San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is a terrifying structure, most of a mile long and about as tall as the average New York City skyscraper. In the daytime, it’s shockingly red. The bay fog devours it at dusk, so that it looks like a pathway connecting clouds. Night lights add an imposing gold hue that lives up to the name. (I crossed it accidentally on one such evening in a fall 2001 stint on the West Coast, having run into it after a wrong turn; for the full effect, you must imagine it patrolled by troops with assault rifles.) Over 1,600 people have died there since the bridge opened a little over 80 years ago. It’s chilling that a construct created as a lifeline to a city can also be a place where so many of its residents’ journeys end.
Billie Eilish’s new single “Everything I Wanted” is a grisly dream about stepping off the Golden Gate and finding out that people didn’t like her as much as they let on. It’s an impostor-syndrome fantasy, feeling like the love and respect you enjoy are undeserved and easily withdrawn. It’s the first song in the 17-year-old singer’s growing catalogue that reckons full-on with the meteoric success she has seen since the release of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, her certified double-platinum debut studio album, in March. That album’s bad dreams were about normal teenage American concerns like breakups, anxiety, and how to navigate a house party. “Everything I Wanted” is a window into a newly minted pop star’s headspace: “Everybody wants something from me now / And I don’t wanna let ‘em down.” Do people care or are they bottlenecking because they want something, because they love a spectacle? It’s not always easy to tell.
The lifeline in a song about a real dream where Eilish lurks like a ghost as people quickly get on with their lives when she dies is unconditional love. The singer recently told BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac that the song is about her relationship with her brother and collaborator Finneas. The chorus is a loving rebuttal to the feeling of inadequacy in the verses. When your life changes rapidly, it’s important to keep people around you who remember where you started, who’ll treat you like that person and not the one people now admire. As long as Billie Eilish keeps sight of that, she’ll be fine.