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Entertainment

AFP
January 28, 2020

Billie Eilish redefines the contemporary pop star on her way to stardom

Entertainment

AFP
Tue, Jan 28, 2020
Billie Eilish has cemented her place as an establishment leader, posting a banner Grammy night

The embodiment of cool with haunting, gravelly vocals and original punk-rock style, Billie Eilish has redefined the contemporary pop star on her blistering path to stardom.

And now the teenage mover and shaker has cemented her place as an establishment leader, posting a banner Grammy night by sweeping the top four categories — the first woman and youngest artist to do so.

The 18-year-old's phenomenal ascent saw Eilish named Billboard's 2019 woman of the year — and for good reason.

Within a matter of months, she dropped a number one album entitled When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, led the hot songs chart with her single Bad Guy and played a set on a prime stage at the Coachella music festival that was pure fire.

The biggest globally renowned musician to emerge from Generation Z, the candid Eilish draws young fans with a personal social media presence and internet-speak fluency.

And with a fashion sense as unique as her sound, Eilish is the kind of female star who refuses to let the sexualization of her body define her celebrity.

At just 13, she dropped her debut bedroom-produced single Ocean Eyes on SoundCloud, the do-it-yourself streaming platform that has also brought a generation of young rappers to fame.

The gauzy synth-pop song about painful longing to reconnect with an ex — written and produced by Eilish's primary creative collaborator, her brother Finneas O' Connell — quickly went viral.

Interscope signed her at age 14 — making the Californian a rare internet-age pop star to win big online and then see a label invest time and money in cultivating her talent over the long term.

But despite the industry input, Eilish appears to be a singular star whose only influencer is herself.

She deftly imbues often morbid lyrical content — topics include death, depression, and fear over climate change — with tinges of irony and humor.

The performer — who has cited grunge band Nirvana as inspiration — delivers poetry in a breathy voice bordering on a whisper, layered over minimal beats akin to electronic music and southern hip-hop.

Put on the spot, Eilish oozes eminent chill — though the nerves of adolescence sometimes peek through.

"We made this album in a bedroom," she said backstage at the Grammys on Sunday after scooping five trophies, standing next to O' Connell, to whom she routinely gave the mic.

"It's really like anything is possible, actually," she added with a wry giggle.

'Confused and grateful'

The superstar's signature style features oversized sweatshirts and baggy pants, often paired with sunglasses and the garish extra-long nail extensions more often associated with rapper Cardi B.

On Grammy night, she wore an oversized Gucci pantsuit with glittering lime green accents — that matched her neon-dyed roots — and even sported a sheer black face mask on the red carpet.

The star has described her body image as "toxic," and spoken openly about mental health struggles — a growing movement in the music industry, which has lost scores of stars young and old to suicide and overdose.

"Wow, wow, wow, wow," Eilish began her speech in accepting the award for Bad Guy.

"So many other songs deserved this, I'm sorry."

Her 22-year-old brother later said, "We didn't think this would ever win anything."

Billie Eilish has cemented her place as an establishment leader, posting a banner Grammy night

"We didn't write an album to win awards. We wrote an album about depression, about suicidal thoughts, about climate change," he continued.

"We stand up here confused and grateful."

Win-win for women 

The young Eilish has flatly dismissed the industry's habit of drumming up publicity and drama by pitting female stars against each other.

She champions women as peers rather than rivals, emphasizing that the success of one performer does not steal from another.

"Everybody's always trying to make everybody compete," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2019. "They're like, 'Billie's album might pass Ariana's.'"

On Sunday, Eilish gave a shout-out to Grande, saying the pop royal's album "thank u, next" should have won the night's prestigious Album of the Year award.

She's also lauded fellow Album of the Year nominee Lana Del Rey, a masterful lyricist who, like Grande, went home empty-handed on Sunday.

"I don't want to hear that Billie Eilish is the new Lana Del Rey. Do not disrespect Lana like that! That woman has made her brand so perfect for her whole career and shouldn't have to hear that," Eilish once said of the baroque pop troubadour whose languorous, deadpan 2019 album was hailed by many as the year's best.

"I don't want to hear that somebody's the new Billie Eilish in a couple of years."

That prospect appears unlikely considering the superstar's inimitable idiosyncrasies, raw talent and meteoric rise that now includes plenty of Grammys gold.

"What's next? I don't know — be in this moment is all I'm thinking about," she told reporters Sunday backstage.

As the now classic lyric from Bad Guy goes.... duh.