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42: Billie Eilish

Photo by Popbase

“Wanna Be Lonely So Show Me The Way Home... I Can't Lose Another Life…”

Few artists can hope to reach the critical acclaim and fandom in their entire career that Billie Eilish has achieved before the age of 20. Her stratospheric success is an anomaly. A mix of peculiar talent, rogue upbringing, and sibling collaboration has procured her into tapping into a generation of young fans struggling to make sense of their contemporary worlds.

Although Billie’s fans aren’t grouped into a particular name, such as Taylor Swift’s ‘Swifties,’ the pop star has an equally devoted fandom. Unlike many of her peers, however, Eilish’s fanbase far stretches teenage girls' bedrooms, toward acknowledgment as the voice of her generation by seasoned industry types and Hollywood alike. Her current legacy as the youngest person in history to receive multiple Academy awards for musical contribution for blockbusters ‘No Time to Die,’ and the recent ‘Barbie’ movie, proves her diverse talent.

Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell was born in Los Angeles, California, on December 18, 2001. From childhood, Billie’s parents were keen to start her on a self-authored trajectory. Actors Patrick O’Connell and Maggie Baird homeschooled Billie from an early age with her brother, Finneas. The siblings were encouraged to follow their interests, leading her brother to start his band the Slightlys, and Billie experimented with songwriting and dance. Her older brother has a marked influence on her career and wrote Eilish’s breakthrough song, ‘Ocean Eyes,’ released in 2015 when she was only 13. The siblings posted the song on SoundCloud which generated overnight success, having climbed to hundreds of thousands of plays within a few weeks.

Billie Eilish’s early career draws much inspiration from Lana Del Rey, one of the early setters of the ‘bedroom pop’ sound of the early 2010s. Although she’s not taken seriously by many, Lana Del Rey has gone from boundary pusher to trendsetter, and “allowed pop to be sad, [and] further pushed it towards its future of hip-hop and orchestral sensibilities.” Billie Eilish then transformed and propelled forward the “sad girl era,’ with the psychology scooped up once TikTok rose a few years later. Lana Del Rey found further popularity with the young Gen Z through TikTok, as small snippets of her earlier work were recycled and mass-shared to millions of teenagers in viral videos.

Similarly to her predecessor, Billie Eilish’s ethereal, ghost vocals were a remixer's dream, further pushing Billie Eilish’s voice into the world. Within a year after posting Ocean Eyes, Billie was scooped up by Interscope Records and re-released the track, climbing to 85 on the top billboards. From this early stage, Billie could be seen honing into her aesthetic: sneakers, dyed hair, and edgy neon colours defined a series of releases in 2016 and 2017 with “Bellyache”, “Bored”, “Watch” and “Copycat”.

These singles built up to eventually releasing her debut EP, 'When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?' which catapulted her into superstardom. The EP delves into themes that turned her into a teenage icon: fighting with inner demons, vices, and dark compulsions. For a young generation amid the social media era, these themes grasped onto struggling teenagers, dealing with isolation in a hyperconnected world, swiftly feeling seen and understood.

The rubbery electro-beat smoothed over the hit tracks, ‘Come Out and Play,’ ‘Bury a Friend’ and ‘I Wish You Were Gay,’ all released as singles. Alongside the album, the fifth single "Bad Guy" peaked at number one in the US in August 2019.

In 2019, at age 17, Eilish became the youngest artist to be nominated in all four General Field categories at the Grammy Awards, receiving six nominations, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for "Bad Guy," as well as Album of the Year and Best New Artist. In the same month, she was named Billboard's Woman of the Year for 2019, followed by her first headline Coachella performance.

"Without a doubt, 2019 has been Billie Eilish's biggest year yet -- and she has one more accomplishment to earn before her 18th birthday next month: Eilish will be named 2019 Woman of the Year at…

On January 14, 2020, Eilish was announced as the performer of the title track for the 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die, which she co-wrote and produced with her brother. This made her the youngest artist to write and perform a James Bond theme song. The song topped the British official charts, becoming the second Bond theme to do so and the first by a female artist. It was also Eilish's first UK number-one single. She performed "No Time to Die" at the BRIT Awards in London that same year. Two years later, at the 2022 Academy Awards, Eilish and her brother won an Oscar for Best Original Song for the movie, marking a historic achievement and gaining significant industry recognition.

The young artist soon became aware of the pressures of becoming one of the world’s most famous and revered music artists. Her body image and style had faced scrutiny, an issue she confronted in her 2020 release ‘Therefore I Am’, setting the stage for her second studio album ‘Happier than Ever in 2021.

Billie announced the next phase of her career through an Instagram post, unveiling a Hollywood blonde aesthetic to replace her distinctive green hair. The artist was making a statement: she was maturing and had the autonomy and freedom to transform herself without seeking permission. This creative control permeates the album, openly criticising the music industry and the physical and mental pressures placed on women. As with the album, her new iteration was self-reflective and celebrated uniqueness, a statement of control over her image and identity.

Importantly, her connection to her fans is demonstrated. Billie Eilish draws from a place of authenticity, writing from personal experience and growing with her audience. The album was a stark difference from her dark and nightmarish debut, with silky vocals, sombre, paired with smooth electronic beats. The album was another hit, topping charts around the globe. It’s this power of vulnerability that likely caught the attention of Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig for Barbie.

In the years after Happier than Ever, Billie’s musical output slowed until she released ‘What Was I Made For?’ for the 2023 Barbie blockbuster movie. In the lyrics, the character is searching for herself and purpose in her life, battling with self-doubt. The track was awarded an Oscar, making Billie Eilish the youngest musician to receive multiple Academy awards in history. However, the simplicity of her message and the conviction of the artistry surrounding it, is what makes her music entirely relatable and elemental to people’s lives.

Through the creation of soundtrack, Billie remarked how progressive it was for her own creativity. Moving through a block since her album release a few years prior,she reflected on the parallels between herself and her search for direction, with the character written on the song. This new lease of life warmed up to an official announcement in 2024 for her upcoming album. Unlike her previous EP’s, which released singles prior, Hit Me Hard and Soft had minimal teasers and left her fans guessing. Her appearance in Lana Del Rey’s performance at Coachella hinted at new works, giving fans a taste of where it all began, performing ‘Ocean Eyes’ and an iconic cover of ‘Video Games,’ the antithesis of her early inspirations.

“Hit Me Hard and Soft”, released in May 2024, demonstrated how far Eilish and her brother’s collaboration can go. The tracks stay loyal to their electronic beat, however,veer off into hard-hitting tracks that experiment with genre and style. The track ‘L’amour De Ma Vie’ moves from her ethereal vocals, breaking off into a high-energy track, which puts you in mind of an 80s queer disco anthem. This lends itself to the theme of her queerness explored in the track ‘Lunch,’ where Eilish retakes control of the rhetoric around her sexuality, owning her interest in women with her own words. The album has mixed reviews, although her re-up in sonic styles and easy integration between hard and soft are mostly received positively, many believe she could have taken the sound even further.

Although Eilish has pushed many boundaries and stretched her talent so widely in the world, criticism can fall as hard as praise. As someone who forms new horizons ahead of her generation, it seems the only person Billie Eilish has to compete with, is herself.

Cover Art for Billie Eilish's "Hit Me Hard And Soft"

Written by: @hannahmaybaldwin

Edited by:  @Arriv3r