Billie Eilish is a talented enigma of epic proportions. She’s a counterculture pop princess with the world at her fingertips, and she’s only 19 years old. She’s got fame, money, a loving family and a promising career.
But she also has a lot of expectations to live up to after winning five Grammys for her debut album. Her own brother and producer, Finneas, even said of the sweep, “We were both kind of embarrassed to win so much.”
Is it possible for Billie to have staying power when the industry dumped acclaim on her as soon as she jumped in the game? Is it possible for anyone?
Billie is noticeably peaking extremely early in her career, and it makes me wonder if she’ll last. Will she become a sort of anti-Christ version of Ariana Grande, or will she fizzle into obscurity if her next hits don’t do as well?
Too much too quickly
Billie and Finneas won a total of five Grammy Awards together last year. And while the Grammys seem to be losing respect from every side each year due to their suspicious selection system and reportedly toxic practices, that’s still a major moment for a new artist. Perhaps too major of a moment?
Finneas said to Vogue in February of 2020 that he and Billie were not expecting the acclaim they received at the show. In so many humble words, he essentially admitted that he felt at least some of the awards should have gone to other artists.
“Between the two of us, we had 11 nominations, so we were brave enough to hope that maybe we’d get one,” he said. “I would have been thrilled with that. She was very grateful, obviously, and a lot of her friends were there. She has more go with the flow than I do, but we were both kind of embarrassed to win so much; you hope that it will be kind of equal, but after the third in a row…well, we love all of our fellow nominees.”
When you reach such great heights so soon, the world is watching for you to make something even better. We don’t know when the siblings’ next project will come out, but we do know that Billie is one of the world’s biggest stars now. I mean, she already has a documentary coming out called The World’s A Little Blurry that’s been filming since July of 2018.
Five Grammys and a documentary before you even have a second album out seems like a recipe for overexposure – one that could have Billie burning us out before she’s able to explore her talent in greater depth.
In comparison to Lorde
Billie Eilish has a lot of striking similarities to 24-year-old New Zealand singer and songwriter Lorde, who released her critically acclaimed debut album, Pure Heroine, when she was just 16 years old. Lorde’s sound was unique when the album dropped in 2013, and just like Billie, her youth was astonishing considering the depth of her lyrical themes, her singing ability, and the record’s production quality.
Billie’s debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was released when she was just 17. Both Lorde and Billie wrote every song on their records with the help of just one other person – producer Joel Little helped Lorde, while Finneas of course helped his sister.
They are both incredibly talented young women with clear ambition. However, there is a stark difference I notice between the two. Lorde took four years to write and produce her sophomore album Melodrama in 2017, which was even more well received than her first.
Its tragic love story narrative was especially spellbinding due to Lorde’s vulnerable, poetic songwriting style that lets the listener in on her deepest insecurities and darkest feelings.
Eilish’s style is reminiscent of that – her darkly wise lyrics surrounding suicide, depression and melancholy blended with her unique voice and Finneas’ superb production was incredible to see from such a young talent. However…
Billie has always been a brand
Let’s get real: Billie sold out immediately. I’m not knocking it; I’d probably do the same thing. Get your money, honey. She clearly enjoys the spotlight more than Lorde, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Billie seems more comfortable elevating her status and clout in the music industry, and using that to build a brand empire rather than just music.
Billie and Finneas first made waves with a beautiful SoundCloud release called “Ocean Eyes” that they uploaded in 2015. The single was an unintended breakout hit that garnered a stunning amount of streams in no time at all.
Prior to this, Finneas, the yet-unknown hitmaker, was in a band. Through it, Finneas apparently had enough power to have his manager arrange a deal that involved Apple Music signing his sister to a company called A&R, which specializes in “packaging emerging artists before they get a major-label contract.”
Billie’s seemingly meteoric rise and meticulously crafted image makes a little more sense to me now. And soon after the A&R deal, Billie scored a publicist who somehow managed to connect her with Chanel. Chanel! That team put together the iconic styles that helped launch Billie to mainstream success.
The star now has partnerships with not just Apple and Chanel, but Adobe Creative Cloud, Calvin Klein, MCM Worldwide, and numerous clothing lines.
Perhaps this is unsurprising, considering Eilish’s parents have been in the industry for decades. There is little doubt her family’s connections helped garner Billie more attention than most artists get, and while she and Finneas rightfully earned the praise they got for their work, the constant branding makes it all feel a little less exciting.
When the image takes over the art
I think we’re in an era of female empowerment that is best encapsulated by Lizzo’s now-iconic line, I just took a DNA test; Turns out, I’m 100% that b*tch. It’s a beautiful thing that Billie’s brand takes even further as she wears baggy clothes to avoid objectification, and pretty much does the opposite of pop princesses before her like Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez.
Still, though, while Billie’s initial album was deep, her recent releases feel less intimate. Consider for a moment a comparison between the two excellent lyricists Lorde and Billie as they progress in their careers:
I am your sweetheart, psychopathic crush / Drink up your movements; still, I can’t get enough / I overthink your punctuation use / Not my fault; just a thing that my mind do. – “The Louvre” from Lorde’s Melodrama
I’m not your friend / Or anything, damn / You think that you’re the man / I think, therefore I am. – “Therefore I Am”, Billie’s single from November 12, 2020
I’ll admit I’m cherrypicking, but I find the former lyrics representative of Lorde’s ability to deeply reflect on herself and her relationship in a tone that feels authentic and vulnerable. Meanwhile, Billie’s single is admittedly a banger, but one that feels more shallow than her earlier work. I think it’ll be overplayed, and likely burn us out quickly.
But even worse, the title and chorus make the single feel like it was written around René Descartes’s famous phrase. The rest is filled with vague lyrics that simply play into Billie’s aura of bad b*tchery. We get it, guys.
Basing a track around a catchy rhyme started by a French philosopher feels a bit amateur for the Grammy-winning sibling duo, but it could just be a fun release that’s a precursor to a more meaningful upcoming record, whenever they choose to release one.
Is Billie peaking too early?
Can Eilish’s next album top her last if she already has countless dollars, millions of followers, and more Grammys than most artists even dream about? Her success is enormous and her fame is going strong right now. But the fact that she’s so young and has already reached the top of the music industry worries me. I mean, what does someone that young with that level of fame and attention do next – especially when your image is partially decided upon by the corporations you work with?
Will she be able to maintain her success through image changes and lyrical maturity like a Gen-Z answer to Taylor Swift? Or will she fizzle into obscurity as another cool moment in pop that will soon be forgotten, like Lil Nas X – another partner of Adobe Creative Cloud – whom no one seems to care about anymore?
I believe the Eilish siblings will be able to put out gorgeous music from here on out, but there’s less mystique to their work now that they’re rich celebrities. Billie as a person was more intriguing a couple years ago, when she was just a quirky young talent famously making incredible music in her childhood bedroom. She was born into the industry, then she took it over – and it seems we’ll never know her outside of it.
Billie told James Corden in December of 2019, “Before [Finneas and I] made any songs together, we were like, What if we made music together? And he goes, I’m gonna make you the biggest pop star in the world.”
And her brother did just that. So my question is: Now what?