It’s a cold night in San Francisco, and despite having seriously damaged her knee days before (“I went to the doctor yesterday and he said, ‘You’re going to have to not jump around on stage so much,” she reveals), Billie Eilish is stomping across the stage at Outside Lands, silver hair swinging as she urges the crowd to compensate for her injury by “going harder.” Fans, many wearing paper crowns in honor of the singer’s single “You Should See Me in a Crown,” oblige, turning the festival field into a sea of bobbing heads. (Fifteen minutes later Eilish announces she’s in a lot of pain, but even this confession fails to slow her down.)
“I want to make music that makes experience happen more,” Eilish says later of the scene full of dancing attendees. “All I want is for my shows to be crazy and full of mosh pits and people enjoying themselves. It’s not a real mosh pit if something doesn’t break! I don’t want to make crazy feel-good music that has no meaning. I still make what I want. But right now, I feel like I’m making music that’s going to be so fun to do live. That’s want I’ve learned from being on tour. What do I like the most and what do they like the most? Me and my brother [co-songwriter and Glee star Finneas O’Connell] have definitely gone with that thought.”
It’s only been recently that the 16-year-old singer/songwriter has had enough of a following for a mosh pit. In 2016, Eilish self-released her debut single “Ocean Eyes,” a romance-laced pop ballad that highlighted her smoky soprano, honed with a stint in Los Angeles’ children’s chorus. By the end of the year, Interscope had rereleased the track. An EP in early 2017 followed. Don’t Smile at Me established Eilish’s ability to find a radio-friendly hook amidst an ever-shifting blend of R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop. (As for her forthcoming full-length, she assures she has no interest in rehashing previous ideas and warns listeners to expect “crazy stuff.”) It also garnered her a string of accolades, including placement on the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack and the pole position in Apple’s “Up Next” artist spotlight.
Lorde is a self-declared fan, as is Jimmy Fallon, who invited her on The Tonight Show. It’s no accident that Eilish was selected to open an upcoming date for Florence + the Machine—like Florence Welch, she possesses the innate ability to tap into truths, her songs filled with both emotional pleas (“Need a place to hide, but I can’t find one near/Wanna feel alive, outside I can fight my fear”) and clever wordplay (“If tears could be bottled/there’d be swimming pools filled by models”).
Although her ascent over the last two years has been dizzying, Eilish acknowledges it would never have been possible without the Internet. Fans have rallied around her user name, WhereAreTheAvocados, opening fan accounts like BilliesAvocados and HereAreTheAvocados, and presenting Eilish with the titular fruit at shows. (“I always had the weirdest user names,” she says of the handle. “My username once was RiderOfTheWind, which literally sounds like a fart joke.”) But it has also served as inspiration for Eilish when fan speculation about her use of spider emojis led to the arachnid-heavy video for “You Should See Me in a Crown.” As she does with most ideas, Eilish ran with it.
“We found this woman, Diana, who was a spider wrangler,” she says of the shoot, where Eilish got up close and personal with a tarantula and a family of daddy long-legs, among others. “We talked forever. She showed me how she puts the spider in her mouth, and then I did it. Spiders on my face and hair. It was crazy. I loved it. I would have never thought in my life that I would have done that.”
Eilish confirms she’s not afraid of bugs—or just about anything else for that matter. (“A spider crawling out of my mouth, I don’t care at all,” she jokes. “Who knows what’s wrong with me?”) It’s a statement, combined with some of her more knowing lyrics (“My boy’s an ugly crier/but he’s a pretty liar”), that makes her sound wise beyond her years. It’s also a compliment she’s heard many times before. Yes, it’s possible to be a fully formed adult and a teenager, she assures. But that doesn’t mean she’s done growing. To hear her tell it, change is the only career constant she can predict.
“Bro!” she yelps when the dreaded phrase is brought up. “Who hasn’t changed between thirteen and sixteen? The thing is, I never don’t want to change. I never want to find something and stick to it and then never change again because it’s the only thing I like. That’s ridiculous. The music I’m making now is who I am now. Fame is irrelevant. I just make art I want to make and have people relate. I just want to be people’s voices if they don’t have a voice.”END
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