“It was pretty crazy. It’s real, too,” Billie Eilish told Zane Lowe of her self-directed video for “NDA,” released Thursday night. “Real” meaning: No, that’s not a green screen behind the singer as she walks down the dotted center line on a nighttime roadway like some lost refugee from David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” courting disaster from what a press release describes as 25 “extremely rehearsed” stunt drivers.
It’s as if Eilish watched the Weeknd do his filmed stunt-car production number for the Billboard Music Awards in a shopping mall parking lot in May and said, “Let’s do something like that, except with everybody going faster, in the middle of the night.” Eilish surely didn’t sign any NDAs in the course of making the video, but she sure must have signed a personal injury waiver.
But as it turns out, it’s not just stunt drivers invading her space in “NDA.” It’s stalkers and even potential beaus, too. Eilish goes into confessional lyrical mode to explore the less fun sides of fame — not for the first time in the tracks preceding her new album (see also “Everything I Wanted”), and possibly not for the last (although we may have to wait for the July 30 release of the full-length “Happier Than Ever” to see how far she takes the theme).
Plenty of performers who achieve nearly overnight stardom devote much of their sophomore albums to what a bummer it can be. Eilish fans may be happier than ever, though, to find that she’s keeping up a lot of her trademark mordant humor and blunt language, and not getting too predictable or self-serious, in describing what she’s been dealing with in the last couple of years. When she sings, “Had a pretty boy over but he couldn’t stay / On his way out I made him sign an NDA,” you laugh because it can’t be real, then maybe laugh a little harder when you realize that of course it probably is.
Other lines quickly let listeners into facts that Eilish seems unafraid or unfazed to reveal: “I bought a secret house when I was 17 / Haven’t had a party since I got the keys.” Meanwhile, the not entirely linear music she and Finneas have come up with for “NDA” recalls some of the creepier moments on “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” And a hearty welcome back to that. The previous singles prefacing “Happier Than Ever” have veered slightly more toward contentment and/or musical conventionality — and there’s nothing wrong with that, because she’s just as good as a visibly sane pop star as she was when she was scaring grown-ups by seeming to be bleeding from the eyes. But with “NDA,” a single that really seems more like an offbeat “album track” disguised as a single, it’s good to get her more unnerving side back, in full, uneasy bloom.
She gets self-referential, throwing in an aside that alludes to “My Future”: “I thought about my future, but I want it now,” she declares, semi-comically negating the message of that earlier song (which also was a preview track for the upcoming album, although the way time has moved on, it feels like it came out about a hundred years ago). It’s Eilish’s mind that’s racing, and then doubling back on itself, even faster than one of those stunt cars.