Grammy 2020's big winner Billie Eilish redefines stardom's rules with her unique style and voice to match

Agence France-Presse
  • The 18-year-old refuses to let people focus on her body, or the fact she is a young woman, forcing them to concentrate on her music
Agence France-Presse |

Latest Articles

Coronavirus: World Health Organization calls for treaty to shield against next pandemic

Explainer: Why do people want to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics?

SOTY 2021: What this winner wants you to know about depression

Learn Cantonese slang: How to ride Hong Kong’s public transport like a pro

Coronavirus: What we know about the new Omicron variant so far

MC Soho and Kidney on using Hong Kong humour to ‘shake things up’

Billie Eilish won the four biggest awards at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.

With her haunting, gravelly vocals and original punk-rock style, Billie Eilish has redefined the contemporary pop star on her blistering path to stardom.

And now the teenage mover and shaker has cemented her place as an establishment leader, making Grammy history by sweeping the top four categories. She is the first woman and youngest artist to do so.

The 18-year-old’s phenomenal ascent saw Eilish named Billboard’s 2019 woman of the year - and for good reason.

Within a matter of months, she dropped a number one album entitled When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, led the hot songs chart with her single Bad Guy, and played a set on a prime stage at the Coachella music festival that was pure fire.

The biggest globally renowned musician to emerge from Generation Z, the candid Eilish has a fashion sense as unique as her sound. She is the kind of female star who refuses to let the sexualisation of her body define her celebrity.

The 2010s: Malala Yousafzai, Billie Eilish and other influential teens of the decade

At just 13, she dropped her debut bedroom-produced single Ocean Eyes on SoundCloud, the do-it-yourself streaming platform that has also brought a generation of young rappers to fame.

The gauzy synth-pop song about painful longing to reconnect with an ex - written and produced by Eilish’s primary creative collaborator, her brother Finneas O’Connell - quickly went viral.

Interscope signed her at age 14 - making the Californian a rare internet-age pop star to win big online and then see a label invest time and money in cultivating her talent over the long term.

18 things to know about Billie Eilish on her 18th birthday

But despite the industry’s input, Eilish appears to be a singular star whose only influencer is herself.

She craftully touches on often morbid lyrical content - topics include death, depression, and fear over climate change - with tinges of irony and humour.

The performer - who has cited grunge band Nirvana as inspiration - delivers poetry in a breathy voice bordering on a whisper, layered over minimal beats akin to electronic music and southern hip hop.

“We made this album in a bedroom,” she said backstage at the Grammys on Sunday after scooping five trophies, standing next to O’Connell, to whom she routinely gave the mic.

“It’s really like anything is possible, actually,” she added with a wry giggle.

‘Confused and grateful’

The superstar’s signature style features oversized sweatshirts and baggy pants, often paired with sunglasses and the garish extra-long nail extensions more often associated with rapper Cardi B.

On Grammy night, she wore an oversized Gucci trouser suit with glittering lime green accents - that matched her neon-dyed roots - and even sported a sheer black face mask on the red carpet.

The star has described her body image as “toxic”, and spoken openly about mental health struggles - a growing movement in the music industry, which has lost scores of stars young and old to suicide and overdose.

Pop star Billie Eilish announces Hong Kong concert date as part of world tour

“Wow, wow, wow, wow,” Eilish began her speech in accepting the award for Bad Guy.

“So many other songs deserved this, I’m sorry.”

Her 22-year-old brother later said, “We didn’t think this would ever win anything.”

“We didn’t write an album to win awards. We wrote an album about depression, about suicidal thoughts, about climate change,” he continued.

Grammys 2020 recognise young stars like Billie Eilish over established artists like Taylor Swift

“We stand up here confused and grateful.”

Win-win for women

The teen has flatly dismissed the industry’s habit of drumming up publicity and drama by pitting female stars against each other.

She champions women as peers rather than rivals, emphasising that the success of one performer does not steal from another.

“Everybody’s always trying to make everybody compete,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2019. “They’re like, ‘Billie’s album might pass Ariana’s’.”

Billie Eilish’s When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is a debut album worth the wait [Music Review]

On Sunday, Eilish gave a shout-out to Grande, saying the pop royal’s album Thank U, Next should have won the night’s prestigious Album of the Year award.

She’s also lauded fellow Album of the Year nominee Lana Del Rey, a masterful lyricist who, like Grande, went home empty-handed on Sunday.

“I don’t want to hear that Billie Eilish is the new Lana Del Rey. Do not disrespect Lana like that! That woman has made her brand so perfect for her whole career and shouldn’t have to hear that,” Eilish once said of the singer whose 2019 album was hailed by many as the year’s best.

“I don’t want to hear that somebody’s the new Billie Eilish in a couple of years.”

That prospect appears unlikely considering the superstar’s raw talent and meteoric rise that now includes plenty of Grammys gold.

“What’s next? I don’t know - be in this moment is all I’m thinking about,” she told reporters backstage on Sunday.

As the now classic lyric from Bad Guy goes ... duh.