and yet romantic hero of her own art. I have argued that the framework of Romanticism, owing much to Milton, is essential to our understanding of contemporary popular music culture, that is firmly rooted in American counterculture and has merely adapted to the technological standards and sociopolitical concerns of our time. In that sense, Milton’s devil and Eilish’ Lucifer come full cycle through the embodiment of romantic rebellion. Our analysis of the lyrics and the video has demonstrated that the artist’s textual and visual resistance to hegemonic conceptions of God challenges dualistic ideas about good and evil within the context of a perceived crisis: that of climate change.

Partridge’s argument on the fundamental transgression of romanticist music [counter]culture leaves us with a challenging ‘problem’ intrinsically connected with the notion of blasphemy. What does blasphemy mean in a cultural context in which the sacred and the profane are deliberately interspersed, almost beyond recognition? Through the lens of the apparent transition from the two extremes of the sacred and the profane to an almost holistic notion of entanglement, the profane has become non-existent, for it has been sacralized and it perpetuates its countercultural attempts to make the perceived [hegemonic] sacred profane. Out of that analytical maze there is no easy way.

Literature

Bedell, Chelsi. ‘’Did Billie Eilish Sell Her Soul?’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYPtnHMeyRo. Accessed October 29th, 2019.

Buffalo, University at. ‘’Gustavo Dore illustrations’’. http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/collection/LIB-SC001/. Accessed October 7th, 2019.

Coleman, Elizabeth Burns and Kevin White. ‘’Stretching the Sacred’’. In Elizabeth Burns Coleman and Kevin White (eds.), Negotiating the Sacred: Sacrilege and Blasphemy in a Multicultural Society. Canberra: ANU Press, 2006. 65-77.

Darville, Jordan. Fader. ‘’Watch Billie Eilish Discuss How Lucid Dreams and Night Terrors Informed Her Debut Album’’. https://www.thefader.com/2019/02/25/billie-eilish-sleep-issues-debut-album-xane-lowe. Accessed October 29th, 2019.

Eilish, Billie. ‘’all the good girls go to hell’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PZsSWwc9xA. Accessed October 7th, 2019.

Eilish, Billie. ‘’Bury a friend’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUHC9tYz8ik. Accessed October 29th, 2019.

Eilish, Billie. ‘’Billie Eilish lyrics. ‘’All the good girls go to hell’’. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/billieeilish/allthegoodgirlsgotohell.html. Accessed October 7th, 2019.

Gair, Christopher. The American Counterculture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Grande, Ariane. ‘’God is a Woman’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHLHSlExFis. Accessed October 7th, 2019. Accessed October 26th, 2019.

Hacking the Headlines. ‘’Billie Eilish ADMITS Who She REALLY Is’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07sPYAOa7L8. Accessed October 29th, 2019.

Hunt, Elle. ‘’Is Billie Eilish a devil worshipper? Hell, No’’. https://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2019/sep/09/is-billie-eilish-a-devil-worshipper-hell-no. Accessed October 26th, 2019.

Korte, Anne-Marie. ‘’Blasphemous Feminist Art: Incarnate Politics of Identity from a Post-Secular Perspective’’. In Taking Offense: Religion, Art and Visual Culture in Plural Configurations, edited by Christiane Kruse, Birgit Meyer and Anne-Marie Korte. Paderborn: Fink, 2018. 109-139.

Loewenstein, David. ‘’’’An Ambiguous Monster’’: Representing Rebellion in Milton’s Polemics and ‘’Paradise Lost’’’’. Huntington Library Quarterly 55, no. 2 (1992), 295-315.

Madigan, Patrick. ‘’Expressive Individualism, the Cult of the Artist as Genius, and Milton’s Lucifer’’. Studia Aloisiana 4 (2013), 5-14.

Milton, John. Milton’s Paradise Lost. Complete and Unabridged. Illustrations by Gustave Dore. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2016.

Partridge, Christopher. The Lyre of Orpheus: Popular Music, The Sacred, & The Profane. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Revard, Stella Purce. The war in heaven: Paradise Lost and the tradition of Satan’s rebellion. New York: Cornell University Press, 1980.

RTL Nieuws. ‘’Concert Billie Eilish binnen drie minuten uitverkocht, fans verbijsterd’’. https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/editienl/artikel/4872446/concert-billie-eilish-3-minuten-uitverkocht-fans-ticketmaster. Accessed October 7th, 2019.

Steadman, John M. ‘’The Idea of Satan as the Hero of ‘’Paradise Lost’’’’. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 120, no.4 (1976), 253-294.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Whiteley, Sheila and Jedediah Sklower, eds. Countercultures and Popular Music. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2014.

Attachment 1: lyrics all the good girls go to hell

“All The Good Girls Go To Hell”

My Lucifer is lonely

Standing there, killing time
Can’t commit to anything but a crime
Peter’s on vacation, an open invitation
Animals, evidence
Pearly gates look more like a picket fence
Once you get inside ’em
Got friends but can’t invite them

Hills burn in California
My turn to ignore ya
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya

All the good girls go to hell
‘Cause even God herself has enemies
And once the water starts to rise
And Heaven’s out of sight
She’ll want the Devil on her team

My Lucifer is lonely

Look at you needing me
You know I’m not your friend without some greenery
Walk in wearing fetters
Peter should know better
Your cover up is caving in
Man is such a fool
Why are we saving him?
Poisoning themselves now
Begging for our help, wow!

Hills burn in California
My turn to ignore ya
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya

All the good girls go to hell
‘Cause even God herself has enemies
And once the water starts to rise
And Heaven’s out of sight
She’ll want the Devil on her team

My Lucifer is lonely
There’s nothing left to save now
My God is gonna owe me
There’s nothing left to save now

(I cannot do this snowflake)


References

[1] Billie Eilish, ‘’all the good girls go to hell’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PZsSWwc9xA. Accessed October 7th, 2019.

[2] RTL Nieuws, ‘’Concert Billie Eilish binnen drie minuten uitverkocht, fans verbijsterd’’. https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/editienl/artikel/4872446/concert-billie-eilish-3-minuten-uitverkocht-fans-ticketmaster. Accessed October 7th, 2019.

[3] BibleGateway. Isaiah 14. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+14&version=KJV. Accessed October 25th, 2019.

[4] John M. Steadman writes that the poem has a kaleidoscopic set-up, in which a sequence of dramatic images of the devil in counsel or action is interspersed with proleptic or retrospective allusions and with moral commentary. John M. Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan as the Hero of ‘’Paradise Lost’’’’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 120, No. 4 (1976), 271.

[5] i.e. Satan or the devil; in Milton’s work the name ‘Satan’ is used. A separate paper would be necessary to argue to which extent the biblical Lucifer and the biblical Satan are the same figure. My focus in this paper, however, is on the cultural use of both names. Therefore I will consequently use the name ‘Lucifer’, since that is the name that is employed in the Eilish song. I also refer to John M. Steadman’s observation that the Satan of book I (of Paradise Lost) is essentially the fallen Lucifer, the archangel ruined; and that, by the end of book I, one can already carefully perceive in this heroic leader the lineaments of the future serpent (Satan). Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 273.

[6] University at Buffalo, ‘’Gustavo Dore illustrations’’, http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/collection/LIB-SC001/. Accessed October 7th, 2019. John Milton, Milton’s Paradise Lost. Complete and Unabridged. Illustrations by Gustave Dore (London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2016).

[7] Or ‘’falls from heaven’’, if we would follow Isaiah 14:12.

[8] Aside from sections in Steadman’ article, I refer to David Loewenstein’s article (1992, see literature list) and Stella Purce Revard’s The War in Heaven (1980) for elaborations on Milton’s own position and the parallels between the poem and political personae and circumstances at that time.

[9] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 258.

[10] Another helpful observation is that ‘’Milton confronted diverse and contradictory forms of rebellion in his age, both revolutionary and royalist shapes; heatedly engaged in rebellion as a fierce supporter of regicide, he was also deeply anxious about other forms of it’’. Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 297, 304.

[11] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 253.

[12] For Stanley Fish, the Satanic image in Paradise Lost even compelled the reader to ‘’redefine his own preconceptions of the heroic and to revise his idea of what a true hero is’’. Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 255, 267.

[13] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 260.

[14] Christopher Gair, The American Counterculture (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 2.

[15] Sheila Whiteley and Jedediah Sklower, eds., Countercultures and Popular Music (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2014), 18. The term ‘parent culture’ comes from cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1968).

[16] Gair, The American Counterculture, 2, 4. Whiteley and Sklower, Countercultures and Popular Music, 20.

[17] Whiteley and Sklower, Countercultures and Popular Music, 17-18.

[18] Christopher Partridge, The Lyre of Orpheus: Popular Music, The Sacred & The Profane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 115, 121.

[19] In the words of Partridge: ‘’The Romantic constructions of the sacred and the profane are conspicuous. For those seeking to get back to the garden, yet trapped in the disenchanted world of everyday life, fantasy provided an appealing utopian vision.’’ Partridge, The Lyre of Orpheus, 142. What is also interesting is that, in a way, counterculture used Weber’s thesis of disenchantment against itself, using enchantment in a supposedly non-religious, anti-capitalist way to construct a world alternative to the capitalist west.

[20] Partridge, The Lyre of Orpheus, 81.

[21] Partridge is quoting Michel Foucault when he explains that the western discourse on God had been the dominant discourse for so long that it could only shape the experience of transgression. Partridge, The Lyre of Orpheus, 64-65.

[22] Partridge, The Lyre of Orpheus, 154.

[23] I refer to popular music culture as a broad and essentiality global environment that facilitates ‘popularity’ by means of streaming, hitlists and worldwide tours. Eilish is definitely a part of what we often call the music industry, an immense concern that mainly operates from America but executes global cultural influence.

[24] Whiteley and Sklower, Countercultures and Popular Music, 26.

[25] Billie Eilish. ‘’Bury a friend’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUHC9tYz8ik. Accessed October 29th, 2019. Both songs feature on Eilish’ debut album ‘’When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’’, which was released on 3/29/2019.

[26] Jordan Darville. Fader. ‘’Watch Billie Eilish Discuss How Lucid Dreams and Night Terrors Informed Her Debut Album’’. https://www.thefader.com/2019/02/25/billie-eilish-sleep-issues-debut-album-xane-lowe. Accessed October 29th, 2019.

[27] This happens so speedily that there is barely time to take a proper screenshot.

[28] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 291.

[29] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 291, 293.

[30] Anne-Marie Korte, ‘’Blasphemous Feminist Art: Incarnate Identity Politics from a Post-Secular Perspective’’, in Taking Offense: Religion, Art and Visual Culture in Plural Configurations, edited by Christiane Kruse, Birgit Meyer and Anne-Marie Korte (Paderborn: Fink, 2018), 122.

[31] Ariane Grande, ‘’God is a Woman’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHLHSlExFis. Accessed October 7th, 2019.

[32] At the very moment of writing, they do so quite literally, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/25/us/santa-clarita-fire-sonoma-california.html. Accessed October 26th, 2019.

[33] In his book Habits of the Heart (1985).

[34] Since I can by no means do justice to all these developments, I refer to the thirteenth chapter (p. 473-504) of Taylor’s A Secular Age (2007) for his elaborate discussion.

[35] Madigan explains how the cult of the artist as genius already flourished during the 19th century, so these timeframes (of Romanticism and a particular validation of the artist) go together. Patrick Madigan, ‘’Expressive Individualism, the Cult of the Artist as Genius, and Milton’s Lucifer’’, Studia Aloisiana 4 (2013), 5.

[36] The fourth chapter in The Lyre of Orpheus.

[37] Elizabeth Burns Coleman and Kevin White, ‘’Stretching the Sacred’’, In Elizabeth Burns Coleman and Kevin White (eds.), Negotiating the Sacred: Sacrilege and Blasphemy in a Multicultural Society (Canberra: ANU Press, 2006), 68.

[38] Madigan, ‘’Expressive Individualism’’, 5.

[39] Madigan, ‘’Expressive Individualism’’, 5.

[40] Madigan, ‘’Expressive Individualism’’, 12-13.

[41] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 254.

[42] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 264.

[43] I do not incorporate my analysis of these videos, since they are not the focus of this paper and I would need to provide much more context to the utterances of these people, similar to the ‘romantic’ framework. I include my general observations here in order to demonstrate how differently a video like this can be interpreted by people with different beliefs and convictions, stressing once more how important the ideological background of the text and the imagery is to, on the one hand, Eilish’ overall message, and, on the other, to the diverging interpretations of her ‘opponents’. See: Chelsi Bedell. ‘’Did Billie Eilish Sell Her Soul?’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYPtnHMeyRo. Accessed October 29th, 2019. Hacking the Headlines. ‘’Billie Eilish ADMITS Who She REALLY Is’’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07sPYAOa7L8. Accessed October 29th, 2019.

[44] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 290.

[45] Steadman, ‘’The Idea of Satan’’, 278.

[46] One comment on the YouTube video reads: Why are people just dismissing the message? “Hills burn in California” “Once the water starts to rise” “Poisoning themselves now, begging for our help, wow” Also, she’s looks like a bird that has been stuck in one of those oil spills. People are dancing in the fire, ignoring the whole situation that their home is on fire. Another says: ‘’i love how this song is trying to raise awareness but not that many people get it’’.

[47] This point was actually made by an author of the British newspaper the Guardian: Elle Hunt, ‘’Is Billie Eilish a devil worshipper? Hell, No’’. https://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2019/sep/09/is-billie-eilish-a-devil-worshipper-hell-no. Accessed October 26th, 2019.

[48] David Loewenstein, ‘’’’An Ambiguous Monster’’: Representing Rebellion in Milton’s Polemics and ‘’Paradise Lost’’’’, Huntington Library Quarterly 55, no. 2 (1992), 310.

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