She is unique, outspoken and maybe a little intimidating, we’re talking about Billie Eilish. At just 17 years old, she is taking over the world with her fresh sound, artsy video clips and dark messages. It’s not just awkward teenagers who idolise this new emergence, even the notoriously sceptic critics are on board. Leading American media are even calling her ‘the future of pop music’.
If I have to be completely honest, I find it hard to understand the Billie Eilish trend. Maybe it’s because I am twice her age (OMG!), but I can’t immediately see what is happening here and why she is such a big deal. I find Billie’s sound fresh and downright cool, but I don’t get her aesthetic and her lyrics are pretty vague. Billie Eilish is just so different from her pop-star colleagues that I find it surprising that she’s loved by such a broad audience.
Next weekend she’ll be gracing the biggest stage at Lowlands, which is why it’s about time that I start to understand why she is such a phenomenon. Who is she? What is her music about? And… is she really so special?
One little spoiler: If I were you, I would reserve a spot on your festival programme for Saturday, 15:30, because you’re going to want to talk about this concert later and brag that “I saw Billie Eilish at Lowlands in 2019!”
Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell (what a name) was born the second child to Patrick O’Connell and Maggie Baird in Los Angeles, 2001. Both parents had been fairly successful actors and Billie grew up in a modest apartment in a quite dodgy area of LA. Her brother, Finneas, was born in the same year the song Mmmbop became a hit, which inspired her parents to home school their children, just like the Hanson brothers.
“I was completely swept away by these kids,” O’Connell said in an interview with the New York Times. “They were religious Oklahoma home-schooled, but nonetheless. Clearly what had happened was they’d been allowed to pursue the things that they were interested in.”
And so Billie and her brother were essentially stimulated to discover their passions. Billie first focussed on dancing, horse riding and singing in the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. At 13 years old, Finneas asked her to sing Ocean Eyes, which he’d written for his band. They uploaded it to Soundcloud so that Billie’s dance teacher could choreograph a dance to it, and that’s when the snowball effect started. In no time, the song gained thousands of listeners and Billie signed with her first record label in the summer of 2016.
Three years later, her debut album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Is now a mega hit. Billie is ranked in the top 10 most streamed artists in the world on Spotify, she has over 33 million followers on Instagram and she is scheduled to perform at leading festivals such as Coachella and Glastonbury.
What also stands out about Billie Eilish
… her age
Billie Eilish is 17, yes, 17! The only time I could really believe that was when she fangirled about meeting her idol, Justin Bieber for the first time. In interviews she is so well-spoken, confident and articulate about the message in her music (more on that later), that she is absolutely mature beyond her years.
In an interview with Elle Magazine, she explains that her age shouldn’t be a reason to take her any less seriously.
“I think that teenagers and young people are undervalued and underappreciated. I often hear, ‘’How would you know what it’s like to be depressed when you’re not even 20? (…)’ And ‘How can you write about love when you’re just thirteen?’ Bro, y’all are fucking stupid. (…)
I understand that when you’re older, you can think, ‘you’ve only just started feeling this way, I’ve been feeling that for years.’ You don’t know nothing. For me it’s happening now. Last year, I fell in love for the first time, so it’s still in my memories, fresh in my body, and that’s how I create art. And then people ask me, ‘How can you feel that way?’ But you felt that then, you just didn’t turn it into art.”
Billie Eilish is a family business. She records music with her brother Finneas (21), who co-writes songs and is her producer. He also plays in her band. Her mother assists Billie as a kind of Chief of Staff on tour and her father became her Lighting Director.
… her style
Where stars like Ariana Grande and Camilla show off their polished, sexy looks, Billie’s take comes from a whole different angle. She stands out in almost every photo and video by wearing oversized sweats or baggy skater pants. She knows to combine thrifted clothes with haute couture.
She doesn’t wear her baggy clothes without good reason. Earlier this year Billie starred in an underwear campaign for Calvin Klein in which she revealed her clothing choice:
‘I never want the world to know everything about me. I mean, that’s why I wear big baggy clothes. Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath, you know. Nobody can be like “Oh she’s slim thick, she’s not slim thick, she’s got a flat ass, she’s got a fat ass.” No one can say any of that, because they don’t know.’
… the road to success
While other stars who made their debuts with a little hand from say, Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club (Selena Gomez), or were given exposure for weeks on national TV through a talent show (Camila Cabello), Billie and Finneas’ musical success grew like wildfire over the internet. And this wasn’t even achieved through covering songs the way Youtube stars like Justin Bieber had done, it was with their own music. The two eventually recorded the debut album in his bedroom through which the creative influence of their record label also seems limited.
… her art
Because if you’re asking me, that’s what her music and music videos should be called. The clips (see below!) are raw, while Billie seems fearless with a mouth full of spiders and jet black tears oozing down her face. Yes, she does do these stunts herself.
And her song lyrics? Let’s take a look at the 5 songs that stand out the most.
5. Bad Guy – Billie Eilish
Let’s begin with the catchy song, Bad Guy. The fact that Billie is just 17 years old while singing ‘Bruises, on both my knees for you’ and ‘Might seduce your dad type’, is a little hard to believe and shocking to some listeners.
White shirt now red, my bloody nose
Sleeping, you’re on your tippy toes
Creeping around like no one knows
Think you’re so criminal
Bruises, on both my knees for you
Don’t say thank you or please
I do what I want when I’m wanting to
My soul? So cynical
So you’re a tough guy
Like it really rough guy
Just can’t get enough guy
Chest always so puffed guy
I’m that bad type
Make your mama sad type
Make your girlfriend mad tight
Might seduce your dad type
I’m the bad guy, duh
Bad Guy – Billie Eilish
At the same time, we shouldn’t take everything so literally. In an interview with 102.7 KIISFM she explained that Bad Guy is about people who act tougher than they really are.
“Bad Guy is (…) basically making fun of everyone and their personas of themselves. And even mine. (…)If you’re going around all the time and saying ‘I’m bad, I’m always breaking rules and doing this and doing that’, you’re not. I know that because I used to say that and I wasn’t. The people, bad kids, bad boys, bad b*tches, whatever, they do that sh*t and they don’t even know.”
Interviewer: “They’re not posting that on Instagram.”
It’s just a critical song that advocates for the fact that you should be yourself – a message that isn’t all too bad!
4. All The Good Girls Go To Hell – Billie Eilish
Billie is equally critical about society’s attitude towards the climate. She explained her reason behind it in the aformentioned interview with Elle.
“I’m worried about the world, bro. It recently snowed in Los Angeles. That’s wrong, dude. It’s not supposed to snow there! We’re all going to die, I tell you. I try to make art about it but I’m not thinking, awesome, I have something to write about! I’m seriously worried. Our president is a fucking moron, and I’m not even allowed to vote yet.”
In an interview with NMW, Finneas said that climate change was the inspiration behind All Good Girls Go To Hell:
Hills burn in California
My turn to ignore ya
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya
All the good girls go to Hell
‘Cause even God herself has enemies
And once the water starts to rise
And Heaven’s out of sight
She’ll want the Devil on her team
My Lucifer is lonely
All The Good Girls Go To Hell – Billie Eilish
This song has some very obvious religious references, but I haven’t been able to find any statements by Billie or Finneas about it yet. Do you have an idea about how we could decode this? Let us know in the comments below!
3. Bellyache – Billie Eilish
‘Did she really just say that?!’ might be your reaction after hearing the lyrics of Bellyache for the first time. In this song, Billie puts herself in the shoes of a psychopath who stole money and murdered her friends.
Sittin’ all alone
Mouth full of gum
In the driveway
My friends aren’t far
In the back of my car
Lay their bodies
She expects to be arrested soon.
They’ll be here pretty soon
Lookin’ through my room
For the money
I’m bitin’ my nails
I’m too young to go to jail
It’s kinda funny
And although she thought that she would feel better after committing this crime, she’s actually left feeling guilty:
Where’s my mind?
Maybe it’s in the gutter
Where I left my lover
What an expensive fake
My V is for Vendetta
Thought that I’d feel better
But now I got a bellyache
Bellyache – Billie Eilish
Should we be worried about any macabre plans that could lead to this world star ending up in Juvenile prison? I don’t think we have any reason to worry, as in an interview with 101WKQX she states that:
“We like to write from our perspective, or from nobody’s perspective. You can write about anything, you don’t have to go through it. As long as you’re not lying, like some people are, they really talk about things they really have no idea about. But it’s different when you try to be a character, when you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and write from their perspective.”
Not to worry, these lyrics are mainly fictitious!
2. Bury A Friend – Billie Eilish
Imagine you are the monster under your bed. What would you think or feel? This idea brought on Bury A Friend:
What do you want from me? Why don’t you run from me?
What are you wondering? What do you know?
Why aren’t you scared of me? Why do you care for me?
When we all fall asleep, where do we go?
Bury A Friend – Billie Eilish
In an interview with Altpress she allows herself to explain:
“I also confess that I’m this monster, because I’m my own worst enemy. I might be the monster under your bed too.”
I understand what she means in this first section, but I’m still puzzled about that second part. In her interview with Youtube Billie adds the reason behind her struggles and why she thinks she might be a monster to other people.
“Whether it’s an artist that you’re in love with, or a person that you’re in love with, or an idea that you’re in love with and you give all of your love to this person. If you’re giving everything you even have to this person, or this idea, or this creature or whatever, you’re not thinking about yourself and you’re not doing things for yourself. And I feel that’s dangerous.
And I feel like I’ve noticed that and I feel like that makes me the monster under people’s bed. I don’t know it’s a hard thing to describe, but Bury A Friend and the album as a whole is like.. too much love is almost worse than no love at all.”
Love Billie, but love her in moderation!
1. Idontwannabeyouanymore – Billie Eilish
In another interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music Beats 1, Billie is very open about the fact that things aren’t always easy for her.
“Depression has controlled everything in my life. For my whole life. I’ve always been a melancholy person. I feel like there are some people that naturally, they’re happy. It’s really insane to me.”
In Idontwannabeyouanymore she opens up about her personal struggle. She begins a conversation with herself, her reflection, with who she is sincere in the contradiction of how she presents herself and how she really feels.
Don’t be that way
Fall apart twice a day
I just wish you could feel what you say
Show, never tell
But I know you too well
Got a mood that you wish you could sell
In the chorus, you can hear how hard this really hits home.
If teardrops could be bottled
There’d be swimming pools filled by models
You might be wondering why she specifically mentions models. In an interview with Genius, she explains that:
“I just think that models are maybe the saddest people in the world. Their job is to always being looked at. (…) Models are the people that everyone looks up to, models are known to be… you know, these are your role models, these are your standards. You have to look like this and be like this and do this and this and this. That’s been known for everyone and it has been changing all the time, but it’s like… if it keeps changing, why does it have to be there at all?”
Maybe her disposition towards (role) models also explains her eccentric clothing style. I think that she is very aware that she is also a role model, not by following fashion trends or by showing off a ‘perfect’ body. Rather than setting a standard that’s impossible to achieve for most, she encourages her fans to just be themselves. Unfortunately she also struggles with this herself.
Told “a tight dress is what makes you a whore”
If “I love you” was a promise
Would you break it, if you’re honest?
Tell the mirror what you know she’s heard before
And this next line might even be the harshest one:
I don’t wanna be you…
Idontwannabeyouanymore – Billie Eilish
In a previously mentioned article, she said:
“I really, really, really hate myself. You know, you can feel so unbelievably lost and horrible and like you’re nothing and you’re invisible, for no reason at all. Which is almost worse than having a reason. It’s the way that my brain works and it’s like ‘Billie what’s wrong?’ ‘I don’t f*cking know. Like ‘me’.’ ‘Who hurt you?’ And I’m like…” [points to self]
I consider this a pretty big statement, but I also think that her openness about her state of mind is partially the reason that she is so popular. From those who are struggling with these same problems, to everyone who loses touch with themselves can relate to this.
Do I find Billie Eilish equally fascinating?
Yes! After undertaking this intensive research, I can proudly say that I do. First of all, I am impressed by what she does and what she has achieved at just 17 years old. The music Billie makes is really refreshing and her clips are both original and artistic. Her song lyrics reach the dark side that many people relate to and is able to provide validation.
With the way she looks, what she does and says, she is equally cool as she is vulnerable. She doesn’t hold back in giggling when Justin Bieber is around, or when she talks about heavy, personal struggles. She is also outspoken about her love for her family (aren’t teenagers usually embarrassed by their parents?), which gives me the impression that she is authentic. During interviews, she’s so accessible and pure, that it feels like you’re looking at an eccentric girl next door, rather than the biggest musical star of the moment. That next level authenticity is what makes her stand out the most.
Maybe she really is the voice of her generation, and the polished, fake world that social media has pressured us into over the past decade is becoming history. I suddenly understand why this eccentric girl is such a relief. I can’t wait for the future of pop music!
Twenty One Pilots also overcame their depression, check out their impressive story here. Getting ready for Lowlands? Read this interview with Bear’s Den.
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This isn’t a great review.