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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

Who is Billie Eilish and why is everyone talking about her?

The 17-year-old singer took over the #1 spot on the Billboard charts for the first time last month, with songs unusual for a pop star — on depression, loneliness, suicide.

art-and-culture Updated: Sep 07, 2019 13:34 IST
Zara Murao
Zara Murao
Hindustan Times
Eilish’s lyrics are said to resonate with a post-9/11 generation that has grown up amid uncertainty and insecurity.
Eilish’s lyrics are said to resonate with a post-9/11 generation that has grown up amid uncertainty and insecurity.
         

If you know Billie Eilish is a girl, you already know more than a lot of people. Her name’s been popping up all over the internet ever since she took over the #1 slot on the Billboard chart for the first time ever, last month, dethroning Lil Nas X’s Old town road.

Eilish is 17, angsty and goth in a way that feels genuine. Her voice is clear and haunting, her melodies have a gentle lilt that belies the violent themes she deals in — suicide, depression, loneliness.

In Bury a friend, hands jab syringes into her back. Ocean Eyes has in its first verse the lines: ‘Burning cities / And napalm skies / Fifteen flares inside those ocean eyes’. And Idontwannabeyouanymore has a video set in all-white, with her talking into a mirror

Her angst is believed to resonate with other teens because they’re all from a post-9/11 generation that has grown up amid uncertainty and insecurity. To the threat of terror, you can now add economic peril, climate change, migration, refugees and political absurdity.

Eilish wades into all that with a fearlessness that’s refreshing, even though it’s often dark and twisty. There’s an almost constant refrain of violence in her videos, but at concerts and in interviews, she talks of healing. She discusses her wins against Tourette syndrome, depression and body dysmorphia.

Be nice to yourself, she said to fans at one gig. Put your phones away because we will never get this moment back, she added at another. 

Eilish’s #1 song, Bad guy, had been biding its time in the #2 slot since June; she’s been building her base for two years.

The American artist, born in LA to a family of musicians and actors, had her first big hit at 14. Ocean eyes was written by her brother Finneas O’Connell, who was 19 then (she writes most of her songs with him), released in November 2016 on SoundCloud and later picked up by a record company..

In 2017, another of her songs, Bored, got picked up for the soundtrack of Season 1 the Netflix Original show 13 Reasons Why, after it was suggested to the producers by one of the lead actors.

Her themes are startling enough, but with every video and public appearance, she also challenges ideas of what a female popstar should look like. Eilish dresses almost exclusively in oversized jackets and baggy pants, usually in matching prints.

“If I was a guy and I was wearing these baggy clothes, nobody would bat an eye,” she’s said. And you realise that most male musicians do dress like this, or just thrown on a T-shirt.

She presents on magazine covers and at headline events — Vogue, Rolling Stone, Coachella, Glastonbury — the same indifference, squatting, hunching or dancing for her life in the matching-print baggy wear.

For a generation raised on Instagram, it must be a novel idea, to live your life like no one’s watching.

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First Published: Sep 06, 2019 18:18 IST

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