Do we deserve Billie Eilish? A soggy Glastonbury certainly does. The 20-year-old pop star plays the Pyramid Stage tonight, the festival’s youngest ever solo headliner ever, a treat for beleaguered happy campers who have shrugged off Friday thunderstorms and the worst rail strikes since the 70s.
Yet Billie is also the pop star we, the people, need in 2022 too. It’s not just that 104m Instagram followers can’t be wrong. In a world that often feels ready to pop like a can of beans in a pressure cooker, the Billie effect is a tonic. ‘Are you guys okay?’, she says to fans in RJ Cutler’s Apple TV documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry, having paused a gig to direct help to a fan taken ill in the crowd. ‘Hey, you guys need to be f***ing okay, because y’all are the reason I’m okay.’
Nor is it just that she sounds like a punk Judy Garland and bounds around like a kangaroo clad in oversized Stella McCartney: a woozy, effortless mezzo-soprano as at ease dropping shake-the-room bangers like Bad Guy as spellbinding stunners like No Time To Die, the anthemic soundtrack to Daniel Craig’s last James Bond outing. It's not simply the hype, either: her seven Grammys, two critically-acclaimed albums, a Disney movie, Happier than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles, about $25m in the bank, all before she’s legally old enough to drink in America. Born in Los Angeles, California, on 18 December 2001 — two months after the Twin Towers fell — Billie is also, in a way, the century’s child, a platform comes with a lot of pressure. Just ask Gen Z. Are you okay? I need you guys to be okay.
No one has a personal connection like Billie and her fans. Every concert is a sea of iPhones raised to the stage. Every song is roared back at her with the fervour of a monastic (haters would say Satanic) choir. Billie dropped her first track, Ocean Eyes, on Soundcloud when she was 14 — what feels like all of several seconds ago — and the attention economy has lasered home on her ever since. It’s her outrageous talent. It’s the effortless swagger. It’s the generosity in sharing almost everything of herself with her audience, like a Reality TV star but with, you know, something real about her. There she goes, bounding into her dark, irrepressible anthem ‘Bury a Friend’; here she comes, springing out the other side with ‘Bad Guy’. Crushing downs, tremendous ups, one more time, with feeling.
There’s a moment in The World’s A Little Blurry in which Billie, cackling, loops through footage of the moment her ankle bent beneath her and she tore ligaments at the start of a show (obviously, she carried on in a protective boot). ‘Happy’, she says, as the ankle sits at a normal ankle. ‘Sad’, she says, as it twists. The Billie Eilish story is also a happy-sad one. She’s only recently moved out from the modest two-bed LA bungalow she, her parents and brother, Finneas O’Connell, grew up in. Multi-instrumentalist Finneas, who co-writes and produces her songs, and Billie wrote her first album, Where Do We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? in his childhood bedroom.
Theirs is a family picture practically drawn from America’s subconscious: the world’s most supportive mum, Maggie, fretfully accompanying her troubled teenage daughter to every tour date, presser and shoot; dad, Patrick, who has only just taught his daughter to drive. In Cutler’s documentary, everyone’s worried; everyone’s proud. Billie hates songwriting. She thinks she sucks. She can’t explain why she’s sad. It’s just the way she feels. She was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when she was 11 and has experienced ‘small’ tics since, which she finds 'very exhausting.’ It's a lot. ‘I don’t want to be too dark, but I genuinely didn’t think I’d make it to 17,’ she told journalist Gayle King in 2020.
Which is why we need Billie in 2022. Because really, we all deserve and need each other. Through any tough times, that is the best way to get by. Because she’s still here, killing it, smashing ever more spectacular sell-out concerts out the park. In interviews she says she truly is happier than ever, especially after a pandemic in which she had more time to work on — and realise the value of — connections than ever. If the songs on her second album Happier Than Ever suggest that she feels overwhelmed by all the attention, then her recent O2 Arena show found her adapting to it. ‘I’m starting to have an adulthood, which is new for me,’ she says in her fifth consecutive Vanity Fair’s Same Interview, One Year apart — perhaps one of the most impactful ‘letter to my younger self’ formats going. Are you guys okay? I need you to be okay. The feeling's mutual. For who can bear to feel themselves forgotten?