Billie Eilish, Between Fake Industry Transplant And The Real Deal
Billie Eilish has been in the news for a little while, she was just the musical guest on Saturday Night Live last week, which has to be a highlight in a musical career, that many artists will never achieve.
Only 2 years ago, she was playing the Hi-Hat, a tiny club in Highland Park, the Los Angeles neighborhood where she was raised. A year later, her debut EP had reached the top 15 in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, and she is now this big pop star booking huge places for her tour, with a number-one single in the US,… and she is just 17.
Whether you find Billie Eilish talented or not is practically irrelevant in the story, I am just extremely suspicious of an artist making it to the top this fast. It was a meteoritic ascension if there is one, and this made me a skeptic of her authenticity, at lost for a better word. Authenticity is a term debated a lot when we are talking about pop and rock stars, it doesn’t mean much as everyone has to invent and reinvent himself or herself at one point of a career. But I am not really talking about that, let’s check a few facts about Billie’s career:
She recorded ‘Ocean Eyes’ written by her brother Finneas for his band, and released it on Soundcloud in 2016, with a video, and the song went viral. She was signed by Interscope Records in November 2016 and released an EP (with 4 remixes of this same song) a few months later (January 2017)… right away, there is a red flag, she got signed by one of the biggest labels with no previous musical experience, no previous band, and basically just because of a song. Many artists have to go through many stages (many bands, demo tapes, small labels…) before winning that big lottery.
In 2017, she released a few singles, often accompanied by videos, ‘Bellyache’, Watch’, ‘Copycat’,… then her debut EP, ‘Don’t Smile at Me’ and very soon she collaborates with Vince Staples for a remix of one of her songs.
With just one EP, she is treated like a music royalty, she is everywhere and gets to be interviewed by everyone and every magazine and every platform ever created. Who gets that much exposure so fast? The Interscope machine was obviously working very fast at flooding the world with Billie. At the end of 2017, she announces a tour in major venues across the US and in Europe. Again, how many almost unknown artists go on a world tour this fast? Remember, she has just one EP under her belt at the time. Of course, there were a few late-night TV appearances, and the next tour is on steroids, with arenas and stadiums booked all over the world, … she has 2 dates at the Forum here in LA.
All this goes with an exponential growth of followers on social media with currently 2.7 M followers on Twitter and 39.4 M followers on Instagram. In comparison, Madonna has 2,5 M followers on Twitter and 14.4 M on IG, and Lana del Rey has 9.5 M followers on Twitter and 14.6 M on IG. Which means that Billie has more followers on IG that Madonna and Del Rey combined… in just 3 years? But if we believe the story, she managed to do that just by herself.
And then there is her image, which has moved to a more hip hop look over the years. Despite the fact she is not a rapper, she has managed to absorb most of the Soundcloud mumbling rappers’ look, with baggy designer clothes, basketball shorts, big chains around the neck and neon rainbow hair. She also makes sure she is close to this new generation of rappers, even mourning the most controversial of them, XXXTentacion,… a little controversy is never bad publicity, because it helps her image of ‘bad girl’ she likes to cultivate,… then, of course, she has to explain why she likes the guy, and it’s more publicity. She even speaks with a sort of blackish ghetto-ish accent (and I am not the only one to have noticed). At best, she should talk with a Latino accent because she was raised in Highland Park… I am just surprised ‘exploitation or cultural appropriation’ were not thrown at her face more often, but may be her early friendship with all these rappers was calculated to avoid this.
She often says she is weird and dark, sad and depressed, she rolls her eyes and pulls her tongue, and never smiles on photos, while her music and videos are very dark, even disturbing. In interviews, she has never been shy at sharing her anxiety problems, night terrors, problems with body dysmorphia, self-harm, and depression – she said she got depressed after a dance injury which forced her to quit. But may be Billie is taking life’s big disappointments for true depression, if she was suffering from deep dark depression that nails a person in bed, could she go on tour and do everythign she does?
I have no way to know if Billie is completely sincere – and she well may be 100% sincere and be a depressed teenager – but after all this, a picture seems to be surfacing: This young singer-songwriter, homeschooled and raised by poor artist parents, has personal struggles but she nevertheless worked her DIY ethic to worldwide success,… She is a teenager with the same angst and anxiety than her fans, but this new poster girl for depression has a love for hip hop culture, the most popular culture of the moment. This is the story sold, but should we swallow this tale without any second thought?
In her recent Rolling Stone interview, she is photographed with tears rolling from her eye, and I have to wonder, would a really depressed person accept to do that as if depression was the next fashion accessory? I have been around depressed people and this is not the impression I got. There’s also a lot of talk about the family’s struggle for money before her success and her parents not ‘earning a commission, or in any other way profiting off Eilish’s success’… and there’s more about her depression, nightmares… and declaration like these: ‘I have a job that doesn’t allow me to break down. I can’t go cry somewhere, I can’t go scream and be mad. I have to work.’ She’d tried seeing a therapist a few times last year and found it so-so, but she forced herself to go again. ‘I just was in such a bad place. It was too much on me. I was too much on me. I don’t want advice, because I’m not going to take it anyway. I just wanted to be heard.’
There’s a very careful blend of fragility and strength, vulnerability, anger, and plenty of emotions all torn up in one baggie-clothed teenager. In short, Billie is any teenager’s dream come true, the cool girl who dresses up as you wish you could, the edgy girl who is sharing your nighmares.
And I have a hard time to decipher the truth.
Her insane success is too fuliginous to be completely organic and it’s difficult to believe she didn’t get some massive help. It’s no coincidence if Julia Roberts showed up at one of her shows at the Fonda theater during her first tour, it’s no coincidence if she gets a video interview in Vanity Fair, an interview in Interview magazine, Elle magazine, Harpers Bazaar, mentions in Billboard magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, and BBC News, and tons of other top publications, just at the start of her career. Her parents may not have been the successful actors and musicians they wanted to be, but they both have a long list of credits stretching back to 40 years, while her mother was teaching songwriting and screenwriting to industry professionals, and her brother Finneas O’Connell is an actor who has been on hit TV shows. Billie and Finneas were homeschooled and it seems that the focus was on art, acting, singing, and dancing rather than conventional academics and one of their classes was even songwriting taught by their mother… they were well trained since childhood.
Then there is the calculated move to embrace hip hop culture with a depressed side because the confident pop princess role was already taken by Ariana Grande? Eilish is the anti-princess, she flirts with the ghetto accent, wears the hip clothes and talks about self-harm, basically, she is the perfect incarnation of this insecure generation facing all the 21st-century existential threats… and labels probably realized there was a niche for that, they just had to find the right artist.
And even though all this was her and only her, even though she were this authentic trend setter everyone pretends she is, shouldn’t her parents worry about her? If everything is true, we have a depressed teenager, who used to cut and harm herself, slept in her parents’ bed till she was 10 and still have night terrors. Despite all this, they have pushed her in this brutal business which has already killed many young people. Maybe fame and money is what they are after since they have been struggling for recognition all their careers? But the priority here is clear, and this was even more obvious this Monday when Phineas and Bliie were interviewed by Howard Stern on SiriusXM. Toward the end, her parents made a jaw-dropping revelation, as they told her she was conceived from IVF. It surely was a good radio moment but why would any parent do this on the air? And I am not even mentioning the high cost of an IVF for people who have called themselves poor? Where is the truth?
In the end her success could just be the product of greedy parents hungry for success and a no less greedy industry exploiting her very special talent and carefully manufactured image. I can’t tell if Billie Eilish is working a bit too hard at this edgy depressed side she is almost using as a brand, or if this is very real. And I hope this is real, otherwise, the story is quite ugly and cynical.