How ‘Roma’ inspired Billie Eilish to write one of her most beloved songs
(Credit: Netflix)


How 'Roma' inspired Billie Eilish to write one of her most beloved songs

Alfonoso Cuarón’s iconic movie Roma is rightly regarded as one of the best in recent memory. But its influence is not reserved only for cinema but music too, with one of the world’s most prominent artists Billie Eilish, claiming the movie inspired one of her songs.

Since bursting out of the underground scene as a SoundCloud success in 2016 and then obtaining international stardom a year later, Billie Eilish has become a crucial cultural figure. The singer has built a distinct brand in the industry, employing styles and sounds as extensions of her persona and artistry. 

In 2019, Ellish spread her wings when she contributed to the soundtrack for Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical drama Roma. The film, an Academy Award-winning picture, documents a domestic worker who helps a couple care for four children in Mexico. This career move displays how Eilish draws inspiration from other outlets in her music rather than just influencing mediums herself.

The film stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira in the leading roles, with Fernando Grediaga and Jorge Antonio Guerrero appearing in supporting performances. Eilish provided the song ‘When I Was Older’, a blend of electronic compositions with a lullaby overlay to accompany the lyrical focus on themes inspired by Cuarón’s film.

Eilish wrote the piece alongside her longtime collaborator and older brother, Finneas O’Connell. They committed to writing a song that directly presents the strain of a relationship from Roma’s narrative, primarily from the sequences that had the most profound effect on them during their watch. The pair of musical siblings borrowed sound effects from the film to elevate their song, the subject matter and its placement in Cuarón’s landscape. 

A sequence in Roma inspires the chorus, showcasing the setting of Tuxpan beach. Two middle-class children swim in the sea but get caught by the strong current. As one of them struggles underwater, he remembers his past life, channelled in Eilish’s writing: “When I was older, I was a sailor on an open sea. But now I’m underwater. And my skin is paler than it should ever be.”

The lyricism recruits the concept of misery to align with Roma’s tone, with impressions of singing underwater incorporated to conjoin the visuals of the emotional scene and the music it inspired, resulting in the two mediums complementing one another. Speaking to Rolling Stone about the song’s creation and intention, Eilish shared: “We wanted to write from within the narrative of the movie and the scenes that struck us the most from it,” she said, adding: “Having access to the sounds used in the film proved to be invaluable to help us convey this.”

‘When I was Older’ was later included as a deluxe track on Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, which was released a year after the film.

Additionally, the distinction between Eilish’s demographic and Roma’s target audience cannot be ignored. As the former garners teenagers looking to express themselves in alternative outlets, the latter attracts cinematic enthusiasts looking to enjoy a slow, lyrical, beautiful Mexican art film about life. Despite the perceived differences, Eilish’s writing and sound call to the themes of alienation and internal struggle that Cuarón’s film explores, creating a stream of resonance between the two audiences.

Deservedly, Roma became the first foreign language film to win ‘Best Director’ and also marked the first time a director won ‘Best Cinematography’ for their own creation. The original soundtrack also features music written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, as well as several Mexican artists. Other artists who joined Eilish in the album inspired by the movie include Patti Smith and Asaf Avidan.

Watch Roma on Netflix now.