Two icons of the ‘Z’ generation, eight years apart in age, there’s little difference between the upwards trajectory of singers Billie Eilish and Justin Bieber. Both discovered at the tender age of 13 on separate social media platforms, they individually forged an early career defined by youthful popularity amplifying the feelings of a 21st-century generation. Granted, Justin Bieber’s flowing blonde locks and doughy young face made him a definitive poster boy, with his mushy lyrics of puppy love attracting insurmountable affection from superfans, and an unreasonable amount of hatred from everyone else. One of these many loyal fans was Billie Eilish, who herself has garnered her own collection of supporters, amplifying less the feelings of fickle romance, and more the sombre sentiment of contemporary youth.
R.J Cutler’s documentary casts a generous eye over Eilish’s already illustrious career, tracking her life from her first world tour with the EP ‘don’t smile at me’, through to her acceleration into the public eye with the release of ‘bad guy’ and her Grammy award-winning debut album. Shot in an observant vérité style, the two-and-a-half-hour film captures the real-life everyday of a young woman in transition, juggling the weight of worldwide fame with the insular challenges of adolescence. It’s a personal journey, allowing us inside the singer’s inner circle, and even inside her deepest thoughts, revealing the turmoil of a young mind finding her identity.
Though, this doesn’t feel like an exercise in indulgence, unlike her aforementioned career counterpart’s Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, The World’s A Little Blurry is not filled with the same self-gratification. Here, there’s a sincere effort to access something deeper, magnifying the spaces in between Billie’s greatest successes instead of the glitzy moments themselves. In a discussion amidst the singer’s own battles with mental health, her mother comments, “I think people give teenagers a really rough time because they’re like ‘oh they’re privileged, they have it so easy, they’re fake depressed’. No, there’s a lot to be depressed about right now…it is a horrible time to be a teenager.”
This same internal pain is extracted by Billie Eilish throughout the lyrics of her discography, illustrating just why she has had such a monumental influence on the current generation of youth. Consolidating the feelings of her teenage fans, whilst facilitating a creative output for such enigmatic emotions makes her, almost coincidently, the leading voice of a generation. Cutler also puts faces to these fans, elevating them from being a mere horde of devotees toward being an extension of Eilish’s own intimate community. A far cry from the screaming fans of The Beatles, Billie’s supporters are sympathetic individuals, after all, they are no different in age or attitude to Eilish herself.
This experience of fandom is well explored and reaches a powerful junction when Billie Eilish comes face-to-face with her long-admired idol Justin Bieber, breaking down in tears as they both embrace. It feels like a momentous moment for Eilish, an all-consuming realisation of her position that blurs the lines between fame and everyday fandom. Eilish is not contextualised by the scope and grandeur of fame but is humanised by the forgotten fact that she is merely a young girl who happens to be an idol.
Cutler’s film is a glazed analysis of Billie and her brother Finneas’ working process, and instead a fascinating insight into the culture of her family and intimate relationship with her own music. With seven Grammy awards already under her belt and a coveted record in the title sequence of the latest James Bond film, Billie Eilish is a captivating individual with an emotional maturity way beyond her years. Cutler’s film has captured such an evolution, significantly marking her cultural stomp on the influence of contemporary music.
Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry available on Apple TV+ and in UK cinemas on 28th May.