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Courtesy Instagram / @billieeilish

Before Billie Eilish, women were happy

The Recording Academy claims that Billie Eilish has popularised ‘sad girl pop’, ignoring the fact that it’s existed since time immemorial

For as long as women have worked within the music industry, sad girl pop has existed. From Kate Bush’s existential longings or Fiona Apple’s intimate reflections on trauma, Alanis Morissette’s vulnerable balladry or Avril Lavigne’s angst-fuelled anthems, women artists have long explored themes of heartbreak, rejection, loneliness within their music. So, when the Recording Academy, AKA the organisation behind the Grammy Awards, credited Billie Eilish for inventing the Sad Girl Pop genre, people on Twitter weren’t convinced.

Published last week, the article on the Grammy official website drew connections between Eilish’s music and those of Gen Z stars such as Olivia Rodrigo and Tate McRae. “Sad girl pop didn’t truly begin to form its own sort of subgenre until Billie Eilish and her whispery, gloomy music emerged in 2016,” it wrote

The article, unsurprisingly, caused a stir on Twitter, after a Billie Eilish fan account shared the Recording Academy article. Legions of stans from sad girls past and present leapt to the offence, citing Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette as pioneers of the subgenre in the 90s. Others credited Avril Lavigne, Lorde, and of course, the queen of summertime sadness herself: Lana Del Rey.

Although the article admits that “sad girl pop isn’t exactly new”, it claims that Eilish has popularised sad girl pop into its own subgenre. OK, maybe Eilish did introduce a generation of teens to the escapist ways of the Sad Girl. But as anyone with even a remote knowledge of musical history, or a Tumblr account, will tell you, it’s a massive stretch. 

Regardless of where or when the subgenre surfaced, it seems absurd to credit sadness to a single artist. You need only look at the sad boy trope to understand that sadness is universal and expressed across many different styles and genres. Whether that means donning daisies in your hair and dissociating via Del Rey, or streaking your hair neon green and blasting out “Bad Guy”, is up to you.