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I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "bad guy" by Billie Eilish mean?

What does "bad guy" by Billie Eilish mean?

“bad guy” Lyrics Meaning

“Remember being younger and wanting to be the one that dies in the game? I always wanted to be the bad guy in every game I played. They were the coolest. Obviously, I’m not a bad guy in real life — so let me put on this mask. When you’re little, songwriting is the same thing as playing a game. You can be whatever you want.” Eilish has said in a recent interview with Fader. Though she didn’t openly connect it to the track “bad guy”, the connection is very clear and important when interpreting the song. She has fascination with the “bad guy” character that we’ve seen before in songs like “bellyache”, or “you should see me in a crown” (inspired by the infamous villain Moriarty). The difference between those songs and this one, is mainly her irreverence while playing this character. Rather than writing a serious song about a troubled mind, she and FINNEAS craft a self-aware, over the top track from the perspective of someone who is bad, and is proud of it.

“I’m the bad guy, duh”

The irreverence for the “bad guy” character is easy to see in the music video, as well as the sound of the song, which mixes funky, groovy beats with disturbing vocals. The song is a blend of macabre storyline with a twisted happiness, which is what makes the song’s sound so catchy, and the lyrics and video so disturbing. The line that most typifies this attitude is the dark, distorted statement of “I’m the bad guy”, followed by a slight pause and Billie’s playful “duh”. This is a strong signal that Billie doesn’t intend for the song to be taken to seriously, which is a good thing, considering how disturbing some of the confessions her character makes are.

Verse 1

White shirt now red, my bloody nose

Sleepin', you're on your tippy toes

Creepin' around like no one knows

Think you're so criminal

Bruises on both my knees for you

Don't say thank you or please

I do what I want when I'm wanting to

My soul? So cynical

The contrast of the “white shirt” with the red of her “bloody nose” likely illustrates with colors the internal change her character undergoes. Billie Eilish has often talked about how colors are very expressive to her, and she loves to tie visuals to her songs in music videos. It makes sense then, that she would use the imagery of a white shirt, pure and untainted, now corrupted by blood, symbolizing pain as a metaphor for the loss of innocence. The scene she sets is of her asleep with her partner, “on [his] tippy toes”, likely sneaking to her so that no one else will know they were together, as we later learn he has a girlfriend. The “criminal” act he feels is so bad, is likely having an affair with her, though her character has a more casual attitude towards the situation. His apprehension about the affair does not make him a moral person by any means as the next line preludes her description of this bad boy: “bruises on both [her] knees for [him]”, alluding to her begging him for something over and over again that he refuses to give. It could be him ending the relationship with his girlfriend. Her character shifts after this line into a more aggressive and villainous persona, much like the man she wants a relationship with. She throws social niceties out and commands him not to “say thank you or please”, because she “do[es] what [she] want[s] when [she’s] wanting to”. The reason she gives for this behavior is that her soul is “so cynical” and hardened against feelings like compassion and caring.

Chorus

So you're a tough guy

Like it really rough guy

Just can't get enough guy

Chest always so puffed guy

I'm that bad type

Make your mama sad type

Make your girlfriend mad type

Might seduce your dad type

I'm the bad guy

I'm the bad guy, duh

I'm only good at bein' bad, bad

The chorus compares herself to the man she wants a relationship with. He’s a “tough guy” who “likes it really rough”, and “can’t get enough”. Her description of him ties into the image of that bad boy that any sane father would disapprove of. He’s violent, prideful, cocky and probably sports a leather jacket. But this doesn’t frighten Billie’s character. Instead she counters by telling him how similar they are. She’s “that bad type”, same as he is. She’s the kind of girl who would “make [his] mama sad” and would even go so far as to “seduce [his] dad” if the desire so struck her. She has no care for the destruction she leaves in her wake, or that his dad has a wife and her lover has a girlfriend. She appears to be proud of it. She brags to him, “I’m only good at bein’ bad”. Her character seems to have a lot of fun being bad, and makes a joke out of it. After her dark confession she says simply, “I’m the bad guy, duh”. Billie herself has admitted she isn’t really a “bad guy” in real life, but she appears to have a lot of fun wearing the mask with irreverence in this song.

Verse 2

I like it when you take control

Even if you know that you don't

Own me, I'll let you play the role

I'll be your animal

My mommy likes to sing along with me

But she won't sing this song

If she reads all the lyrics

She'll pity the men I know

The second verse contains the most sexual undertones of any song on Billie Eilish’s debut album, particularly with the lines, “you don’t / Own me, I’ll let you play the role / I’ll be your animal”. It is surprising that after proving her assertive personality, she tells him that she likes it “when [he] take[s] control”. This could be because he is one of the few people she has met who is just as bad as her and can be just as overpowering of a force to her as she is to him. Billie breaks character slightly to address the audience and admit that this song is dark, even for her. If her mother “reads all the lyrics” she “won’t sing this song” like she usually does when Billie releases music. Instead, she’ll “pity the men” in Billie’s life who she imposes her desires on. This is the most interesting part of the second verse, if not the song, as it is laced with a twinge of regret and sadness. She is confessing that this unruly behavior is putting distance between herself (as the character she is playing, not Billie in real life) and her mother.

Reprise

I like when you get mad

I guess I'm pretty glad that you're alone

You said she's scared of me?

I mean, I don't see what she sees

But maybe it's 'cause I'm wearing your cologne

In the conclusion of the story of “bad guy’, her love interest is angry with her, likely because his girlfriend found out about their romance. Rather than being apologetic, she likes it that he’s mad, and says she’s “pretty glad that [he’s] alone”. This could refer to a breakup between him and his girlfriend, but without details this line is slightly unclear. She is surprised to learn that his girlfriend is “scared of [her]’. She acts as if she doesn’t know why by shrugging it off with, “I don’t see what she sees / But maybe it’s cause I’m wearing your cologne”. The other girl is clearly threatened because she knows that Billie and her boyfriend have been close enough for his cologne to be smelled on her clothes. This also means, that if his girlfriend has smelled his cologne on Billie, Billie likely went to see her so she could intimidate her away from the guy she likes.

Deeper Meaning of “bad guy” by Billie Eilish

“bad guy” is undoubtedly a shift in the personality of Billie Eilish’s music. It addresses more sexual themes than listeners might be used to from her, and heads in a darker moral direction with lines such as “might seduce your dad type”. The question really is, is darker deeper? Are we learning something important about the world, something that can help us become better people? In the end, while this may be a likeable song in many ways (production, stunning vocals, some clever lines, and its self-aware nature), on a lyrical level, it isn’t deep, and singing about walking all over others to serve ourselves doesn’t help us to make us people who care for the world around us, even if it is only in jest.

You can check out Cliff’s take on the song in this cool video right here:

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