When director Alfonso Cuarón asked Billie Eilish to contribute a song to the soundtrack for ROMA, she and Finneas O’Connell—her brother and main collaborator—were drawn to a line of dialogue spoken by Marco Graf’s character: “When I was older I used to be a sailor, but I drowned in a storm.” They took the line and ran with it.
“When I Was Older” is part haunting lullaby and part electronic eulogy, with Eilish’s silky vocals giving the impression she’s singing underwater, but it’s where she wants to be. “I’m on my back again/dreaming of a time and place/Where you and I remain the best of friends,” she laments. It’s almost as if the narrator from her 2016 breakout hit “Ocean Eyes” has swam a few laps in the sea and emerged older, wiser and intimately acquainted with Autotune.
Eilish and O’Connell were given access to the sounds used in the film. “Lines like ‘Memories burn like a forest fire’ are accompanied by the sounds of the trees burning in the woods outside the house. The chorus has the ocean sounds overplayed on it,” the siblings said in a statement. “Nothing about this song would exist without the film, which is exactly what we love about it.”