A few weeks ago anti-pop princess Billie Eilish won 3 VMA awards including best new artist. 12 of the 13 songs from When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? are charting on the Hot 100, the most ever for a female musician. (Watch out Ariana!)
Billboard touts that at just 17 years and 3 months old, she is the youngest artist to hit No. 1 since 2015, when a then 16-year-old Shawn Mendes topped the chart. (Mendes was 16 years and eight months old at the time.) Eilish is the youngest woman to reach No. 1 since Demi Lovato debuted at No. 1 with Here We Go Again, when she was 16 years and 11 months old. What’s with all the month counting?
Buzzfeed suggests there are (more) fun facts that'll make you feel positively ancient: and positively in awe of what Billie's accomplished so far: She’s the first artist born in the 21st century to top the Billboard 200 and the youngest since Lorde. (I’m definitely feeling ancient. Is there an emoji for that?)
While recognition is deserved for breaking records, high sales, sold our shows and crying blood I can’t help but wonder if an artist’s accomplishments are more outstanding — judged more favorably — just because the artist is…young. Or a first at something (even if it were in fact true). (Do we think “Bad Guy” will be remembered 10 years down the line as a song that shifted the universe?)
There’s nothing not to like about Billie’s album. It’s tasty. Sonically pleasing. Interesting. Duly noted is that she and her producer-bro Finneas O’Connell, recorded it in her bedroom. The 2 of them together are indeed masters of ambiance. Billie’s brooding and irreverence struck a chord with Gen Zs — tapping into their own brooding and irreverence or the part of them that wants to be…brooding and irreverent. O’Connell explains that he embraced Billie’s unique sound: and that “it speaks to the common anxieties of her generation.”
But umm what about Julia Michaels? Hasn’t she been tapping into those same anxieties? I’ve personally witnessed Julia close her eyes and channel the very neurosis so many young women struggle with. She knows it all too well because she has it too. She gave a song about it an appropriate name: “Issues.” And there couldn’t have been a more suitable title than Inner Monologue for her recent set of EPS. What is art if not a stream of consciousness from ones own perspective? It doesn’t get any more uncomfortably honest than ”Sometimes I kill relationships for art.”
Maybe Billie is tapping into stuff too but that doesn’t make her unique. Or first. Juss sayin’.
And if I recall correctly Julia also set the tone for the how-soft-can-I-sing-and-still-be-heard aesthetic and that hip-singing dialect gazillions of young divas and anti-divas alike (Billie included) have adopted. Check it out.
It’s kinda the same way pop-stars opted-in to the urban swagger of the 00s whether they grew up in Beverly Hills or Harlem, or Madonna’s suddenly British alter-ego. Where does it all come from?
And why does everyone feel like they have to fall in line with a vocal algorithm? Phoebe Snow sounded nothing like Tracey Chapman sounded nothing like Alanis Morissette and they did just fine.
I’m ranting. I’m rambling.
Oh and also...I think Lorde recorded her first album in her Bedroom. So not so unique there either. And who lived in their car? Oh that was Jewel. Good stories.
And speaking of Lorde, I recently asked my 22 year old daughter if she hears any similarity between Billie and Lorde. She swears she doesn’t. I don’t know if that denial is a remnant of an adolescence mother-daughter dynamic or whether she really believes it. IMO it’s obvious. If not for Lorde’s influence Billie Eilish as she is today, wouldn’t exist.
But who knows. Maybe I’m seeing this through generational glasses. Maybe I’m feeling some agism. Do older people get extra credit for their music just because they’re older and have stayed alive long enough to keep making it?
Admittedly the material that resonates with 15 year olds is not going to resonate with me. But to be fair, I’d respect an artist of any age as long as they’re a masterful observer of the human condition — even if it’s a kindergarten crush. I've heard it said that Ms. Eilish doesn’t necessarily feel you have to have experienced something in order to write about it. I couldn’t agree more.. But it helps.
So yeah I get why she’s a thing but is she truly revolutionary or the latest (and youngest) it-girl trying to out brood, out Goth — out flirt with the boundaries of a those who came before her. And there are many. And there will be more.
The Queen of the dark sad space, for me at least, this week, is King Princess who my daughter turned me on to. Fave trax: “Ain’t Together” and “Talia.” (“If I drink enough I can taste your lipstick”.) Its fresh, it’s troubled, it’s personal, it’s inspired. I believe her. I feel her. Even though she recorded in a real studio and especially because she doesn’t subscribe to hip-singing.
But I’ve digressed to such a degree I forgot the point I was making. Oh yeah. I was wondering if Billie is getting a whole lotta extra cred cuzza her youth. So I asked some friends what they thought of the naughty newcomer and here’s what they said. 30 yr old Lia: ”I don’t believe that she doesn’t give a fuck. I think she wants you to believe she doesn’t give a Fuck.“
And here’s Sonja: