If there’s one artist whose progressiveness matched their talent, it was David Bowie. He once said, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming,” and that was especially true when it came to his incessant desire to push boundaries and look towards the future. Bowie was always ten steps ahead of the curve when it came to investing in new art, learning the latest technologies, and working with the newest wave of musicians. In 2021, with new artists like Billie Eilish breaking records for their ability to innovate, it’s interesting to wonder what Bowie would have to say about it.
Much like Bowie, Eilish developed an interest in music at a very young age. In 2015, the 13-year-old Eilish posted a song titled ‘Ocean Eyes’ on Soundcloud, and it quickly blew up, receiving several hundred thousand listens in only two weeks. From there, she signed a record deal with Darkroom and Interscope Records in 2016, and gained attention from megastars like Justin Bieber, who offered the rising star assistance, something he wished would’ve happened at the start of his career.
Similarly to the praise Eilish was receiving, throughout his life, Bowie showed his support to many musicians he admired and was always there to lend a hand. When Lou Reed’s career was dwindling in the early 1970s, Bowie, being an admirer of Reed in The Velvet Underground, was a co-producer for his wildly popular 1972 album Transformer and revitalised his career in the process. His generosity and stellar eye for potential allowed the successes of many other artists as well.
Bowie once said about his contributions, “To not be modest about it, you’ll find that with only a couple of exceptions, most of the musicians that I’ve worked with have done their best work by far with me.”
Before his death in 2016, Bowie took a particular interest in New Zealand-born pop singer Lorde. Her unconventional sound and honest lyrics are reminiscent of his own, and Mike Garson, Bowie’s longtime pianist, told fans during a Periscope Q&A: “David really liked Lorde, and he felt like she was the future of music, and they had a few wonderful moments together.”
A similar artist in age and ability to break conventions, Eilish has gained support with some of Bowie’s contemporaries in her sudden rise to fame. Elton John, with whom Bowie had a close relationship in the 1970s, chimed in about the rise of Eilish by saying in a 2019 interview, “She’s come a long way very quickly. She’s an incredible word-of-mouth artist. I can’t wait to see her live because she has something very special going on. Talent like hers doesn’t come along very often.”
Nirvana’s Dave Grohl, who Bowie was also friends with, is also a fan of Eilish’s talent, and said in an interview: “I went to see Billie Eilish not too long ago. Oh my god man. Unbelievable. My daughters are obsessed with Billy Eilish. And what I’m seeing happening with my daughters is the same revolution that happened to me at their age. My daughters are listening to Billie Eilish and they’re becoming themselves through her music.”
Grohl also added, “Her music is hard to define! I don’t know what you call it! I try to describe her to people and I don’t know… I don’t even know what to call it. But it’s authentic. And I would call that rock ‘n roll.”
The similarities between Bowie and Eilish’s desire to innovate and inability to be boxed into a specific genre seem to build a strong case for the connection they might’ve shared if he was still alive. With his career phases where he took on the invented personas of Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke, Eilish seems to be taking cues with her now widely copied green and black hair and baggy clothes, and her newly-revealed platinum fringe look.
Bowie, a genre-defining and ever-evolving, once revealed: “I feel confident imposing change on myself. It’s a lot more fun progressing than looking back. That’s why I need to throw curveballs.” Coming into the world of polished pop stars, Eilish could certainly be considered a curveball— and it’s safe to assume that Bowie would’ve appreciated that.