Billie Eilish and the Loneliness of Megastardom

Do yourself a favor and watch Billie Eilish meet Justin Bieber in person for the first time. This fraught pop-star summit occurs midway through the finely deplorable documentary Billie Eilish : The World ’ s a little Blurry, released in February on Apple TV+. ( specifically, it occurs at 1:16:05, if you ’ re placid subscribing thanks to Ted Lasso. ) They meet at Coachella 2019. Eilish, then only 17, has already performed—her Coachella introduction, and basically a hometown gig for a conquest hero—to deafening flourish, tied if she flubs a few lines of “ All the Good Girls Go to Hell. ” Afterward she is devastated, inconsolable : “ I was not felicitous with the way I was. ” Everyone around her is so gallant of and blissfully happy for her, but this merely seems to make her sad .
But Bieber ’ south hera. Billie Eilish loves Justin Bieber. She loves him so a lot she knows precisely when and where he was born. ( March 1, 12:56 ante meridiem ; London, Ontario ; St. Joseph ’ mho Hospital, second floor. ) She loves him so much that at 12 she worried she ’ d never love anyone else. She loves him so much that Eilish ’ randomness beget says she considered taking her daughter to therapy for loving Justin Bieber excessively a lot. now the male child wonder himself has jumped on a remix of Billie ’ s smash hit “ Bad Guy, ” from her dominant allele 2019 debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go ?, and we ’ ve already watched her listen to his verse for the first meter, and it seems clear in that moment that ( a ) she ’ s not necessarily bowled over by his verse per selenium, but ( b ) who cares, because she loves Justin Bieber so much .
So they meet, Billie and Biebs, in an outdoor Coachella VIP area, with a band of bodyguards enclosing them and a gang of screaming fans clutching smartphones equitable scantily out of reach. Ariana Grande is onstage nearby, singing “ Bad Idea. ” And Eilish has, let ’ s say, a multiphase response to the physical bearing of Justin Bieber. A three-hour opera packed into less than 60 seconds. She melts, she recoils, she disassociates, she flirts, she stares. She holds up her hands to prevent Justin Bieber from getting any close. She sticks her head in a nearby cone that might be a confetti cannon or something. finally, she pulls herself together and pulls in JB for a sob embrace that lasts somewhere between five minutes and five days. belated, on the drive back to the hotel, she cries some more—finally, fleetingly blissful herself—as her brother/collaborator/producer Finneas O ’ Connell gently points out that after a couple of years of Billie superfans crying in her arms during meet and greets, “ You know how it feels to be him in that site. ”
“ You carry a heavy calling, ” Bieber tells Eilish in a drawn-out and gracious post-meetup message that she cries while reading loudly, possibly not registering the fully gravity of his words. Or possibly by then Eilish already knew that crushing heaviness well. “ This is gon sodium be crazy for 10 years, it ’ south gon na be crazy, ” Katy Perry warns Eilish about pop megastardom when they meet face-to-face themselves at Coachella. “ If you always wan na talk— ’ cause it ’ s a wyrd ride. ”

Billie Eilish ’ sulfur second full-length album, Happier Than ever, came out Friday. It ’ s about how two pop megastars hugging one another might be the only true, and truthful, affair available to pop megastars at all .

The World ’ s a little Blurry, like a big many pop-star documentaries before it, illuminates the baffling public highs and pulverizing personal lows that come with chart-topping fame : the screaming herd, the punishing physical drudgery, the overawe and inattentive soon-to-be-ex, the arduous but occasionally ecstatic artistic procedure itself, the supportive parents ( love Billie ’ s parents ), the Fucking Internet, and the encroaching indignity of all those meet and greets. Along those lapp bleary lines, Happier Than always, like a great many sophomore albums before it, blends ecstasy with aggravation, impossible triumph with bone-deep exhaustion, celebrity panopticon oversaturation with maddening isolation. Whether she ’ randomness flirt or bounce, attacking or defending, these 16 songs ( probably besides many, but better that than besides few ) are shot through with a punish forlornness. “ I ’ m gettin ’ older / I think I ’ thousand agin ’ well, ” Eilish sings on the album ’ south opening lines, now a bored 19-year-old. “ I wish person had told me I ’ d be doin ’ this by myself. ” But we pretty much know for a fact she ’ d been told .
Eilish ’ mho rise from fondly homeschooled L.A. overachiever to theoretically underground 16-year-old streaming colossus to Grammy-dominating ace felt shocking and unprecedented even if, from Bieber on down, you can name enough of start megastars who forged a exchangeable supernova path before and since. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go ? was a startle desegregate of ghastly electro-pop propulsion and somehow even scarier torch-song hyperballadry, her gnarled visuals ( the black tears, the spider, the syringes ) still nowhere near american samoa frighten as the sheer ASMR malevolence of her voice at its softest. It ’ s the slow and even sweetest tunes that reveal themselves, in clock, to be the most exhilaratingly sinister, even if “ When the Party ’ second Over ” took me months to fully appreciate and “ I Love You ” took me basically two years .
But I am somehow startle afresh, every time I reencounter this person, at how quiet and finely slumberous and outright elegant much of Eilish ’ sulfur music is, her gothic, disruptive, teenage-phenom rep notwithstanding. On Happier Than ever, she trills and purr and moans like a jazz singer unstuck in time : “ What a drag to love you like I do, ” she murmurs luxuriously on a quavering, lidless lullaby called “ Halley ’ s Comet ” ; futz with the production merely a little and you can imagine it coming out any clock time in the past 80 years. There ’ south a song on this record literally called “ Billie Bossa Nova, ” an eerily erotic dream that swings from “ use different names at hotel check-ins ” to “ heavy breathin ’ on the floor ” but largely conveys the mind that she ’ s adhere alone in way excessively many penthouses. You can be super-famous and terribly lonely at the lapp time, y ’ know ; you can be an old soul and the bogeyman at the lapp time. When you think about it, the bogeyman might be the oldest ( and loneliest ) person there is .
She is celebrated now. She is 19 now. She is blond now. She wears corsets on the blanket of british Vogue now. deal with it. She is trying to deal with the Fucking Internet ’ s ongoing failure to deal with it. Happier Than Ever, once again home-produced and cowritten by Finneas, attacks—and defends itself from—superstardom from multiple angles, on multiple fronts. There is “ Getting Older, ” laced through with too-many-hotels boredom. ( “ Things I once enjoyed / Just keep me use now. ” ) There are besides ten thousand midtempo fuck-you anthems, possibly leveled at that cowed ex-wife, possibly leveled at the Fucking Internet, possibly leveled at the dehumanize and objectifying music industry as a whole. “ I Didn ’ thyroxine Change My Number ” is a slinky, dismissive strut with a mellifluously crooned chorus of “ Don ’ t take it out on me / I ’ m out of sympathy for you ” ; “ Lost Cause ” has a slithering slow-mo-funk bassline that engraves the line “ I know you think you ’ re such an illegitimate / But you got no speculate ” onto some inadequate chump ’ s gravestone ; “ Therefore I Am, ” funky and slinkier and bastardly still, rails against apparently everyone bootless and deluded enough to believe they actually know her, or are worthy of even being associated with her :

Articles, articles, articles
Rather you remain everyday
Interviews, interviews, interviews
When they say your name, I fair act confused

so yes, OK, this is a Coping With Superstardom album, and you ’ ve hear ( and possibly even loved ) hundreds of those in your life evening as you roll your eyes at the self-pity. That pit, specially, Eilish is ferociously purpose on avoiding. “ end week, I realized I crave compassion / When I retell a narrative, I make everything strait worse, ” she sings on “ Getting Older, ” but undependable narrators are constantly more dangerous, which is to say more fun, and for that matter more credible in a celebrity-panopticon hellscape this unreliable. “ not My Responsibility ” is an extra-chill and thoroughly brutal spoken-word number that literally begins with her saying, “ Do you know me ? actually know me ? ” and goes on to describe her relationship with the Fucking Internet in the clear, starkest, most angry terms conceivable, even if she ’ s basically whispering :

Some people hate what I wear
Some people praise it
Some people use it to shame others
Some people use it to shame me
But I feel you watching
And nothing I do goes unseen

That song is well more dishearten than the sung called “ Everybody Dies. ” But Happier Than Ever is packed with a angered resilience excessively. Eilish confronts an abuser on the deceptively gentle acoustic-guitar ballad “ Your Power ” ( “ You ruined her in a year / Don ’ t act like it was hard ” ). On the soporific trip-hop interlude “ Goldwing, ” she plays defender angel, imagining what she ’ mho described as “ a young, non-exploited, non-traumatized person ” and then counseling them ( “ You better keep your promontory down ” ) to avoid abusers of all types, or possibly the abusive music business as a solid : “ They ’ rhenium gon na tell you what you wan sodium hear / then they ’ rhenium gon na disappear / Gon na claim you like a keepsake / Just to sell you in a year. ”

Most of these tracks are then slow, so baronial, indeed slumberous that it may take quite a few listens ( or months, or years ) for them to truly sink in. I about feel bad that my favorite song here, by far, is the EDM-festival-obliterating firecracker “ Oxytocin, ” which is by far the fastest, loudest, most hypnotic, and disruptive moment on Happier Than Ever, and the closest this record comes to having a “ Bad Guy ” in a way that would feel calculated were the leave not sol thrilling and faze. “ Oxytocin ” is an eerily erotic waking nightmare with more big emit and hotel intrigue ( “ What would people say, people say, people say / If they listen through the rampart, the wall, the wall ? ” ) that can ’ t avail but equate crave with abuse :

Can ’ t take it back once it ’ second been set in motion
You know I need you for the oxytocin
If you find it hard to swallow
I can loosen up your collar
’ Cause deoxyadenosine monophosphate long as you ’ re still breathing
Don ’ triiodothyronine you even think of leaving

It ’ s the best-case-scenario case for the record Halsey ’ s purportedly making with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. You could say the same for “ NDA, ” with its slo-mo sunburst of a dystopian techno-pop chorus as Eilish once again revels in the trappings of fame even as she rails against them : “ 30 Under 30 for another class / I can scantily go outside, I think I hate it herе. ” And it all climaxes with “ Happier Than Ever, ” another delicate, acoustic, unstuck-in-time flashy ballad ( “ Do you read my interviews ? / Or do you skip my avenue ? ” ) that abruptly explodes into a bruise pop-punk craze :

And I don ’ thymine talk shit about you on the internet
Never told anyone anything bad
’ Cause that shit ’ s embarrassing
You were my everything
And all that you did was make me fuckin ’ sad

From Olivia Rodrigo to Grimes to Rina Sawayama to Phoebe Bridgers ’ s climactic gentle-to-apocalyptic anthem “ I Know the end, ” this song has lots of sonic and emotional company in its travel from absolute calm air to boiling fury, from tender crooning to pop-punk ( or even nü-metal ) howl. But the restraint Eilish shows for much of Happier Than Ever makes the title track hit that much hard. In one sense this is a slightly hasty sophomore album that repeats When We All Fall Asleep ’ s core themes ( “ You think that you ’ re the man, ” she sneers repeatedly on “ Therefore I Am, ” echoing “ Bad Guy ” in news if not in audio ) and leans heavily on Eilish ’ mho signally fluid and volatile sing voice to sell its clunkier lines. ( Though when she sings, “ You were easy on the eyes / But looks can be deceiving, ” she sounds like the first person to always point that out. ) This is however a noteworthy slow-burn travelogue through the trappings of suffocating 2021 pop-star fame, and even more impressively, it suggests that Eilish has found, if not a room out, then at least some breathe room .
then yes, “ My Future ” is another sleepy ballad, another vaguely erotic love song, but that ’ s “ My Future ” as in “ I ’ m in sexual love with my future, ” as luxuriously sung by a young but already battle-hardened pop star who realizes pop stardom doesn ’ thymine leave much space for anybody else in her hotel room, but possibly that ’ south for the best for a copulate years :

I know purportedly I ’ thousand alone now
Know I ’ m supposed to be unhappy without person
But aren ’ triiodothyronine I person ?

When Eilish sings these lines I flash back to her fawn in Justin Bieber ’ s embrace as he listens to Ariana Grande and possibly imagines that they ’ re the merely three people on earth, because at their tied that ’ second possibly precisely how it feels, how it sincerely is. Happier Than Ever takes some getting used to, but thus does pop superstardom, clearly, and at its best this record finds Eilish blinking intemperate in the harshest potential foreground, but taking consolation in, and drawing baron from, the strong embrace of her own trace .

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