The Fame Game
How Billie Eilish physicalises the visual and emotional impact fame has on young artists
By Andrea Loftus
In the game of fame, you win, or you try – and Billie Eilish is winning every round.
Although the singer is coming to the end of her teenage years, she was propelled into the public eye after the viral success of ‘Ocean Eyes’, a song she recorded at only 13 (!) in the bedroom of her 15 (!!) year old brother. Just over a year later in her first major interview with Vanity Fair, the fresh faced and wide-eyed teenager couldn’t have predicted what was coming next.
“When I was growing up, I would watch *laughs at herself* “growing up” I’m 17” joked Eilish in a recent Ellen interview, reminding herself there’s still some “growing up” to do. The notion of not being quite “grown up” yet resurfaces Mara Wilson’s protective comments in her essay addressed to individuals sexualising actress Millie Bobby Brown - “We - the public, the media - are all grown up. We just need to act like it.” The fixation on an individual’s performative career and their age fades over time, but Billie’s artistic and emotional maturity that she encapsulates in soundbites blurs the correlation of age and experience. Alike the attention Mara Wilson faced after the fame following her role in Matilda, there seems to be an added element of pressure and speculation when an artist is younger than the majority.
The concept of childhood stardom is not new within the performance industry, but the difference between then and now is that instead of receiving the odd bit of weird fan mail once a fortnight, your actions are being observed constantly by millions of followers online. In her interview a year ago Billie proudly presents her running total of 257k instagram followers, whilst 2018 Billie nonchalantly admits she has 6.3M, an already astounding figure that has snowballed to 22 million in just a few months.
Can we justify stating that fame robbed her of her childhood? A childhood that never physically existed in any comparative form than the one that actually happened. The passionate musician who began her music ‘career’ at the age of 11 told the New York Time she’d “felt 16 all my life”, making it fair to assume her intention was for this passion project to manifest into a career. The aspect us as spectators seem to find problematic is not that she is a worldwide phenomenon at only 17, instead that she has accomplished a level of ‘fame’ comparable to artists who had been at it for decades before even tasting the level of success she had reach at 13.
The relatability of her music sits in the empathetical nature of her lyrics. The themes of relationships, love, lust, loss and mental illness are some of the favourites to explore when artists need some lyric prompts. However, the maturity and emotion purveyed through her songs, especially on the latest album, suggest her imagination is expansive or she’s faced a lot more heartbreak than a teenager should. Although some fan favourites are ‘bad guy’ and ‘bury a friend’, the playful lyric technique in ‘8’ encompasses her song writing abilities and hopefully foreshadows the growing catalogue of music to come from her in the next few years.
A common trope of childhood fame incorporates the element of privilege a middle-class white American has in the industry. I don’t say this to detract from her incomparable talent, the songs have only themselves to compete against, but having a mother with the availability to travel the world by your side and a brother whose experience as a musician means you can record your songs in his room – that’s not the average family set up.
At only 17, Eilish has released her second album which has propelled her even further into the already blinding limelight which seems to be coming from every direction. “When we all fall asleep where do we go” is an artistic collaboration of the senses, her hauntingly adaptive videos unite with layered sonic chaos that culminates into a series of addictive songs. Her success has reached every corner of the hall of fame, with huge names like Sophie Turner, Ariana Grande and Bruno Mars posting to congratulate her success at such a young age. The cherry on top was however meeting her teen crush Justin Bieber, her excited reaction reminding us she is also a fan of arists she’s grown up with, the difference is that the concept of fame is something she now sits on both sides of.
Her inspired melodies and tactical beat irregularities make each one of her tracks a choreographer’s playground. Her first success ‘ocean eyes’ was originally reworked with the intention of offering it to Billie’s own dance teacher, yet a quick google search will now reap over 3 million results, the top of which a video of her own impressive routine. A new crowd favourite from her most recent album is the hypnotic ‘bury a friend’ reveals 17 million results and a compilations of incredible interpretive impressions of her lyrics.
Whilst the vast majority of us were nose deep in an A Level textbook at 17, Billie was instead crafting a No.1 album, performing prime-time at Coachella and cooking up a fashion line. So no, her journey hasn’t been the most relatable rollercoaster of a struggling artist, but the privilege of having a musical family in LA shouldn’t detract wholly from the raw talent she displays. Her incredible success thus far is only a taster of what she has in store for us, but she’ll never know the luxury of going to the corner shop in her slippers and making it out unseen.
Artists sacrifice their privacy to pursue their passion, and whether that is a worthy sacrifice for this young artist will probably become evident depending on how the next few rounds of the fame game play out.
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