With Friday’s release of his full-length solo album debut, “Optimist,” and its spare brand of electro-soul with lost-boy yearnings, Finneas has shown, again, how dramatically different his own moody music is from that of the material he famously pens with his sister Billie Eilish. Whether it’s his meditation on things he’s dreamed of (“The ’90s”) or those he might never achieve (“What They’ll Say About Us”), Finneas proves that his solo aesthetic is an adventurous and catchy one apart from the vibe he strikes with Eilish.
The fact is, Finneas has been writing and producing out-of-the-box (and away from the family) tracks since even before Eilish’s introduction to a wider audience’s adoration in 2015. While some of Finneas’ productions have been hits (2019’s “Lose You to Love Me” by Selena Gomez), others remain solid, sure album tracks (see Camila Cabello’s “Romance” full-length).
As Finneas’ “Optimist” arrives, here are some of his best, lesser-known musical moments not on a Billie Eilish album — including collabs with James Blake, Justin Bieber, Ashe, Halsey, Tove Lo, Demi Lovato, Khalid and, yes, even a cut or two from Billie and Finneas themselves.
James Blake – “Say What You Will”
Aside from Blake’s Nick Cave meets Brian Wilson impersonation, the most amusing thing about this floaty cut from 2021’s “Friends That Break Your Heart” is that its video features Finneas in a starring role. That’s how essential to pop Finn is – he’s even wanted for his acting abilities.
Camila Cabello — “Used to This”
Finneas’ co-writing and production of Cabello’s spacious ballad, “Used to This,” builds slowly from its tale of surprising romantic to its singer boozing it up to get through the heat of passion with the goofy line, “I never did like tequila, but every time that I see ya’, I need a drink.” Instant classic.
Halsey – “I Hate Everybody”
The Beatles-ish lullaby soul of “I Hate Everybody” is miles away from the scabrous electro that Halsey is currently producing. And yet, the lyrics from the 2020 “Manic” album track (“I’m my own biggest enemy, yeah, all my empathy’s a disaster”) sound right at home. Finneas is part of a long list of writers on the song, including Benny Blanco and co-producer Lido.
Justin Bieber & Benny Blanco — “Lonely”
Finneas teamed up again with Blanco for this co-write as well as a co-production credit. While the soulful yodeling is all Bieber, an educated guess says that its sad, sparse overall tone and its elegant piano line is all Finneas. “When he (Blanco) and @finneas showed me this song,” wrote Bieber on Instagram, “to be honest it was hard to listen to, considering how tough it was to get through some of these chapters. I went into the studio and sang through it which wasn’t easy, but started to really see the importance of telling this story! It made me realize we all feel lonely at times!”
Tove Lo — “Bikini Porn”
Finneas had been a fan of Sweden’s dark pop mistress Tove Lo since her “Bad Habits” record in 2014, and acknowledged as much in an Instagram post from 2020. There, Finn recognized Tove Lo as an artist “who (was) going to have a lasting impact immediately…. Writing with her proved me right. Bar for bar, she’s brilliant, and ‘Bikini Porn’ was exactly the song I dreamed of producing for her.”
Along with co-writing and producing the still life “Passion and Pain Taste the Same When I’m Weak” for her fourth studio album, “Sunshine Kitty,” the team’s work on “Bikini Porn” is chipper, spare, chiptune-inspired pop with a giddy Adriana Grande feel and dippy lyrics.
Ashe — “Moral of the Story”
San Jose’s queen of electro indie-folk has been linked to Finneas on more than one music-making occasion, such as their duet on “Till Forever Falls Apart.” However, “Moral of the Story” is their most famous, most contagious and still best collaboration — a bright light in Finn’s darkly clouded production schedule, and one that, like his work with Kiki Palmer (see below), shows off his tonal diversity.
Selena Gomez – “Lose You to Love Me”
Finneas was a producer on the self-empowered Gomez co-write with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, and his work shows through, clearly, from its dark windy mix to the shadowy presentation of the singer’s voice at its duskiest. At the time, Gomez hailed Finneas for the 2019 track and where he took it. “Finn’s at the same label as I am along with Billie, and they played him the song,” she told Sirius XM. “He added that final touch and it just really made a difference.”
JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels — “If the World Was Ending”
Canadian singer-songwriter JP Saxe got his biggest shot in the U.S. in 2019 with this halting, piano-heavy ballad, co-written with vocalist Michaels. Finn bolstered its Santa Anna-windiness with a softly swelling production and a hot breeziness all his own.
Demi Lovato — “Commander in Chief”
Sure, Lovato’s 2020 election-cycle song – -cowritten by Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter and Finneas – is a heavy-handed Trump dis. That’s a given. Luckily, Finn’s production and its hints at gospel uplift the track and Lovato’s vocals into something more holy than political.
Keke Palmer — “Actually Vote”
Also on the political tip, but not so partisan — but still gospel-ish — is actor-singer Kiki Palmer’s “Actually Vote.” Dropped before November’s election to push young people into the voting booth, the song has Finneas credited with producing and cowriting Palmer’s R&B sing-song-y rap – a song showing more humor and light than we’ve come to expect from him.
Lennon Stella — “Jealous”
Finn likes his Canadians, and he likes his actors — Stella was a star of ABC’s “Nashville” — as proven from his work with her on “Jealous” in March 2020. Their co-write’s softly plucked synth strings and open-ended mix, together with Stella’s tentative whispery croon, are so Eilish, it hurts. But it’s a good hurt.
Khalid & Billie Eilish — “lovely”
String-laden, Gothic chamber-pop with a hearty helping of Khalid’s spacey soul: this is Finneas’ wheelhouse. As the intertwining voices of Eilish and Khalid build, co-writer and producer Finneas erects a sonic castle of glass around them for a true Wall of Woe. Whoa. When the 2018 hit logged a billion-plus streams, Khalid tagged Finneas and Eilish in a tweet as thanks.
Billie Eilish – “She’s Broken”
In December 2019, Variety published “Billie Eilish and Her Brother and Co-Writer, Finneas, Get Deep About Their Music and What’s Next.” That story referred to the earliest tracks that Finneas penned alone for his sister. “He wrote this song called ‘She’s Broken’ and I wrote one called ‘Fingers Crossed,’ and we recorded them and put them out on SoundCloud, just for fun,” said Eilish at the time, referring to a tune that predates the phenomenon of “Ocean Eyes” in November of 2015 by several months. Not included on any Eilish EP or album, the silken, piano-laden ballad with the dry drum thump must’ve been a tad too upbeat to consider including on her darker full-length debut, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”
Finneas – “Break My Heart Again”
In that aforementioned 2019 Variety story, Finneas refers to working with John Legend “On a song that I don’t think will ever come out” but was a “master class in songwriting.” Could that track be “Break My Heart Again,” a song that streamed as a single and digital download in 2018, then appeared on the deluxe edition of his 2019 EP, “Blood Harmony?” The yearning soulful song about the back-and-forth of a tumultuous breakup has the romantic, rambling feel of a patented Legend ballad.