“People do not trust teenagers,” Billie Eilish said on Wednesday, Dec. 4, in an interview with Beats 1 host Zane Lowe. “They don’t believe them, and they don't believe they're gonna know what they want.” People don’t trust teenagers — especially with emotions, but Billie doesn’t much care. The songs she writes with brother and collaborator Finneas resonate because the bass is good and the cadences are unpredictable. But they also resonate because of the delivery, the way Billie and Finneas’s lyrics are straightforward and careful, spinning out stories so slowly you don’t realize they’re there until you’re left devastated.
In 2019, those stories were recognized. After she spoke to Zane, Apple Music awarded her Artist of the Year on stage at Apple’s headquarters. Billie was also awarded Songwriter of the Year (along with Finneas) and Album of the Year, for her debut full-length record, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
She performed a remarkable set at their Cupertino headquarters, her first-ever acoustic show where she sang stripped-down versions of her hits like “ocean eyes,” “bad guy,” and “xanny.” At one point she sat at the piano, the light so bright it blocked her out as she played “listen before i go.”
Hours before, Zane had asked her what the most fun part of building the Billie universe is, beyond the music, beyond the lyrics. “I think the satisfaction is the most fun,” she told him. “Having people trust me.”
In the past twelve months alone, Billie had a No.1 single, played Saturday Night Live, won two American Music Awards, and was nominated for six Grammys.
When people do acoustic shows, it can feel like a way to prove authenticity, and for a female pop star, a way to prove artistry, that there’s something underneath the Top 40 sheen. Billie, like other women artists throughout history, has learned to use her emotions as a strength. But she also rejects the idea that teenage girls and young women should have to prove anything at all; she does not exist for your projections. She knows you’ll love her songs in stripped-down form, and releases the highly-produced versions anyway, knowing you can’t help but love those too.
And if you think that the studio versions of her songs aren’t art, look at the fans who love them, who clamor to touch her hand and who she lays down beside on stage after her Apple Music performance, letting them crowd beside her, trusting them.
It’s the same way Billie discusses her decision to make baggy clothes her uniform. “Nobody can have an opinion because they haven't seen what’s underneath,” she said back in May in her Calvin Klein ad. And don’t even think about trying to turn that around on women who dress differently than she does. "Positive [comments] about how I dress have this slut-shaming element,” she told V Magazine in August. “Like, 'I am so glad that you are dressing like a boy so that other girls can dress like boys, so that they aren’t sluts.'”
In the ecosystem Billie has crafted, her choices are her own, and she’s making a ton of them. There’s a self-possession there that’s likely part of why Billie is so unnerving to some; she’s a 17-year-old in charge of herself and creating what she wants to create. It’s why she’s been so successful this year — if she wins the Grammy for Album of the Year, she’ll be the youngest person to do so, unseating the previous record-holder, a 20-year-old Taylor Swift.
Billie Eilish ended 2019 by taking over Apple’s theater, performing the first pop concert in the venue, a contrast to the usual corporate Apple keynotes. She took a space not built for her and made it her own. There’s a power there, a control, a confidence in her ability, and a willingness to take a hard look at the way the game is played and then play it so well you can’t see the strategy.
Near the end of her interview with Beats 1, Billie was deciding whether to share a tidbit of information. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this,” she began, and it doesn’t necessarily matter what the actual secret was — it was what she said after. “But I'm fine with saying it. And I think that’s all that matters.”
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue