This article analyzes the representation of depression in Billie Eilish’s music and reception as reflective of its complex status in the West as a clinical diagnosis and lived experience, and considers the prominence of depression in contemporary pop as an aesthetic category dividing along generational, gendered, and racial lines. By claiming and musicalizing depression amid a polarizing reception, Eilish builds on a musical legacy of feminine psychological disturbance, challenging the stigmatization of “madness” in women and cultural panic over the prevalence of depression among Generation Z. Her music demystifies an invisible inner turmoil that her fans identify as “depression,” just as they frame her signature whisper singing as a coherent marker of and antidote for depression. Links between Eilish’s voice and the feminized auditory triggers of ASMR (a homemade sound-effects-based genre of audio-visual performance on YouTube) and the immersive, solitary listening characteristic of headphone and earbud use strengthen her music’s appeal as a form of “mood regulation.” Ultimately, Eilish’s voice and body are the locus onto which fans and detractors project fantasies and anxieties about the generational, gendered, and racial dynamics of depression that often exceed the singer’s stated aims as well as psychiatric definitions of clinical depression. Drawing on work in disability studies, Mad studies, and feminist media studies, I stake out new theoretical ground for analyzing depression in pop as distinct from the lived experiences and discursive logics of disability and madness, while positioning pop music as a creative site of public mental health discourse.

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