I have just returned from my first Reading Festival at the age of 16 and Billie Eilish was the standout performance for me. Her energetic routine and her mermaid bright green hair with matching baggy clothes, make her appear almost extraterrestrial. She enchanted the thousands of people watching her who completely filled up the main stage arena — a very impressive feat.
Reading Festival has historically been one of the biggest rock festivals in the UK but this year a 17-year-old ‘alternative pop’ singer attracted the biggest crowd, larger than The Foo Fighters, The 1975 and Post Malone.
With her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? making her the youngest ever female solo act to top the UK album charts, Billie Eilish skyrocketed to global fame leaving many people in disbelief as to why this teenager has made such an impact in popular culture.
So why does the younger generation identify so strongly with her? Her honesty as an artist when admitting her ongoing struggle with mental health and living life as a teenager in the spotlight is not something often portrayed in the wider media. And though her pressures are much greater than those of most teenagers, the constant expectation of success is not unique and something that many can identify with. Her personality which at times may appear to some as disconnected and disinterested, is undeniably raw.
Her album is a mix of emotionally dark, unnerving songs such as ‘listen before I go’ and fast-paced electronic beats such as ‘Bad Guy’. These songs, have an unarguably new sound which bridges the gap between genres. The closest genre that identifies her style is ‘antipop’ which surfaced around 2013 with Lorde’s rise through the charts.
Her clothing also speaks of her individuality as an artist, with a clear preference for the laid-back, baggier fashion. She commented on this in a Calvin Klein advert:
‘I never want the world to know everything about me, I mean that’s why I wear big baggy clothes, nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath’.
In today’s world where everyone is judged so heavily on appearances, her refusal to allow people to see her fully is a powerful challenge to social norms and ensures the focus stays solely on her music.
A video by vogue where Eilish was interviewed exactly a year apart (before and after her massive rise to fame) shows the immense pressures that young stars go through to continue creating chart-topping songs. The drastic difference in not only her appearance but her personality shocked millions of viewers — adults and teenagers alike — and was a powerful reminder of the challenge of growing up in the spotlight.
It’s obvious that music taste changes over time. There’s a reason why ‘Sk8er Boi’ by Avril Lavigne is no longer the current youth anthem. The world evolves and generally it is the youth that introduces the radical changes, particularly in music. Billie Eilish marks a new step. We are moving away from quintessential pop, which has been a feature of the charts for the last 10 years. And this marks an exciting and unpredictable time in popular music.
Her social media presence is ever-growing with her 36.2 million followers on Instagram (@billieeilish), proving that the best way for artists to connect and grow an audience is through social media platforms. Her response on Instagram to her Reading festival success was, ‘why tf everyone care about me so much’ — which in a way sums up why people care: because you feel she is a relatable figure who is not defined by her fame.
At the end of the day young people want someone they feel understands them and provides music which they can identify with. So, who better than someone of a similar age who is going through the same day-to-day struggles. In my eyes, Billie Eilish is not just a popular artist but a symbol of how a generation is changing.