Billie Eilish is quick to defend her generation against accusations of obsession with their devices.
There’s a stereotype held by some older people about Generation Z: that they’re disinterested and rebellious, and waste all their time on meaningless content on their devices.
But singer-songwriter Billie Eilish defends her generation and their virtual habits. The voice of a generation that has grown up online, the international pop phenom, who won five Grammy awards for her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, and who has more than 70 million followers on social media, spoke recently about the good that social media and technology can do when used properly, explaining the internet’s power to effect change in times of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.
Q: In a recent campaign with German telecom company Telekom, you push for “digital optimism” and emphasise that young people are not just social media junkies. Are these prejudices your generation is usually confronted with?
Eilish: Yeah, there are tonnes of prejudices. That we’re obsessed with social media and only care about likes and follows. But you know, we’re pretty smart, I would say, and I feel like I’ve felt a lot of hope from seeing the internet in my own way, as well as other people’s learning experiences through the internet.
Q:According to a poll by research institute Kantar, young Europeans are pro-digitalisation, especially when it comes to learning. Have you experienced this?
Eilish: You can learn so, so much, and I think that’s really, really important. You know, there’s so many things about injustice and climate that I had no idea before the internet. And if I hadn’t had
that way of learning so quickly, I just wouldn’t know, and I am grateful that we know.
So I think that it’s important to not push away social media, because it can be really helpful. So long as you are able to properly fact-check and know your sources are credible it can be so powerful.
Q: In the recent past, the world witnessed several social media movements: Black Lives Matter, Fridays for Future, just to name a few. They were all started by younger people on the internet, drawing the world’s attention to social wrongs and injustices. Do you think that this is one of the strengths of social media?
Eilish: For sure, I mean again it’s like having one tap with the finger, making you able to actually learn about the world and maybe feel like you can make a difference and support people that you love
and fight for other people and fight for yourself.
It was great to see all of those come to life, and I have loved watching people just show support when it’s not necessarily about them, you know?
Q: Do you think we would see this kind of social engagement and mass mobilisation without digital technology?
Eilish: It’s not that people wouldn’t be trying to make a change if the internet didn’t exist, but I think it does at least make it faster and easier to find things out, to sign petitions, to hear about a gathering you can go to with other people that support the same thing you do. I think it opens up a new world, if you know what I mean.
Q: Are there any examples of cool or impressive projects that you’ve encountered in the past that demonstrate the creative power that comes with the usage of digital technologies?
Eilish: I mean there is tonnes. I was just talking about one that my mum created at the beginning of quarantine which is called “Support and Feed.” It’s about feeding people in need with a plant-based meal, which is so good for the environment and really, really necessary. You know, people need food.
And not only that, but a lot of restaurants and places to eat have had a hard time recently just
because of the numbers dropping and everything. It’s been really nice to see my mum has been going hard, going to make deliveries, dropping stuff off. It’s been great.
Q: What would Billie Eilish’s life be without the internet, without a smartphone? What would it feel like?
Eilish: I really couldn’t tell you – I’ve never experienced it. You know, I grew up with the internet, as much as I wish there were no videos of me from when I was annoying and 12. You know, it’s part of
life. And you know, it’s the only way I get to interact with my fans if I’m not actually on tour.
The internet is how I get to communicate and get to be with them and feel like we are one. And they are all over the world, and that what’s so amazing, I can feel connected to people that are thousands of miles away from me.
Q: Does this compensate for the many concert-goers who only view your show through their screens?
Eilish: You know, during my shows, there is a couple of songs in my sets that I usually have everybody try to put down their phone and just look at me and be in the moment. Because as much as we all want
videos – and I love taking videos – we should at least sometimes remember that there should be a balance.
But that doesn’t mean to cut one or the other out. Its just having a balance and knowing what’s gonna be good for you.
Q: As an international star, you are particularly exposed to the pressure of social media. However, cyberbullying and harassment is also a highly topical issue among normal teenagers. Doesn’t this also
give reason to be cautious and demand a more considerate approach to digital technologies?
Eilish: Yeah, I mean, it’s a tough thing to talk about, right? I mean, the internet is great, and then it’s also got downsides with bullying which I cannot stand – but I think it’s just important to be aware and again find your own balance that’s gonna help you and make you not feel like you can’t go on it and make you feel like you don’t have to always be on it. It’s about finding what’s gonna be good for you. She may be one of Asia’s biggest popstars, but G.E.M. has had to deal with bullies, too
It’s just like because the internet is part of everything now – and you kind of have to know how to deal with it. You shouldn’t let horrible people let you feel like you have no meaning, and that shouldn’t ever make you feel like that. So I really think that there should be some sort of “class”, to teach you how to navigate the internet, bullying and to not get obsessed with it – or let it ruin your life. It’s really powerful.