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Billie Eilish’s Uneasy Relationship With Her Highland Park Neighborhood

Billie Eilish’s uneasy relationship

Billie Eilish’s uneasy relationship with Highland Park

 

I stumbled on a series of tweets and articles criticizing Billie Eilish’s uneasy relationship with her LA neighborhood, Highland Park, a multicultural but predominantly Latino working-class neighborhood. This one from Libcom.org reposted by JustPaste, and retweeted by the new York Blvd a few months ago, goes into great length at describing what people call the ‘woke-washing’ of Highland Park, which could be summarized by the simple idea that the neighborhood is now filled with white families with a Black Lives Matter sign on their window while not one person of color can afford to live in this same neighborhood anymore.

We have to go back to the story we have been told, Billie’s parents have presented themselves as poor, underprivileged white folks, two failed actors who have been struggling with money. However, according to an interview Billie’s mom, Maggie Baird, gave in 2013, it seems that their revenues were not that bad, coming from flipping houses:

‘Sometimes though, we have had serious financial setbacks because of lack of work as an actor and particularly related to my husband’s work (in addition to being an actor he is a carpenter and used to work restoring and selling homes). One giant disaster in particular strained our family almost to our breaking point and it has taken a lot of strength and perseverance to recover from that,’ Maggie Baird declared.

‘Sometimes though’ is the key, and the giant disaster was the house crisis in 2008, but besides that, they were doing well, they purchased a house for $240,000 in 2001 (that is now worth more than $700,000). This is not what I call poor.

But this is especially this other interview that put Maggie in a sort of trouble, not so much because of what she said, but mostly because of how she expressed herself. In the interview, she explains buying a house because we, like, have to have some control over our neighborhood,’ and then details the damage done to the historic house ‘And it’s a horrible eyesore, like, in our opinion, like it had become like, they [the previous residents] had taken out the hardwood floors and they put in white tile. They’d taken out the river rock fireplace, thrown the rocks in the backyard, it was marble or something. They had – they just like completely, you know, taken away all of its historic character.’ And after restoring the house, she said the family ‘sold that for the highest price we could possibly get, to a lovely couple, you know, like with no criminal past at all.’

That didn’t sit well with Highland Park residents for many reasons. First of all, the neighborhood had been undergoing gentrification for some time, and many residents who have been living there for a long time have been suffering from it. Gentrification has been harmful to poor people who simply cannot afford to live there, and ‘the highest price we could possibly get’ implies Mrs. Baird heavily participated in this transformation of Highland Park. Then the ‘lovely couple with no criminal past’ has this pejorative undertone as she poses as the neighborhood savior, not only fixing houses that people have not preserved well, but also replacing its people.

This is Billie’s mother talking, and not Billie Eilish, but the problem is that the story of the underprivileged upbringing has largely been perpetuated in the media, this has been part of her public image, while this could, at the very least, be somewhat modified.

As for Billie, she declared this about her Highland Park neighborhood in a 2017 interview with New Zealand-based Coup De Main magazine, she was very young at the time but already very outspoken:  ‘It’s kinda like a little hipster block party, almost. It’s not huge, it’s this little area. There’s this one street called York, which is kinda where everything is. We moved there when it was affordable. It wasn’t a great neighborhood and nobody really lived there. It wasn’t a popular place at all, then over time, tons of stores and little shops popped up, and it’s huge now, and kinda popping, which is weird. I think it’s really cute. It’s very homely, very comfortable.’

Of course, there was a backlash on social media – you can see some examples below. Once again Billie was entertaining the idea that the neighborhood wasn’t great before its hipster makeover. If articles acknowledge she was quite young at the time, they also rightly note that Billie’s words have always been taken seriously whether she was talking politics or other grown-ups issues. So why would her young age be suddenly an excuse?

In short, Highland Park is not too happy about its prodigy child, if Billie and her mother are putting the neighborhood right in the middle of their narration, it was, first of all, a gang-infested shithole – ‘it was very sketchy and there were lots of gunshots,’ she also declared in this interview from 2018. They seem to erase the culture that existed before their arrival, ‘nobody really lived there.’

The connection between Eilish and her birthplace looks fake and non-existent, ‘this isn’t about ‘canceling’ Billie,’ wrote someone on Tweeter, ‘but pointing out how she’s become the ‘face’ of HLP despite choosing to remain ignorant and doing nothing to stand up against displacement. She’s essentially being used as propaganda to woke-wash gentrification.’ Nobody over there is ready to ready to claim her as one of their own, as this article in Losangeleno finds out. People would like her to give back to the community where she grew up, is it too much to ask? Maybe she will at one point, maybe she will always stay this estranged rockstar driving up to York Boulevard in her Dodge Challenger.

 

6 Comments

  1. thenewYorkblvd on December 3, 2020 at 5:00 pm

    She has no relationship with the neighborhood
    Hasn’t done one thing for HLP

  2. Snails on December 6, 2020 at 6:38 am

    There are two points I’d add to this discussion:

    1. One thing Eilish has repeatedly said in interviews concerning Highland Park is that her parents only moved there because it was “cheap” or “affordable”. What makes statements like this so offensive is that they portray lower-income neighborhoods as bargain barrels full of great deals on housing, when in reality, they are communities made up of families who live there because that’s all they could afford. Given that her parents had enough money to purchase a $200,000+ dollar home and flip a few more before the market crashed, they were certainly not struggling nearly as much as, say, other HLP residents who were renting or moved decades prior during the time of white flight.

    2. Eilish and her PR have always pushed the story that she was a poor, disadvantaged little girl who just happened to go viral on SoundCloud, which eventually lead to her success. We know this isn’t true. Aside from being house flippers, her parents are veteran Hollywood actors who each have a long list of credits to their name (especially her mother). Her brother had already been in the music industry for years and had signed to a manager with connections to major labels when Eilish was “discovered”. This wasn’t anything close to a rags-to-riches miracle. The “Highland Park was a very bad place once upon a time” goes along perfectly with that fairytale, since it feeds into the illusion that Eilish’s fame and fortune were entirely organic.

  3. YellowChristmas on December 8, 2020 at 10:05 pm

    I’m going to make a few counterpoints to you Snails, as someone whose familiar with Billie Eilish’s family history and has read up on LA gentrification.

    1st, there’s nothing offensive about moving into a neighborhood for affordability reasons. Many LA gentrifiers moving into NELA neighborhoods did so because it was too costly to live in the place they did before. Billie’s parents moved from Silver Lake which fully gentrified into an affluent white neighborhood during the 2000s. Many of the minorities who left NELA, for example, moved to South Central and some of the black community were displaced during that time. (But of course, we don’t talk about Latino gentrifiers. )

    2nd, Billie was 6 years old when the 2008 housing crisis dealt a massive blow to her family’s financial status. Do you know what means? It means for most of her life (prior to music career), she was part of a financially struggling family (or if not struggling, then stringent). That means she’s valid, based on what she remembers from her childhood, when she says that her family was “poor”. Poor meaning not having alot of money. Not poor as in renter-poor (every kid says they’re poor these days).

    3rd, I agree that she wasn’t underprivileged since her family owned a house and they were in the entertainment industry. Her success was inorganic, I don’t care if you call her an industry plant. However, you cannot establish that her parents had anything to do with her music career. We both read Turner’s article and they were never mentioned in it. Also, her brother was never “in the music industry”, he was always an independent artist. If you look at his discography, you would know that Billie was the first person he truly worked with as a musician. Before that, he was part of a high school garage rock band (and no, Glee is not music industry).

  4. Nico Garz on February 22, 2021 at 9:16 pm

    My recollection one morning is that I believe Eillish’ mother verbally assaulted me at the intersection where Ave 66 and York Blvd meet. I had just cleared York Blvd to make a left on San Pascual when a red haired white woman with blue eyes starts cursing me out. I ignored the hell out of her. Her entitlement as an angry white woman couldn’t allow her to shut the fuck up. So one of her children, equally entitled, either Finneas or Billie further assaulted me by throwing an orange at my car. These shits weren’t worth it! I made my left turn, but to this day I never forgot their assault.
    Nasty people.

  5. katherine on March 4, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    Are you sure it was them? What did she say wow

  6. RickyD on March 7, 2021 at 12:09 am

    You remember what kind of car it was? Not saying you weren’t assaulted, but I highly doubt it was them. white people be looking alike.

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