The breakneck rise of Billie Eilish has been the major story within the music industry over the last few years. Despite being a teenager when she asserted herself as a megastar, Eilish was already musically fully formed, and since then, her potent grip on popular culture has continued to take hold.
After Eilish first began to gain mainstream traction in 2018 with ‘Bury A Friend’, she became the subject of conspiracy theories that lit up Reddit. Users instantly labelled her an “industry plant”, a term used by Gen-Z to describe artists manufactured by major labels, without exploring her origin story.
As Eilish hails from Los Angeles – and both her parents are actors – swaths of the internet falsely believed it was simply their connections that caused her career to prosper. However, in truth, her parents have only enjoyed bit-part roles in a handful of Hollywood productions and certainly don’t have the keys to the music industry.
Industry plants have been around as long as time itself, and even the mighty punk renegades The Sex Pistols fall under this category, but Eilish doesn’t. Her rise is authentic and a consequence of her earth-shattering talent. Eilish’s creative parents, Patrick O’Connell and Maggie Baird, helped the young singer tremendously on her path, but not through nepotism. They made the bold decision to homeschool Billie and her brother Finneas, giving them a more fluid education than she would have received through the traditional system.
One of the principles that Baird taught her daughter was the essential elements of songwriting. From an early age, Eilish was educated on the importance of expressing herself through art, and her parents treated the topic with the same level of importance as English, mathematics, or science.
Eilish has no regrets about her somewhat abnormal education and believes she wouldn’t be where she is today without it. “I’m so glad I didn’t go to school, because if I had, I would never have the life I have now,” she once said. “The only times I ever wished I could go were so I could fuck around.
“At times, I just wanted to have, like, a locker, and have a school dance that was at my own school, and get to not listen to the teacher and laugh in class. Those were the only things that were interesting to me. And once I realised that, I was like, Oh, I actually don’t want to do the school part of school at all.”
Eilish’s brother and collaborator Finneas has been with her every step of the way. In 2015, Finneas helped Billie secure her initial breakthrough when she needed to create a piece of music to choreograph for her dance class. Finneas wrote the song ‘Ocean Eyes’ but, having struggled to find the finishing touch, turned to his sister for vocal assistance. With little thought, Eilish uploaded the track to SoundCloud so that her teacher could access the song, but, unexpectedly, ‘Ocean Eyes’ went stratospheric on streaming the platform. Label bosses started to swarm, and, amid the whirlwind, she signed with Interscope just weeks later at 14.
Eilish’s growth epitomises the way we consume music today, and streaming services have been more integral for Eilish than any tour or word of mouth recommendations. Spotify featured her material prominently from the very beginning as part of their most popular playlists, and Apple Music named her as their ‘Next Up’ artist, which was then followed up with a feature-length documentary in 2017.
Since then, Eilish has broken countless records, such as becoming the first artist born this century to have a number one album in the United States. Her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, elevated her stardom to unprecedented levels for a 17-year-old after she won the prestigious ‘Album of the Year’ at the Grammy Awards.
Festival season in 2019 saw Eilish perform to hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide. For safety reasons, Glastonbury was forced to move her set from the modest John Peel tent to a large outdoor stage, as did Reading & Leeds. In a matter of months, Eilish had transcended from emerging artist to star attraction, and her rise felt rapid.
In 2022, she’ll make her highly anticipated return to Somerset when she becomes the youngest headliner in Glastonbury Festival’s history with her triumphant second album, Happier Than Ever, in tow. The record is a progression from her debut, which found Eilish swimming in new waters as she left the bedroom-pop production behind in favour of a more timeless, textured approach. Rather than standing still, Eilish boldly moved into a new territory reflective of the version of herself that made Happier Than Ever.
Billie Eilish’s tendency to ignore what other people are doing and run her own race is why she’s so adored by fans and critics alike. The 20-year-old possesses the same mercurial touch as David Bowie and Bob Dylan, which she’s using to drape popular culture in her image, and she’s still only getting the engine started.