Arts and Entertainment

Inside the Artist: The Transformation of Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish has undergone a drastic transformation in the past year, while remaining true to her character.

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In recent years, a number of young artists like Lorde and Dua Lipa have risen in prominence. This is in large part because their music and experiences are uniquely resonant with a young, teenage audience. One such artist who embodies this relatability to an enormous extent is Billie Eilish who, at 16, amassed over one billion total streams on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.

Eilish rose to prominence with the 2016 release of “ocean eyes,” a soft, soothing, minimalistic love ballad. Similar to Taylor Swift (another artist whose fame came at an early age), Eilish became popular for sweet, sometimes mawkish love songs; the mood and feel of her early tracks was bright, melodic, and often unremarkable. Despite this, many of the tracks of her EP “dont smile at me,” (2017) like “&burn” and “bellyache,” had grim subject matter, with the latter mentioning her friends’ dead bodies lying in the back of her car. Yet Eilish was still held back by the generic indie-pop sound that was present in nearly all of her songs. At this point, she was thought to be not much more than yet another pop singer with a catchy song, a “one-hit wonder.” However, with “dont smile at me,” Eilish became enormously popular and remains so.

Eilish’s meteoric rise between 2017 and 2018 can be almost entirely attributed not to her music, but to her persona. In contrast to the superficial façade behind which many of today’s celebrities hide, Eilish is genuine, down-to-earth, and affable; she snickers at her own corny jokes and is admirably candid in interviews. Her relatable character is only augmented by her age, as she and her music can more directly resonate with a younger audience. While older artists often deem it unimportant or immature to discuss insecurities, high school relationships, etc., Eilish doesn’t have that same reluctance and is very outward and frank. In an interview with Genius, Eiliah discussed her self-consciousness, crushes, and childhood stories. In her songs, namely “idontwannabeyouanymore” and “party favor,” she does the same. Eilish’s age gives her a unique position to talk about these things, and she does this so effectively that her candor alone has truly allowed her to become so immensely successful.

On July 18, 2018, Eilish released “you should see me in a crown.” Sonically, the song was a stark contrast to what she had put out before that point. The single was dark, gritty, and eerie at times, with a roaring, bass-heavy chorus over a trap beat. It was confrontational, haunting, and distorted, including lyrics like, “Honestly, I thought that I would be dead by now / Calling security, keepin' my head held down / Bury the hatchet or bury a friend right now.”

While her other songs had had similarly grim lyrics, “you should see me in a crown” was truly the first time Eilish fully embraced this new, dark sound: a trend that is here to stay. While critics of Eilish had condemned her unoriginal and unremarkable songwriting in the past, this new sound is uniquely hers. This transformation of being a bright, mainstream popstar to more on the fringe is not something that Eilish is the only person to have undergone, though; Taylor Swift underwent a similar change, rebranding herself as the “new Taylor,” with a darker, more grim vibe. At the time of the release of “you should see me in a crown,” many fans were disappointed to see the new direction in which Eilish had gone. Yet, just as Swift had hoped to do, this shift was designed to give Eilish a unique sound, one that was easily recognizable. Her previous work blurred with that of other glossy, indie-pop singers, but this new identity is undeniably Eilish’s. Having a sound that was characteristically hers allowed for Eilish to solidify her place in mainstream music, almost creating her own genre of sorts.

If the switch from all lowercase to all uppercase (and use of punctuation!) in her new album is any indication of her transformation, Eilish’s release of “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”(2019) marked the true transition into her new voice. The album cover depicts Eilish with whited-out eyes and a creepy smile, sitting atop a bed. Almost all of the songs have a creepy, grim feel to them, with a much greater emphasis on percussion and beats than in her early music. The song “all the good girls go to hell” embodies this well, with a rather dark title, driven by a bass-heavy beat.

Despite this, Eilish remains her honest, charming self with songs like “wish you were gay,” in which Billie humorously pleads with someone to attribute their disinterest in her to their sexuality and not their dislike towards her personally. While describing homosexuality in such a way is a rather risky, provocative move, it is simply a testament to Eilish’s nonchalance and honesty as a songwriter and public figure. Further, her response to criticism about the song upholds this characteristic, plainly reiterating—instead of tippy-toeing around the topic as many other celebrities do—that the meaning of the lyrics was not homophobic.

While some may not like it, the bright, beautiful harmonies in “dont smile at me” are no longer Eilish’s defining characteristic as an artist. Yet, as an homage to her past work, Billie placed the song “i love you” right before the outro of the album. An adorably sweet love song about a faux pas in a relationship, “i love you” is just as glowingly harmonic as “ocean eyes” and is one of the best songs on the album.

Despite having transitioned into a new sound and type of music, Eilish has remained true to one thing: her honesty. Even on her new album, she maintains her candor and down-to-earth character with songs like “xanny,” in which she condemns drug use, in contrast to many other popular artists today who glorify their use, like Lil Peep and Juice WRLD. She has built her entire career upon establishing an emotional connection with her fans and listeners by being open about her experiences, thoughts, and emotions, no matter how embarrassing. Regardless of whether Eilish continues to produce this dark, grim style of music or ventures off into another, new, sound, we can rest assured that we will always have the funny, honest, charming figure of Billie Eilish.