Meet Billie Eilish, The 16-Year-Old Pop Star Prodigy
We talk to the teen singer-songwriter about her love of zombies, thrift shopping and standing out from the crowd
Billie Eilish wrote her first song about a zombie apocalypse. “It sounds like a love song but it’s actually based on the walking dead,” she says.
The 16-year-old ditches typical teen heartbreak for dark and imaginary lyrics in her other tracks too. Take the song Bellyache, which was written from the point of view of a teenage killer and was one of 2017’s catchiest tunes.
“I get inspiration from anything,” says Eilish. “You don't have to go through something to write about it. It's more freeing to just look around you and create.”
Her signature look sends the same unconventional message, with silver-dyed hair, oversized neon tracksuits and chunky sneakers. “I don't know, dude,” says the L.A native. “I’ve always worn stuff that makes people look at me. I like being judged.”
Eilish blew up two years ago with the song Ocean Eyes, which hit over two million streams after being self-released on SoundCloud and soon scored her a deal with Interscope Records. Her moody hip-hop inspired debut EP Don't Smile At Me soon followed and has taken the forceful talent around the world to perform including Auckland’s Laneway in 2017.
She’s also climbed the charts with collaborations with bigtime rappers like Vince Staples and R&B artist Khalid. The fellow teen sensations first met over Twitter DMs two years ago, “before he blew up and before I was anything,” says Eilish and wrote the ironically titled melancholy duet Lovely after hanging out in L.A this year. It’s since appeared on Netflix’s second season of 13 Reasons Why.
“It was a really natural process of working together. We knew each other when there was no hype around us so it shows me how much we respected each other for our art,” says Eilish. Both Khalid and Eilish have been featured as Apple Music's UpNext artist, the ultimate nod to new talent in the industry.
For all that success, it's hard not to bring up her age, which usually results in an intimidating glare from her strikingly bright eyes. “For some people, that's all there is, but it doesn't define me,” she says. “It’s tight to be this young. There are so many young artists right now. I'm proud to be in it.”
On the cusp of pop stardom, Eilish is sticking to who she is, she says. “I don’t feel pressure to be something different because I am something different. There's no point trying to be the same as everybody else.”
In a bid to stand out, the fashion lover has created a signature look and hopes to have her own label one day. “A lot of artists have stylists that make them look like someone they're not. I've never been that way. I have to do it all myself,” she says.
Her Instagram, @wherearetheavocados (spontaneously named after eating a grilled cheese sandwich lacking the millennial favourite) has over two million followers and is used to show off her thrifted and custom-made ensembles.
Think puffer jackets, baggy shorts and Kermit-green bucket hats. “I think of myself as a fashion influencer more than anything else on social media,” she says. Later adding, “it’s always in my head first whether that’s clothing or a music video. I’ve always known who I am and what I want.”
Eilish grew up in L.A and was home-schooled by her parents, along with her older brother, Finneas O'Connell. Her entire family just so happens to be skilful musicians too, and it was Finneas who impressively produced Eilish’s debut EP when he was only 19.
“My mum taught me how to write music, and my dad how to play the piano. But the thing is I never started singing or making music; it was already there in the first place,” she says.
Eilish, who sang with the Los Angeles Children's Choir, says her upbringing allowed for a creative freedom she wouldn’t have had otherwise. “I knew from the start that music was all I wanted to do. There was no point in school.”
The siblings, who still work together on music, grew up listening to The Beatles and Linkin Park, but it was the radical beats of Tyler the Creator and Childish Gambino she heard at age 11 that really sparked things, she says. “The world of rap and hip-hop has made me who I am.”
The viral success of Ocean Eyes, written as a homework assignment with her brother, was completely unexpected, she says. “We made it because it was fun. We didn't put it out wanting to get famous. It really did go over my head at first. That sort of thing doesn’t seem like it could happen to you.”