Billie Eilish: 18 with a bullet

Inside an intimate party at Apple HQ to celebrate the newly-anointed Global Artist of the Year.

Onstage at the Steve Jobs Theatre at Apple HQ in Cupertino, northern California, the Artist of the Year is giving an interview about her 2019. She’s also talking about the trees – real trees – that are dotted about the stage, planted” there by renowned British stage designer Es Devlin.

The Artist of the Year doesn’t normally hand over her stage design to anyone else, but Es Devlin knows what she’s doing,” says Billie Eilish, who’s dressed in a rhapsody of baggy grey, round sunglasses and a lime-green crown of hair. I just trusted her, and she’s nailed it.”

This is Eilish’s moment. Twelve months ago she was just” a buzzed-about 16-year-old singer and songwriter from Los Angeles; 12 months on, she’s the most powerful teenage artist in the world. She’s a DIY musical trailblazer, a bedroom creative with global reach, a young woman who knows her own style, who presents herself how she wants to present herself, who still lives and breathes like a fan.

It’s the most surreal shit ever,” Eilish says of her own (recent) (current, even) childhood as a pop culture nut. “’Cause I grew up as a fan. I loved wearing merch. All I wanted was Golf Wang and Yeezy.”

And now, here she is, being fêted by the biggest tech/​music company in the world, in the cultural heart of Apple Park” in the words of the evening’s host, Zane Lowe. Apple Music’s Global Creative Director – aka their Tastemaker-in-Chief – is describing the lush, futuristic, 1000-seat venue that sits across the landscaped grounds from the mile-perimeter, doughnut-shaped, hyper-modern office facility that’s workplace for 12,000 Apple employees. 

The love goes deep and wide. The atrium of the Steve Jobs Theatre features an installation based on her brother-collaborator Finneas O’Connell’s bedroom-cum-studio at the family home in Highland Park, LA: a giant bed, suspended from the ceiling, with clouds of lyric sheets blowing in the air and an audio track playing on a loop. 

That’s the 22-minute recording of us making I Love You,” Eilish explains. Talk about access all areas. There’ll be much more of that in the next Apple/​Eilish project: a fly-on-the-wall documentary recently purchased by Apple TV+ for a reported $25 million. Shot over the course of Billie’s banner breakthrough year, news of the film emerges, perhaps not uncoincidentally, during tonight’s event. 

  • We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.”  We could feel the mania bubbling over.” 

If she’s as honest on camera as she is on the tiniest stage she’s graced in a while, we’re in for a treat. Much of Eilish’s power comes from that full-force, unvarnished candour. For example: her talk with Lowe is no valedictory victory lap. Instead she tells him that, when she first met him, during her debut European tour at the start of 2019, I was probably the most depressed I’ve ever been … All these amazing things were happening but I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in a great place.”

She references Ariana Grande’s speech at the previous year’s Billboard Awards, when the singer described one of the best years of my career and the worst of my life”. Eilish understood that feeling.

It wasn’t just that month – I was pretty clinically depressed for a couple of years.” To emerge from that, she added, there was no big revelation or intervention, I just was patient with myself and my surroundings. That was everything I did.”

Meanwhile, alongside that, she set about owning music in 2019. Tonight she and her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? are being honoured at the inaugural Apple Music Awards. Eilish has won Album of the Year, a data-driven prize acknowledging that her album has been the most streamed on Apple Music, with over one billion plays.

Eilish is also being honoured as Global Artist of the Year, and she and Finneas have both been awarded Songwriter of the Year. True to Apple product design form, the awards themselves are pretty slick: hefty, gleaming 12-inch discs with, at the heart of them, the silicon wafers that each power every iPhone. They don’t come cheap, and they don’t come light: when Eilish and Finneas are presented with their awards onstage they joke-don’t‑joke that they’re too heavy to carry.

It’s clear they couldn’t have done it without each other. Asked to reveal the best thing about her brother, Eilish replied: He makes me laugh. His humour is mean! He is a troll! He is so funny.”

And asked likewise, Finneas cited her companionship, and a sense of a real tether in the storm we’ve had the good fortune to go through in the past year”.

One billion streams ago, the siblings’ year began on 30th January, when they released their single Bury a Friend.

That was a much bigger day than I thought it would be,” Finneas says when we talk backstage at the Steve Jobs Theatre. We had finished the album… and it was like, hey, we’re putting out an album’ – then suddenly that day felt like a really big moment. The song exploded, the music video came out and there was just so much attention on it all.”

Two days later, the pair left LA for their first European tour. You plan tours way in advance – like, we already know our whole summer 2020 tour schedule – and that tour had been planned so far in advance that we were playing these rooms that were too small for how much excitement there was in Europe for Billie. So it was kinda intense. We’d turn up in these 500-capacity rooms and you could tell it could have been a 12,000-capacity place. 

It was like experiencing growing pains: you wake up one morning and try to wear the pants you were wearing yesterday and you’re showing eight inches of ankle. You’ve just got too big for them. So that was a crazy moment. We could feel the mania bubbling over.”

Two months later the pair were back in LA for the release, on 29th March, of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, a day that began with a performance on Jimmy Kimmels chat show.

To celebrate, there was a thing going on in LA: The Billie Eilish Experience. It was open for a weekend, and it was a place with a room themed for each song on the album. Billie and I played Bury a Friend on Jimmy Kimmel, then drove straight to the Experience. And someone from our label thought it would be fun for us to ride there in a yellow Lamborghini that had a getaway-style driver who drove way too fast,” recalls Finneas with a shudder.

Over the following nine months the pace didn’t let up. Eilish played Coachella, then hit Glastonbury, with her slot being hastily upgraded from the John Peel Stage to the Other Stage. The following month, on 30th July, Finneas celebrated his 22nd birthday with a rare day off (they booked out a rollerdisco). 

  • It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.”  It’s the most surreal shit ever.” 

On 19th August Bad Guy ended Old Town Road and Lil Nas X’s 19-week Number One run on the American singles charts. On 6th September they released the video for of All the Good Girls Go to Hell, a song referencing planetary warming and Californian wildfires upfront of that month’s global climate strikes. 

Into October and a side-step for Finneas: he released his debut EP Blood Harmony, seven tracks written and recorded in dressing rooms, buses and backstages over the course of the preceding months. 

On 20th November, more accolades: the nominations are announced for the Grammy Awards 2020. Billie nabs four, the youngest ever recipient of nods across the main categories, Finneas takes five.

Then, on 4th December, tonight’s awards show in Cupertino, at which Apple, for the first time, lets members of the public – mainly ardent Eilish fans – into the Steve Jobs Theatre for another first in this space: a gig.

Dead on 6.30pm Billie Eilish and Finneas emerge through the trees onto the stage for an hour-long unplugged show that’s being streamed on Apple Music. Both are wearing white silky PJs with silver stick men embellishments. This is a first for them, too, an acoustic set delivered while sitting on stools.

I wish I could give you guys an actual show, but, well…” Eilish says at one point. Then she realises something. I’m so close to you guys!” she says with a beaming smile to the screaming fans she can, literally, reach out and touch. Such has been the speed of her rise that such intimacy is already a memory – that next tour, starting in the spring, is a global arena run that sold out immediately. 

And finally, today, 18th December, brings a climactic high-point for a rollercoaster 2019: happy birthday dear Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell, 18 years old this very hour. Still not old enough to drink in the US, but easily old enough to be the world’s most exciting artist of any age.

Shit, I’m glad you’ve reminded me of that!” exclaims her big brother when I flag the looming Big Day. I haven’t got her anything.” Nor will there be any extended celebrations. We’re both flying off the next day for a project I can’t tell you about.” [Clearly this was a 007-related secret mission: six weeks later, Billie and Finneas are announced as the artists behind the next James Bond theme, No Time To Die, making the 18-year-old the youngest artist ever to record a song for the franchise – Espionage Editor]

How about something he can tell us about? Something about his big little sister we don’t know?

Superfans will know this, but she’s a huge fan of the film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” he says of the 2002 children’s animation. Any of the songs on that [soundtrack] album by Bryan Adams will make her cry.”

In Cupertino, Zane Lowe had asked about the release of her debut single, Ocean Eyes. It came out when Billie was 13 and she was on the road promoting it aged 14. Did she have any advice to any 14-year-olds out there in the world? 

Don’t listen to the word no!’” replied Billie Eilish with cheerful smile. “[But] only in this situation. Not in life. Creatively, what you want is what you should get. People don’t trust teenagers,” she added. They don’t believe they know what they want. But I was a 14-year-old girl who knew.”

Happy birthday, 18-year-old who still knows. 


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