billie eilish proves 15 is the best age to write about heartbreak
The precocious singer talks about why she loves writing sad pop lyrics.
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
"Where are the avocados?!" Billie Eilish exclaims. She is not, as one might assume of a young popstar, diva-ishly demanding a brunch upgrade for our bleary-eyed 10am interview. Because Billie is not a demanding diva. She's recounting a story from when she wasn't vegan or gluten free, but was eating a grilled cheese sandwich and lamenting the lack of avocados in the fridge. This very pressing question, blared at the top of her lungs to her empty family home — in the usually avocado-endowed oasis of LA — flicked a light bulb in her head: "Ding! That should be my new Instagram username," she recounts. "I giggled to myself because it was so stupid. And then I did it."
The Instagram handle could all be lifted straight out of a millennial starter pack meme — its symbols collaged into every pie chart about why we'll never be able to afford a house, weaponized by Daily Mail journalists looking to skewer us with irresponsibility and clichés. And while Billie is the antithesis of a cliché, she's undoubtedly used to being unfairly undermined because of her age — all this despite her viral debut "ocean eyes," its critically acclaimed follow-up EP "don't smile at me" and her incredibly intelligent and brutal lyricism.
"Fifteen: when a withdrawn party invite is akin to a case of chronic acid reflux. When a breakup is a small hydrogen bomb detonating in your clavicle."
"It's unavoidable that people are going to judge you because of your age," she acknowledges with self-awareness. "People are like, you're 15, how could you write a song about love and heartbreak, about being depressed, and not wanting to be yourself anymore? You're only fifteen. You don't even know what that feels like," she laments. "It's like — do you even remember being fifteen?"
Do you? Seriously. Cast your mind back to that pimple-smothered shitstorm of emotion. Fifteen: when a withdrawn party invite is akin to a case of chronic acid reflux. When a breakup is a small hydrogen bomb detonating in your clavicle. If you are going to write a song about the intense peaks and troughs of emotion, fifteen seems like a very good time to do it.
Billie epitomizes this unflinching rawness. She did, after all, call out the subject of one of her more damning songs, "my boy," at her first LA headline gig. "I heard this boy was supposed to come, and I was like, yeah, sure he'll come," she drawls sarcastically. "He's the biggest flake in the world. But I performed that song and screamed his name, and everyone went crazy. Then my friend shouts back, 'Nah he didn't show up.'" Billie chuckles. "Of course."
While her other songs are similarly honest, they differ in emotion: each one for a different mood. Cynical badass bitch? "copycat." Aural interpretation of an eyeroll at your ex? "my boy." Wistful crush clawing at your intestines? "ocean eyes." They're just as sonically diverse too, with jazz inflections, R&B ad-libs, hip-hop backbeats, and ringing phones. That's the thing with Billie: she'll crush your delineating pigeonholes with her box fresh kicks, write a song about it, then call you out at a gig.
Ahead of her headline show in London, we sat down with her for a chat about sticking to your guns, being sad, and the redundancy of New Year's resolutions.
Each of your songs capture a very different, specific emotion... how do you approach songwriting?
It's always different. Maybe I have a melody, or some chords, some words I relate to, or just a beat I think's cool. I think that keeps it fresh each time. I feel like each song sounds pretty different, which is what I'm going for at this point. Obviously if you're into an artist, you want to hear more songs like it. But I want to turn that around and make songs that people who like one kind of music will like, and then make another song that completely different people will like. I hate the word "genre." Why can't I just make it all? I don't want to be put in just one weird category. That's so boring.
There are more and more young female musicians coming up who seem much more in control of their image and sound. Do you think that's a change in the industry, or is it that you now have the tools to do your own thing?
I think it's the latter. I don't think the industry will change, I don't think it has really. I think they're trying to pretend like they have, but I dunno. I saw some article that was like "unladylike lady artists," and I get the idea of that. But why can't you just let it happen instead of naming it that? It's like people say, 'I'm gonna stop doing this, I'm going to start going to the gym or eating this or doing this.' It's so annoying. Stop talking about it, just shut up and do it.
Do you ever get pressured to behave or act a certain way?
The thing is, I've never been someone who'll let other people tell me what to do. It's not that I don't like other people's opinions, I'm just like, what's the point if I already know what I want? I'd never let anyone tell me what to wear, say or do. The first talent show I was in, I sang " Happiness is a Warm Gun" by the Beatles. I was 6.
Your songs focus on a lot of dark emotions, do you find that more inspiring than happiness?
I just feel it more. Happiness is not something I'm familiar with at all. I go through a lot of depression. I feel like a lot of people who go through depression don't really want to think about it or know it, but I'm super aware. I'm not going to be super fucking sad and not know what it's about. I'm gonna be like, okay, I'm depressed. Now I'm gonna accept that and try to move on.
Does writing songs makes it easier to cope?
It'll help, that's for sure, but it's not going to make your feelings go away. I think some people think songwriting cures me. It doesn't. What pisses me off is people saying, 'It's not going to be a hit song because it's too sad. We need a song that's like, I'm the best! Yes! Let's go!' But it's like, who ever feels like that all the time? I just write how I feel, and I think that's more relatable than writing how I think I should feel.
It's more honest.
Yeah. I write with my brother, and we write really conversationally. I have a song called " hostage" and it's like, 'I want to be alone, alone with you, does that make sense?' It just sounds like something you'd say. Instead of saying what you want to say, but thinking, oh, I've got to say it in a cool way, just say it like it is! That's always going to be more interesting and relatable.