Billie Eilish, A Teen Pop Star Who Has No Time For Teen Pop
One of the foundational principles of being a teenager is posturing like you’re cooler and more grown-up than you actually are. The budding career of Billie Eilish is this ruse writ large with a major-label budget, presented so convincingly you wonder whether it might actually be authentic.
Historically, teenage pop stars have leaned away from the jaded, eye-rolling teenage stereotype at first, spending some time making music for children before moving on to more adult material. In the last decade alone, think of Miley Cyrus, of Demi Lovato, of Selena Gomez, of the Jonas Brothers. Maybe one of their songs made its way outside of the pre-adolescent bubble — “Party In The U.S.A.,” for instance. But generally these stars did their time in the Disney universe pandering to kids who loved their TV shows before launching mature reboots at a strategically beneficial moment. Even Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes, who sidestepped the Disney phase of teen stardom via social media virality, started out teeny-bopping for a moment before growing their sounds up fast.
Other superstars of that generation, such as Halsey and Ariana Grande, didn’t properly launch their careers until around their 20th birthdays, but neither seems like they would have abided a shiny, happy teenage back catalog. I’d be curious to hear the R&B album theater kid and Nickelodeon actor Grande wanted to make when she was 14, when her management told her, “That’s a helluva goal! Who is going to buy a 14-year-old’s R&B album?!” I need not be curious about what Halsey was cooking up in her teens because she put it on YouTube and SoundCloud for the world to hear: Goofy acoustic parodies of Taylor Swift and A$AP Rocky quickly gave way to “Ghost,” a song that made over Swift’s bright and punchy pop with a dark hip-hop exterior, essentially predicting Reputation three years early. Who knows what Halsey would have come up with a few years before — or what she did come up with but never released.
With Eilish, we know. Born Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell to a pair of actor/musicians from LA — and yes, one of her three middle names is Pirate — the 16-year-old singer is not bothering to wait until she grows up to start making grown-up music. Her output thus far constitutes, if not musical maturity, at least a version of maturity recognizable from the kinds of high school students who party with an older crowd. Eilish is the same age Lorde was when she broke, but unlike the wide-eyed protagonist of “Royals,” she projects the confident aura of a mean girl who’s seen some shit. To wit, her debut EP is called Don’t Smile At Me, and her latest single is called “You Should See Me In A Crown.”
Eilish came on my radar two years ago when her publicist asked if I’d like to premiere her video for debut single “Ocean Eyes.” I agreed because it’s a great song — a misty and crystalline pop ballad colored by the unrelenting melancholy of Lana Del Rey — but I was taken aback by how she carried herself in the video. Here was a 14-year-old girl who, thanks to professional styling and a piercing stare, looked nothing like a child. It was like expecting to see Jenny Humphrey and getting Taylor Momsen instead. “Eilish has the star power to sell a song with little more than some dramatic glances under moody lighting,” I wrote at the time. I was fairly convinced it would be a hit.
It was, but not right away. Eilish may not have had to endure recording sanitized children’s music for years, but she still had to toil in the industry trenches waiting for the Interscope machinery behind her to get her music in front of an audience. Two years and a handful of promo ops later — including an arrangement with Apple Music that begets her own radio show on Beats 1 — she’s starting to find it. Eilish’s debut EP Don’t Smile At Me EP has been out since last December. It cracked the top half of the Billboard 200 albums chart for the first time last month and has lately been hovering in the top 30 most popular releases on Apple Music. Its centerpiece, the aforementioned “Ocean Eyes,” became one of Spotify’s 100 most-streamed tracks last week. Her new “You Should See Me In A Crown” is ranking even higher; her Khalid collaboration “Lovely” higher still.
“Lovely,” which is also Eilish’s first entry on the Hot 100 singles chart, is a maudlin string-laden ballad from the 13 Reasons Why: Season 2 soundtrack. (“Ocean Eyes” was featured in season 1.) The song reminds me of another teenage Billie — UK folk balladeer Billie Marten — drunk on the dramatics of late Lykke Li, and not in a good way. Its oppressive sadness errs too far on the side of melodrama to be enjoyed unless you’re in the mood to wallow — though admittedly “Lovely” is taking off like no Eilish hit before, so I guess there’s a market for wallowing.
Last year’s EP did a better job of sketching out the Eilish persona. Sonically, it’s a stylish if overly affected collection of of minimal, shadowy Urban Outfitters music rife with programmed beats, piano ballads, strummy folk-pop, and whatever other noirish impulses Eilish picked up from Del Rey. Vince Staples shows up for a guest verse on “&burn,” one of several songs co-produced by Eilish’s brother Finneas O’Connell. But her stated focus is the lyrics, which certainly make an impression. Check her out on “My Boy” dismissing some chump boyfriend:
My boy’s being sus and he don’t know how to cuss
He just sounds like he’s tryna be his father
My boy’s an ugly crier, but he’s such a pretty liar
And by that I mean he said he’d “change”
Elsewhere, “Bellyache” imagines the nervous aftermath of murdering her friends: “I’m bitin’ my nails/ I’m too young to go to jail/ It’s kinda funny.” Opener “COPYCAT” includes this evocative if somewhat hilarious couplet: “Call me calloused, call me cold/ You’re italic, I’m in bold.” She doesn’t always act like such a hardass; on “idontwannabeyouanymore,” she laments, “If teardrops could be bottled/ There’d be swimming pools filled by models/ Told ‘a tight dress is what makes you a whore.'”
Even at her most emotionally wrecked, Eilish rarely broadcasts her insecurities so clearly. The freshly released “You Should See Me In A Crown,” a snarling trap-pop track like what Halsey might record if she went goth, is more in line with her personal brand. “You should see me in a crown,” she sings. “I’m gonna run this nothing town/ Watch me make ‘em bow/ One by one by one.” It’s not hard to imagine her accomplishing such a thing at an age when many aspiring pop stars are still swearing allegiance to Mickey Mouse.
Drake is still out there setting records and ruling both the albums and singles chart. Let’s talk singles first, since that’s where his most noteworthy statistical achievement of the week played out.
Specifically, “In My Feelings” set a new record for most streams in a week. Billboard reports that the song logged 116.2 million US streams, beating Baauer’s 103.1 million for “Harlem Shake” back in the winter of 2013. Both songs were powered by an onslaught of viral dance videos, though notably Drake came close to breaking Baauer’s record without a dance challenge when he racked up 101.7 million “God’s Plan” streams one week earlier this year. Between “Feelings” and “Plan,” Drake singles now account for 10 of the 13 biggest streaming weeks of all time.
The second week on top for “In My Feelings” ties Drake with Rihanna at 41 career weeks at #1, the most among artists this decade. (They shared 10 of those weeks via “What’s My Name” and “Work.”) Also, this marks 26 straight weeks with a rap song atop the Hot 100. Drake has accounted for 21 of those weeks via 11 for “God’s Plan,” eight for “Nice For What,” and two for “In My Feelings.”
Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin’s “I Like It” holds at #2, followed again by Maroon 5 and Cardi’s “Girls Like You” at #3, Drake’s “Nice For What” at #4, and Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” at #5. Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” is back up to #6, and Post Malone’s “Better Now” returns to its #7 high point. Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left To Cry” is at #8, Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Psycho” is at #9, and “God’s Plan” is at #10.
Drake’s Scorpion, meanwhile, holds on to #1 on the Billboard 200 for a third straight week. Billboard reports that the double-LP tallied 260,000 equivalent album units but only 29,000 in traditional sales.
The week’s only top-10 debut is Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers 2, entering at #2 with 80,000 units. The rest of the top 10, in order from #3 to #10: Post Malone, XXXTentacion, Cardi B, Juice WRLD, The Greatest Showman, Lil Baby, Maroon 5, and Luke Combs.
Meghan Trainor – “Treat Myself”
This is just smart marketing. I have to believe Meghan Trainor’s audience is very much here for a self-care anthem of this ilk. Personally, I am not.
RL Grime – “Light Me Up” (Feat. Miguel & Julia Michaels)
You basically can’t go wrong putting Miguel and Julia Michaels on your song, but I was hoping for something a little less pedestrian.
David Guetta – “Don’t Leave Me Alone” (Feat. Anne-Marie)
It’s remarkable how well these EDM guys have adapted to the post-EDM world. As EDM-goes-MOR singles go, this may not be “The Middle,” but it sounds like a hit waiting to happen.
Becky G – “Zooted” (Feat. French Montana & Farruko)
How does French Montana end up on so many good songs? Who cares, as long as this gets a fair shot at becoming the next Latin pop crossover sensation.
Now United – “Summer In The City”
Nah I’m good.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Jason Mraz opened up about his sexuality and his experiences with men in an interview with Billboard. [Billboard]
- In Camden on Tuesday night Charlie Puth dedicated “See You Again” to Demi Lovato, who is recovering from an overdose — which is nice in sentiment but a little awkward in practice since that’s a song about missing a friend who died. [YouTube]
- Pharrell was the best man at Pusha T’s wedding to Virginia Williams; No Malice officiated. [TMZ]
- Drake delivered $10K in free ice cream to the L.A. suburbs on Saturday. [TMZ]
- Logic did an interview with Nardwuar. [YouTube]
- DJ Khaled’s “No Brainer” — featuring Justin Bieber, Chance The Rapper, & Quavo — is out tomorrow. [Instagram]
- So is Logic’s new single “One Day” featuring OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder. [HNHH]
- Fall Out Boy shared a video for “Bishops Knife Trick.” [YouTube]
- Pink released a video for “Secrets.” [YouTube]
- Twenty One Pilots released a video for “Nico And The Niners.” [YouTube]
- Dua Lipa railed against United Airlines for having the gall to serve nuts to other passengers while her nut-allergic sister was on board. [Twitter]
- Iggy Azalea twerked with a bucket of KFC on her butt. [Instagram]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
Dude needs some help with titles. https://t.co/AQgaVw61Yj
— Jimmy Eat World (@jimmyeatworld) July 23, 2018