There are those moments, right? From Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift, the teenage phenomenon with all its skills dreams of stardom and power reaches its first height, its first way up there, its first superstar syndrome outgrowth of sound and vision. It happened last night at Radio City Music Hall where the teenage (she will be eighteen in December) Billie Eilish launched her set with a titan singalong joined, and overwhelmed by 5,000 tween and teen girls mirroring something they didn’t 100% grasp: a belated, odd innocence, to “Bad Guy” off her debut album, plus one of the great, bewildering hooks of the decade, the pause, after a screaming, singing onslaught, dead silence for a heartbeat and then the acclaim of a what do you think, right? Who do you think I am? Well, d’uh.
It was the first song and the evening highlight, even a magic ride for Billie and her producer brother Finneas on a bed knobs and broomsticks bed, floating to the ceiling at Radio City like Santa’s souped up sleight, riding on “I Love You,” didn’t match it, even the penultimate moment of the evening when they got to the anti-suicide “Bury A Friend,” a Monsters, Inc retell, or the anti-drugs Xanny, or just the entire staging, the best we’ve seen since Bad Bunny, light years ahead of Ariana Grande’s average evening out just the night before at Madison Square Garden, none of them matched that career top moment.
“Bad Guy,” a special song by the special brother sister songwriting team, is Billie redux, its strangeness, mostly the segue to an outlier bridge, is different, its money shot ‘and seduce your dad guy” doesn’t belie the tough guy innocence sexual charade, the sound, like Post Malone with a wider range, is hip hop production on electronic pop, a sound we know well, and Billie herself, with her odd fashion sense, she’s collaborated with Takashi Murakami in the past, bagging ugly pretty (a touch Vivienne Westwood as well), comes together as a generation Z we are in this awoke together pop moment. At Radio City it was a moment waiting to explode and it did explode, it was like Billie took the evening and handed it back to the audience, yet not yet eighteen, not yet fully able, or willing, to grasp this moment of leadership, as it exploded in on her. Quite beautiful, if not quite original.
Billie is a pre-packaged pop star but packaged post-haste, after the fact, after the first single, as Finneas set Billie up with his garage band’s manager, who set them up with Interscope, who scoped up the businesslike transition with singles and EPs building to the debut album earlier this year, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO -a huge hit, eleven weeks in the top five albums and counting: like a Machiavellian, multi-media, arts and crafts for the moment, Billie exploded.
On stage last night, Billie, with just her brother on guitar and synth, and a drummer, she was a well oiled machine, not dissimilar to Ariana there was something not 100% with us, a little too studied, a little too institutionalized, a little too mannered. Bathing in the adoration of 5,000 people, she kept switching to all the tropes we already know, some of which her excellent opening act, the rapper Denzel Curry, had already done for the night, and Ariana certainly did do Tuesday,. First the left side cheer, then the right side… will you help me with this song?… So on and so forth: 1975, King Princess, P!nk… it’s all the same stuff, it’s like we’re seals and the musicians are throwing fish at us.
By the time Billie got to the nuts and bolts of her perception, which boils down to teen speak and you do you, she has differentiated herself to a degree and yet still seemed seeped in cliché. It is an add mix, she is like Arianna in reverse, her ambitions so smart and strong that she does the pursuit necessary, while in the hall of mirrors of pop artistry, she wants to remain herself.
And who she is exactly what she appears to be, a Lorde for the post-modern, post-Travis Scott, mix and match, a girl in pursuit of teen boys who she can snap to her will. Her songs are mostly an equi-distance between the monster under the bed, on top of the bed, and above the bed, a vision of extreme beauty hidden in a sack bag to embrace and keep away from her post-pubescent sexuality. This half sexuality, this kissy kissy, is a nonthreatening visage of teen life. Yes, nonthreatening, because “Wish You Were Gay” is deadly in ways that the real death of “Bury A Friend” isn’t. Girls, the teen girls who surrounded me at Radio City, can deal with life as a member of a posse with greater ease than they can deal with male desire and Billie gets this because she is this. Her messages are all good guy just say no gussied up. When my friend took her fourteen-year-old daughters, she was letting them into a safe zone.
The songs aren’t experimental or brusque, they are electronic pop constructions in a multi-verse multi-track world, both thin and fat at the same time, as mental sketches for a confusing world they speak volumes. Not prose, not poetry but a rap inspired verbal hookiness attached to story songs. Billie playacted in a rectangular stage like the strapped down hospital bed in l ward in a home for the mentally disturbed, Billie ventured out from time to time, and then ventured upward and inward. It was a good performance, better if you were fourteen years old and it played like something new. Certainly, better than many of her contemporaries and peers. Maybe it was fake, or maybe fake isn’t the right word for the homeschooled face of pop… today. Presley would get it completely, of course he would, duh…
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