Meet Billie Eilish, Pop's Next It-Girl
On Billie Eilish’s breakthrough track, “Ocean Eyes,” she compares love to falling off a cliff, surrounded by the warlike intensity of napalm skies. It’s a profound description for a 14-year-old, and it’s led to an enormous amount of interest in her debut song—as well as the singer herself. Like the title suggests, her airy falsetto vocals also conjure up thoughts of the ocean washing over the song’s mellow percussion and minimalist synths. After posting “Ocean Eyes” to SoundCloud, momentum picked up quickly; DJ and tastemaker Zane Lowe described Eilish as “absolutely incredible” and an “amazing new talent.” The song’s maturity paired with a few childish ideals—she sings, for example, that love is “no fair”—struck a chord with an audience much older than Eilish and racked up a total of more than 2,000,000 streams on Spotify.
Eilish’s organic popularity is nearly unheard of, particularly at a time when artists rarely break through without the help of a powerful record label or heaps of cash. One can only imagine what she’ll accomplish now that she’s found a new platform and developed an eager audience. In her first interview to date, Eilish answers what every music lover is thinking: Where did she come from, and what can we expect next?
When did you start writing music? It kind of just happened. I’ve been in the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus since I was 8. And my brother has as well. That’s where I’ve gotten all my singing technique, even though it’s mostly choral stuff. It’s helped me learn the proper way to sing and not ruin my voice completely. But I’ve just always sung, all the time. I sang so much that my family had to shush me. Then I started writing when I was about 11.
Where did the song “Ocean Eyes” come from? Well, my brother also started writing when he was about 11 or 12. He came into my room in October of last year to tell me he had this song called “Ocean Eyes.” He’d been doing it with his band before, but of course I’d heard it because I was right next door. I sang it, and we both loved it. It’s just a beautiful song, and [my brother] Finneas is an amazing writer. I loved it and I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. I’m in a dance company, and one of my teachers asked if I could record [the song] and send it to him so he could choreograph a dance. So all of the production is based off of lyrical contemporary dance.
Were you already used to working with your brother before “Ocean Eyes”? We always work together. He’s my partner in crime. Any sessions that we have, we go together. We like the same stuff, and if we don’t like the same stuff, we can tell each other our opinions. Before we put out “Ocean Eyes,” we’d put out two songs—one that Finneas wrote and one that I wrote. Just to put them out on SoundCloud for fun and for our friends to listen to. We had no intention for them. And then we put out “Ocean Eyes.” It kind of just started getting traction. I would hit refresh and it would have a bunch of new plays. We were like, “What the hell is going on?”
I was at Starbucks one time, and Finneas called, like, “Dude! Our song got 1,000 plays. We made it.” We were just so over the moon about it getting 1,000 plays. We were like, that’s it. We’ve reached our goal. We thought we were bosses. And then it just kept going. And then Hillydilly found it . . . I didn’t realize how big it was getting until it had reached 50,000 plays. I haven’t really processed it. It’s just hard because it doesn’t happen to everyone, and it’s rare.
Have you and your brother performed live together? We haven’t had anything that was very big, but we’ve had little shows here and there just to get used to the idea of performing in front of people. I mean, I’ve always been a performer because of dance and going to competitions and being in the children’s chorus. I even used to do plays when I was little. I know how to be in front of an audience, so I’m not terrified. But basically, we did these little shows just to try to understand the feeling and not be awkward. It’s just to get into a good headspace. Right now I’m injured, and I’ve been injured since January, so I haven’t been dancing. But I’ll be back soon, and I’d really like to incorporate that into the live stuff and videos . . . I think it’s important to be able to move and not have anybody judge, or not care that anybody’s judging you for moving and dancing and actually living in the moment.
A lot of the people listening to your music are well above your age. What’s that been like for you? I feel like it’s not really a certain age. It’s all around. I have little kids who come up to me, but there are also adults. I don’t really see it as a bunch of adults or a bunch of kids, or even a bunch of teenagers. I mean, if you like it, you like it. It’s great because they don’t treat me like a child, because I’ve always looked older and acted older than I am. One time I went to the county fair where they guess your age, and someone guessed that I was 20. I was like, “No, I’m 12.” But all these producers know I’m 14, and they probably think that I’m not going to be that mature.
On top of the music, you’re now filming music videos and adding visual components to your work. Do you enjoy that process as well? I love to watch videos, and I’ve always liked to film and take pictures. I have an eye for really weird things that nobody thinks about. I used to make little movies about myself and then edit them on iMovie. I’d make music videos to “Sail” by Awolnation. I’d set up my camera in the backyard and do a bunch of different takes. If somebody had seen me doing this while sitting in my yard, taking another one and another one of it, they’d be like, “What the hell are you doing?”
You’re doing so much for someone so young. How do you balance everything?Well, one thing that helps is being homeschooled. I have been since I was born, and that helps a lot. I’m really busy, but it’s stuff that I love doing. When I do have free time, I spend it with friends or I spend it at home writing or making something. I’ve always liked being busy. If I have nothing to do for a week, it just makes me mad. That’s why it’s been so hard to be injured, because I can’t dance and I can’t move, really.
Has the creative process changed or gotten more intense now that people are following you? We’ve had a ton of sessions with other people and with groups. It’s been an amazing experience, and to see everyone else’s way of writing and everyone’s way of producing. And they’re all different. We’ve written so much since then, because we’re both so motivated. And now that other people like it, it’s kind of huge. Because it’s something that we’re so passionate about, and you don’t think about the way that it affects other people, because you’re you and you’re not in other people’s heads. But it’s really life changing because it tells you that something that you created, because it affects you in a way, affects somebody else, too.