Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish shot to fame with their respective chart-topping debut albums SOUR and When We all Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? But their success seems to have left a bitter taste in some people’s mouths. 

Pea-green envy?

Both women’s relatively sudden success has led to them being labelled ‘industry plants’. The term refers to artists in the music industry who are manufactured to make money for controlling record companies looking to dominate the market. It is a label that has tainted many big names in the industry including Drake, Chance the Rapper and Post Malone.

But why does success make fans so mad? People demand that artists be self-made but the second their talent receives wide recognition they’re in the ‘sell-out’ zone. Rodrigo and Eilish are two extremely successful female artists, especially given that both are still teenagers. But instead of praising young talent, this seems to make people rather envious. 

Bouncing between criticism of Eilish’s dress sense and Rodrigo’s boy drama, these two can’t seem to catch a break. But does envy tell the whole story, or are there underlying prejudices that better explain their haters’ ire?

TikTok and tactics 

Rodrigo’s hit song ‘Driver’s License‘, which was inspired by her ex-boyfriend Joshua Bassett, took TikTok by storm. The Filipino-American singer has seen an opportunity to utilise the social media platform to her advantage and has been extremely successful in doing so. Any time a snippet of a song goes viral on the app it creates exposure and increased fame for the artist. Rodrigo has maximised this effect by writing ‘Driver’s License’ in such a way that it fits TikTok’s magic formula. In fact, almost every song on her debut album SOUR is used on the app.

The girl certainly knows how to write a TikTok hit. But knowing how to get your talent out there isn’t necessarily the tool of a manipulative industry plant — as some trolls like to suggest. Rodrigo is a businesswoman trying to succeed in a tough environment. Having watched Taylor Swift’s industry drama, she ensures that she owns all of her original master recordings. Given her sober attitude, there is little chance of her or her career being ‘controlled’. 

In truth, Rodrigo hasn’t just appeared out of nowhere as a pawn for Geffen Records. She has previously starred in the Disney production of High School Musical: The Musical where she sang all of her own songs and even wrote the song ‘All I Want’ — which featured in the show. Her musical history speaks for itself. This is a person that has always been passionate about singing and has the talent too.

Songs from the heart

Like many artists before her, Rodrigo’s focus on relationships and breakups in her lyrics is another potential source of irritation for haters. Though the practice of referencing your experiences with love and putting them into song is ubiquitous amongst musicians, yet when it comes to young female artists the level of vitriol is especially high, with Taylor Swift being a prime example. 

In a Guardian interview, Rodrigo responded to this sexist behaviour with:

‘I’m a teenage girl, I write about stuff that I feel really intensely — and I feel heartbreak and longing really intensely — and I think that’s authentic and natural. I don’t really understand what people want me to write about; do you want me to write a song about income taxes? How am I going to write an emotional song about that?’

Fair point. She writes straight from the heart about issues that matter to her (and most other 18-year-olds). She is also a panellist for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Perhaps there is just something about such an outspoken and self-assured young woman that rubs people the wrong way. 

Eilish: edgy and ‘self-made’ but still gets hate

Billie Eilish was applauded when she first entered the public eye for her unique music and bold, unpretentious image. But as quickly as the fame came so did the hate. Her parents have connections in the industry which of course led people to question her authenticity. But it’s also known that she’s been writing her own music together with her brother Finneas since she was 11. For this reason, Eilish receives marginally less hate than Rodrigo in virtue of satisfying the ‘self-made’ checklist. However, what is often overlooked, is that Rodrigo never professed to be a self-made star. She’s also never been ashamed of her Disney roots, which neither add nor take away from her talent and achievements. Anyone in her position would utilise their connections to fulfil their passion. The haters arguably hate because they can’t understand what makes this girl, or indeed Eilish, so popular. It’s back to our old friend: Ms Pea-Green Envy.

Since at least 2019, people have been scrutinising Eilish’s edgy dress sense and accused her of taking herself too seriously. Her baggy clothes were the source of much discussion until she revealed that she wears them to hide her insecurities and avoid being sexualised against her will. Eilish’s tendency to keep certain parts of herself and her life private has certainly angered some fans. Such people feel that there is no off-limits area when it comes to those in the public eye. Why that is, remains an inexplicable mystery.

It’s true that nearly all public figures have to deal with some level of hate or disapproval, but young (especially female) stars appear to have to justify their success far more than others. This is likely to be the result of something called ‘depressive’ and/or ‘hostile’ envy. When we see a teenager achieve far more than most people do in their lifetimes, it forces us into the comparison trap: ‘I deserve this too’, ‘Why am I so useless?’ etc.

Eilish and Rodrigo will continue to receive hate just because their dizzying success makes people mad, and a little sad. Fortunately for the singers, the fact that they are one of the most successful and powerful women in the industry today must be comforting. As for the haters, they should learn to love themselves better.

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