Billie Eilish is the Teen Singer Everyone is Obsessing Over

Billie Eilish is the Teen Singer Everyone is Obsessing Over

The pop wunderkind talks about her love of fashion, the story behind her breakout track, "Ocean Eyes," and the potential for future rap collaborations.

The pop wunderkind talks about her love of fashion, the story behind her breakout track, "Ocean Eyes," and the potential for future rap collaborations.

Photography: Robin Harper

Text: Trey Taylor

Billie Eilish is 15, home-schooled, and signed to Interscope Records. Her labelmates are pop howitzers like Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey, but Eilish isn’t fazed by the pressures of living up to that roster. Her debut single “Ocean Eyes” has already clocked 20 million streams in two weeks and earned a cosign from Jaden Smith, who put the track on a public playlist. “It was insane,” she says, holed up in her Highland Park childhood bedroom. “I didn’t believe it at first because I use to be a huge fan of Willow Smith when I was 11. All I would listen to was ‘Whip My Hair’ and ‘Fireball’ over and over. Of course, I saw Jaden and I listened to his music, and he’s the coolest. That happening was super surreal to me. I don’t even have words, it was really, really cool.”

What’s most striking about "Ocean Eyes"—apart from the featherweight Ambien vocals—is the dumbfounding maturity of its lyrics. The third line speaks of “burning cities and napalm skies.” How the hell did a 15-year-old come up with such a potent visual? “It was actually written by my brother,” she says. Finneas, her 18-year-old brother, is her main collaborator and producer. Though he has a band of his own, they work together. “He has so many songs, like 300 that he’s written. With ‘Ocean Eyes’, he wrote that song and he brought it to me. He was like, ‘I want you to sing it just so I can hear it,’ and I sang it. I fell in love with it immediately and it was stuck in my head for weeks.”

Inflating it with raw emotion, Eilish channeled personal feelings she’d had about a boy who, coincidentally, had eyes you could drown in. “He knows it’s about him, which is a little bit annoying,” she says, hastening to add, “That’s definitely over, that's far, far over!” The lyrics she does write herself come from personal experience. “I started writing my own stuff when I was 11 or 12-ish, and so did [Finneas] when he was 11 or 12, and I didn’t really think about it being, ‘Oh, I’m writing music.’ I just was writing down how I felt and putting a melody to it and coming up with some chords and that was just fun for me. I’m all about weird lyrics.”

She describes her sound as a bit “gloomy,” citing mostly hip-hop influences like Tyler, The Creator, PARTYNEXTDOOR and 21 Savage. As for her peers, “artists that are where I am in the realm of now is like SZA and Doja Cat,” she says. When I suggest that perhaps now she’s signed to one of pop’s biggest labels, she could likely reach out to her faves, she is giddy. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Because there are a ton of artists I’d love to work with. Especially a lot of rappers. Like dude, A$AP Rocky? That would be amazing. Or even Tyler, The Creator. Right now I have doubts about everything, but if one day Tyler, The Creator says that he likes my song, it’ll be like, ‘That’s it. I made it. That’s all I need.’ I will feel whole if that happens.”

Countless artists before her have been signed to big labels off the back of a hype track. Sometimes it works, but more often, pliable young artists are molded into something they never imagined to satisfy the findings of a corporate market survey. “I’m a really particular person,” she says, shrugging off the machine. “I want it my way. So I have an idea of how it’s going to be [at a big label], for my stuff. I don’t take control of other people’s stuff, but it’s my stuff so I want it to be the way I want it.”

She’s brimming with ideas. In fact, Eilish already has concepts for a live tour. With her dance background—a hobby she had to hit pause on in January due to a hip injury twerking—she wants to incorporate choreography into her performances. “I’m a really artistic person and so with the live stuff there’s a lot that I think is really cool. Beyoncé and Rihanna have all these dancers. So with the live costumes and video costumes, I’d really like to have my vision. The way that I want people to dress is very specific. I love fashion.”

Though her mouth can hardly keep up with the thoughts tumbling out of it, I can sense a naive excitement. She relishes the attention. “I’m super attention whore-y!” she says, laughing. “I love people talking about me, I love anybody just looking at me.” She has 21,000 doing just that on her Instagram, @wherearetheavocados. Her unbounded energy is clear and it’s hinted at in her airy brand of pop. This year, she’ll unleash a few singles before, fingers crossed, a debut album. She may only be 15, but music is her life. “I listen to music all day every day,” she continues. “I can’t not listen to music. It’s kind of scary how much I listen to music, but it’s what I love and it’s all I care about, so I'm good with it.”

See more of Billie Eilish in the slideshow below.

BILLIE WEARS (THROUGHOUT) CLOTHING HER OWN
Credits:

Hair Preston Wada for Kevin Murphy (Opus Beauty) Makeup Melissa Murdick for M.A.C. Cosmetics (Opus Beauty)

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