Billie Eilish describes how fame allows those in the industry to abuse their power as she releases the first single from 2nd album, Happier Than Ever.
In the ever-changing music world of today, it’s harder than ever to stand out above everyone else – to carve out your own unmistakable identity and tap into the psyche of a whole generation. There are few artists out there in 2021 who have managed to do this quite as beautifully as Billie Eilish – and even fewer who have done it at such a young age.
In a few short years, Billie has gone from being the undisputed underground queen of bedroom pop to one of the industry’s biggest stars, having never once showed any signs of slowing down.
Now, having swept the board at awards ceremonies across the globe with her first critically-acclaimed album, Where We All Fall Asleep, We Do We Go?, Billie Eilish is set to return with a dramatic new look, exciting new sound and her 2nd full studio album, Happier Than Ever.
Billie burst onto the scene back in 2016 with the release of Ocean Eyes, an ethereal synth-pop slow-jam that she and her older brother, acclaimed producer Finneas O’Connell, had recorded in their bedrooms. Few could believe it when they came to find out a little more about the singer and discovered that she was just 13 years old – from the very start, Billie wrote and performed with a level of maturity that seemed to go far beyond her years.
Having caught the attention of a small but loyal following of fans, the teen continued to develop and refine her sound, following her debut with a series of tracks covering both the pain and melancholy of growing up, as well as the more intimidating side of today’s youth – the power that comes with being a teenager is that the older generation scarcely fully understand. Billie represents this side of growing up in a way that few others have ever managed to harness.
With each release from Billie painting an ever-clearer picture of an artist who possessed a level of talent that few can compete with, the world was eagerly waiting for the drop of her first album. Arriving in March 2019, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? further cemented that Billie Eilish was a force to be reckoned with.
Billie’s work didn’t shy away from covering topics that ranged from the controversial to the harrowing, with the subjects of drug addiction, suicide, mental health struggles, heartbreak and even murder touched upon during the album’s run. For many, it was difficult to see how someone her age could be capable of capturing these issues so deeply and so beautifully – though Billie has made it quite clear that she’s sick of hearing from those who can’t believe that a teenager can write about the same depth of experiences as someone more adult.
“I think teenagers and young people are undervalued and underestimated,” she told ELLE, back in 2019, “I keep hearing, ‘How do you know what it’s like to be depressed when you’re not even twenty?’ That’s the stupidest shit I’ve heard in my life. And: ‘How can you write about love when you are thirteen?’ Bro, y’all are fucking stupid.”
As far as Billie’s concerned, her young age puts her at an advantage when it comes to covering such subjects as the depth of the feeling has never had time to fade.
“Think about how important that was to you the first time someone held your hand or kissed you on the cheek. And how in love you felt. That is a strong feeling. I understand that when you get older you can think: you are just starting to feel that way, I have felt that way for years. You know nothing. But for me it is happening now. I fell in love for the first time last year. So it is fresh in my memory, fresh in my body, and I turn it into art. And then people say, ‘How can you feel that way?’ You felt that then too, you just didn’t make art out of it.”
The album’s biggest break-out hit – and still Billie’s biggest selling to date – was Bad Guy. While Billie had certainly created a reputation for being an artist that sought to understand and connect with the problems affecting her young audience, this track exposed a more playful side to her personality. Billie had proved to her doubters that she could handle issues of the head and the heart just as well as someone with added years of experience – but Bad Guy served to show that certain songs could only be produced by someone her age.
It’s a track that comes across high-energy, unapologetically obnoxious and perfectly in-fitting with the persona that Billie was carving out for herself. She wanted everyone of all ages to listen up and take note – and almost everyone did.
That’s not to say that Billie, whilst widely regarded as one of the most important artists in recent years, has had the easiest journey on the way to the top. She has spoken out multiple times about the hyper-focus that seems to have been placed around her body, which she famously covered in oversized shirts and shorts to keep attention on the only thing that really mattered – the music.
Billie Eilish opened up about the thought process behind her eye-catching wardrobe in a promotional campaign for Calvin Klein back in 2019.
“Nobody can have an opinion, because they haven’t seen what’s underneath, you know? No one can be like ‘Oh, she’s slim-thick’, ‘She’s not slim-thick’, ‘She’s got a fat ass’, ‘She’s got a flat ass’!” she laughs, “No one can say any of that because they don’t know.”
Billie’s suspicions that discussion over her body would overshadow the most important discussions regarding her music were unfortunately proven after she was photographed wearing a tank top to greet fans – and was shocked by the reaction online. She opened up to ELLE about the bizarre controversy surrounding the photos.
“My boobs were trending on Twitter! At number one! What is that?!”
One of Billie’s most enduring frustrations regarding the way that the public received her sense of style was that some parents thought she was covering up purposely to set an example to young fans, even going so far as to praise her for the fact that their own daughters wanted to cover up.
“You’re missing the point!”, she says, “The point is not: Hey, let’s go slut-shame all these girls for not dressing like Billie Eilish. It makes me mad. I have to wear a big shirt for you not to feel uncomfortable about my boobs!
Even then, Billie made it clear that there may come a time that she was ready to break out of her famous baggy clothing and adopt a more mature image – and that the response this might provoke did worry her.
“I’m gonna be a woman,” she said, ahead of her 18th birthday, “I wanna show my body. What if I wanna make a video where I wanna look desirable? I know people will say ‘I’ve lost all respect for her’.”
Now 19 and after spending the first few months of the COVID-19 quarantine in LA reflecting on her career so far, Billie decided that it was the right time to make this move – we are at the beginning of a brand new era for Billie Eilish.
Having kept her new work under wraps for months, this last week has been unbelievably huge for Billie. First, she debuted her glamorous new bleach-blonde look to announce her upcoming album ‘Happier Than Ever’ in an Instagram post that quickly became one of the platform’s most-liked of all time.
Following this, she gave fans their first real taste of her new sound, releasing the first supporting single from the upcoming project, Your Power. The track is a compelling take on the hidden abuse that continues to take place within the music industry, as Eilish appeals directly to those at the core of the problem to do better.
“Try not to abuse your power,” she says during the track.
Billie has made a career out of appealing to and connecting with young fans directly. Whilst she is aware that switching gears and speaking directly to those in a position of fame and power makes her latest release somewhat less universally relatable, she feels that it’s an important point to make.
As someone who has been afforded her own level of fame and a global platform, she believes that she is obliged to speak up.
“There’s all these people who are incredibly vulnerable and would honestly do anything you say,” she says, “That’s a crazy feeling. Nobody should be given the power that we’re given.”
It’s a take that shows a great deal of maturity, ‘maturity’ being the word of the moment when it comes to Billie Eilish. She has, by her own admission, waited eagerly for years to be considered an adult – perhaps to be taken more seriously as an artist or as a woman. Now she’s marking this ascent into adulthood in a way that few can ignore.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this new era is the way that she marked her new look by stepping into a series of glamorous, pin-up inspired looks for Vogue. Looking back on her use of baggy clothing to take back ownership of her body image, as well as reflecting on her status to some as a role model of body positivity, Billie is prepared for criticism – but that doesn’t mean she’s taking it.
“Suddenly you’re a hypocrite if you want to show your skin, and you’re easy and you’re a slut and you’re a whore. If I am, then I’m proud,” she told Vogue, “Me and all the girls are hoes, and fuck it, y’know? Let’s turn it around and be empowered in that. Showing your body and showing your skin—or not—should not take any respect away from you.”
“It’s about what makes you feel good.”
Happier Than Ever is due for release on 30th July 2021.