Right now people are listening to Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish: Twitter almost drove you to suicide

You hear them before you see them. It rumbles, then a matt black Dodge Challenger crawls around the corner. Billie Eilish got the car from her record label for her 17th birthday. The noise the thing makes is somewhere between Hulk's fingertips and a launcher that lands in an empty swimming pool. Window panes rattle. A dog is barking somewhere.

Billie Eilish: At 18 already a global pop icon

The color of the car absorbs the hazy late afternoon sun that bathes California in an orange twilight in January. Behind the dark windshield, a ghost peers over the steering wheel and squints in our direction with saucer-sized blue eyes. The car stops. Then climb Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell through the driver's door, roll aside the two large dumpsters that have kept their parking space free, and park backwards as casually as if it were the easiest exercise in the world. It's Tuesday, and on Sunday she won five Grammy Awards, including the one for album of the year.

Eilish - named after Eilish Holton, a successfully separated Siamese twin from Ireland, about whom her parents had seen a documentary during pregnancy - describes our meeting place as a “safe place”. A place that is not her home, but which is also not too far from her parents' wooden house in East Los Angeles - the house where Eilish and her older brother and creative counterpart Finneas O'Connell gave her Written and recorded debut album "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?"

This is where Billie Eilish's debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Was written

Our meeting point is Finneas ’old new house, where he lived before he bought his new one. The new house is big, with a pool and a fridge that has a monitor in the door. But the siblings have decided to keep the interim solution that I am now facing with Eilish. It's a boxy one bedroom bungalow in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Here they hold appointments, hang out, write, produce - a side wing, so to speak, for business that is not too business and private that is not too private. Eilish hops up the steep driveway, shakes my hand, and enters a code on the door handle. As soon as we're inside, she sprints to a piano and starts playing.

Billie Eilish style: oversized hoodie, baggy hogging pants and sneakers with black flames

Eilish's clothes match the battleship in front of the door. She wears black from head to toe: a black oversized hoodie, black baggy jogging pants and black sneakers with black flames. Eilish's skin, on the other hand, literally glows, as white as freshly starched bed linen. Her hair is shoulder length and jet black, except for the neon green roots.

The sparse interior is littered with little clues as to who the residents are. There is the computer with a plush-framed screen, micro and midi keyboard. A bound illustrated book about Alfonso Cuarón's “Roma”. The book documents the film that inspired Eilish to write her 2019 song “When I Was Older”.

In addition to a few dumbbells on the floor in the bathroom, there are also two framed posters, each marking a milestone on Eilish's rapid rise to the top of the music industry. One comes from the streaming giant Spotify: In early 2019, Eilish became the youngest artist of all time to break the one billion stream mark with the release of her first EP "Don’t Smile at Me". In total, Eilish's music was to be streamed over six billion times on Spotify that year. The meaning of the other poster is perhaps even more telling: a framed graphic in honor of their "global number one album". The picture was a gift from the British music company Kobalt, which enables songwriters to understand, every single time, that their works are streamed, broadcast, sold on CD, used as film music or played in some dugout in nowhere. At best, Kobalt's dashboard shows that a single song has up to half a million separate revenue channels. Like "Bad Guy", Eilish's and O'Connell's megahit from 2019, which made their music and Eilish's self-created weird pop image accessible to a global audience that cannot be squeezed into age or genre drawers.

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Her journey to success began when she was 13

Eilish is still sitting at the piano, above her a switched off red neon sign with the words “10 000 hours” - a homage to Malcolm Gladwell's book “Überflieger”, which says that to become outstandingly good in any area, you have to average Spend 20 hours a week doing it for ten years. Part of the family culture, Gladwell's concept became part of Eilish's brother. Prior to his reincarnation as Eilish's songwriting partner and producer, O'Connell was an actor in "Glee" and "Modern Family," as well as a member of The Slightleys and - occasionally - a book reviewer. In 2015 O'Connell reviewed Gladwell's book for a parenting website called your teenmag.com. The last lines of his review still apply today: “After reading the book, I wrote '10 000 hours' on my door with Edding. Every morning these words are the first thing I see and they inspire me to get up and work hard. "

A little later he asked his then 13-year-old little sister to sing a passage for the song "Ocean Eyes". He uploaded the track to SoundCloud, which aroused the interest of the music industry - and so it began, the journey of success of the siblings, which was supposed to turn pop culture upside down.

Music from the nursery

After I was able to lure Eilish away from the piano, we are now sitting on a sofa. I repeat what her brother said at the Grammy Awards after she received the first award of the evening and put Lana Del Rey, Lizzo, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and all the other pop icons of the 21st century in their places had referred.

At first glance, O'Connell's speech that evening looked a bit like a slightly trite motivational lecture for would-be would-be pop stars, but if you listen carefully, it becomes clear that the award ceremony was primarily a moment of self-reflection for the siblings. A memo from the future for their past selves - the assurance that they are heading for an unimaginable triumph: “You know, we just make music together in a children's room. Nothing has changed to this day. And they let us do it. This is for all the kids who make music in their room: one day you'll get one of these here. "

The win on stage was embarrassing to Billie Eilish

“A story like a fairy tale,” I say to Eilish. And then that broad, conspiratorial smile appears on her face. (By the way, she often smiles, very often even, although there is constant talk of being a typical pouting teenager.) Still, I noticed that winning on stage seemed almost embarrassing to her.

"Because I was embarrassed too!" Eilish laughs and buries her face in her porcelain hands, half of which disappear into the sleeves of her hoodie. Then she runs her fingers through her hair, which was initially tied up tightly, but now looks more like a green and black explosion.

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Older, mostly white men, who still make up the bulk of the boardrooms in the music industry, are constantly trying to typify Eilish's image and creative output, whether it's about their music, clothing, or the videos she directs. "Streambait" and "Spotify-Core" are just two of the terms that music critics have come up with to describe Eilish's work. The term "streambait" was developed in 2018 by author Liz Pelly. He describes "music that is created so that people stream it and keep streaming it - similar to clickbaits." The term "Spotify core" comes from "New York Times" journalist Jon Caramanica. It should describe music that is catchy with its breathy vocals and a foggy backbeat, but at the same time unobtrusive - music for which the stream would not be interrupted. But anyone who has ever heard a song by Eilish and O’Connell knows that none of these cumbersome made-up words get to the heart of the phenomenon. They are nothing more than labels that the old guard uses to try to box new trends that are shaped by technology and the listening habits of a young audience.

"Everyone wants to pigeonhole you"

"I hate it when people say, 'Oh, you look like this and that. You sound like this and that." You shouldn't measure artists by how they look or what they wear. Didn't Lizzo win a Grammy in one of the R ’n’ B categories that night? Your music is way more pop than mine! If I didn't know, I would probably end up in the rap division as well. Why? Because people just judge you on the outside and on what they already know. Which, by the way, I just find next to it. Everyone wants to pigeonhole you. It's been like that all my career. Just because I'm a white young girl do I make pop. What is it about me please Pop? Where does my music sound like pop? "

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© Danielle Levitt

Eilish calms down again and breathes out long and audibly. Her left eyebrow twitches, a barely noticeable tick that sometimes lags when she gets excited. When she's tired of putting too much pressure on herself, which is the current state of affairs. Another smile. "Sometimes it is not easy to find out how to fight for your own beliefs."

Ask any teenager, teacher or parent who has lived through the age of social media: Online bullying is currently the greatest source of danger for the mental health of young people who are in a digital world in which new technologies are constantly being introduced encounter unprecedented connectivity.

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Billie Eilish admits: "I almost killed myself because of Twitter a few years ago"

Musicians with interesting profiles - who are now more “reachable” than ever before and whose appeal is based at least in part on precisely this closeness - are no exception, especially if they want to stay in contact with their young audience. But does Eilish even care about the things that are posted about her on social networks?

Eilish looks at me like someone who is about to deliver an unpleasant message: anguish, hidden behind a grin. "I almost killed myself because of Twitter a few years ago." The smile falls off her face, her eyes glaze over. Suddenly it goes quiet in the whole house. In the kitchen, the kettle announces with a click that it has done its job. "Well, seriously now."

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Eilish: One hell of a stubborn kid

“I never wanted anything other than to be on stage and people cheer me.” Except for a brief period when Eilish was three or four and wanted nothing other than to talk about God, music was in the imagination or other form always the center of their existence. A big factor was certainly the upbringing that Maggie Baird and Patrick O'Connell gave their two children - but they were the exact opposite of ambitious football parents who were hungry for success. “There were three pianos and probably four guitars in our little house,” Eilish's mother tells me.

Baird barely left her daughter's side for a second during their breathtaking four-and-a-half-year success story, from the recording of "Ocean Eyes" to the day in December 2019 when the entire team secretly traveled to London to record the new Bond theme song. The mother and daughter are so close that Eilish used to suffer from separation anxiety when she first started dating to play with other children.

"I spent the first six years of her life teaching her music," explains Maggie. Eilish sang in various talent shows, on her first stage appearance still "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie", at seven she was ready to decide on "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" by the Beatles.

Billie Eilish's parents taught her at home

“We taught them through a music program called Music Together,” continues Maggie, “an online music platform. Well, you know, family music, stuff that you sing with the kids. In addition, there was always music playing in our car. It was around this time that we also decided to start teaching the children at home. My dad was a school principal in Colorado. I remember when he said, 'A lot of time is wasted in schools.' And he was a teacher himself. I have never forgotten that. We got Billie relatively late and just wanted to spend as much time as possible with our kids. Then came the Columbine school massacre, and shortly after that we decided to take our children out of this system where everyone just runs along. A system that was actually conceived to meet the need for workers during the industrial revolution. "

Strategic board games instead of stubborn algebra

I tell Maggie that I have two children myself and that I wouldn't trust myself in my life to teach them myself in the long run. How did she know she could do that? “Actually, it's just about applying learning to everyday activities. When Billie asked me a question about the moon, we'd take out the volleyball and a tennis ball, spin them around the garden, and use that example to explain gravity, the solar system, and so on. We used a learning technique called strewing. To do this, you confront the children with objects, concepts and activities and just take a look at where they are going. In Billie's case that was dancing and the choir. ”And what about ... um ... algebra? “We did the basics of mathematics, of course. But all of the critical thinking that you learn in higher mathematics can also be acquired through strategy board games. "

But it couldn't have been quite as easy as she describes it, I reply. As the mother of an adolescent in a huge metropolis like Los Angeles with all its temptations, surely there must have been difficult times?

"Sure, of course. She has an iron will. Nerves of steel. I still see that side of her today when she plays big shows. Then she stands in front of this huge crowd, her hair is blowing in the wind, her gaze is fixed straight ahead. This is the girl who was such a challenge as a kid that at times I was on the verge of pulling my hair out in frustration. Billie wouldn't let anything be done for her. I wasn't even allowed to strap it into the car seat. She was stubborn as a donkey, had to do everything herself - really everything. And who was she taking it out on? About me. And the older she got, the more she needed me by her side, especially in recent years. Teenagers need more attention than toddlers. You think that they are already fully grown and that you can now take care of your own life more. But it is not like that. Billie had incredible highs, but also desperate, terrible lows. For me as a mother, these phases were - as they were for all parents - devastating. "

Three low blows led to depression

According to her mother, Eilish's depression grew around three separate events. The first blow that brought Eilish's life almost completely to a standstill was the injury she sustained in dance class when she was 13.Eilish was devastated, neither herself nor her mother, brother or anyone else knew how to help her.

“Actually it all started with the choir,” says Eilish. "The Los Angeles Children's Chorus. I loved it there. I mean, who would have thought I'd enjoy wearing pretty skirts and tights? And tank top! Everything was neat and neat, but it was really cool. During the performances, you weren't even allowed to scratch your nose if it itched. As long as I can remember, my movements follow a melody, ”adds Eilish, which sounds a bit pretentious, but like everything she says is, at least from an emotional point of view, laser-sharp honesty. “The dance lessons were only the logical consequence. When I was eight, I took a few ballet lessons. I hated it. But I found quilting interesting. So I took tap lessons, that brought me to hip-hop and that in turn brought me to contemporary. I joined a company, got really good, then the accident happened. ”A bad fall? “Nah, just a stupid move. I didn't even come up crooked. But it turned out that I had broken my growth plates. That was all over for me. No more dance competitions, never again. "

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Dancing was her outlet

Dancing had been her outlet, the place where she could express her feelings, feel at home in her body. And suddenly it was all gone. It was a screeching halt, from spinning pirouettes at high speed to total inactivity. Today Eilish has learned to see the positive in this hurdle on her way: "Hey, if I hadn't injured myself back then, I might never have made so much music."

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© Danielle Levitt

Of course, it stands to reason that a teenager like Eilish, who is suddenly torn from his structured sports life with his timetables, his team training, the lessons, the competitions, ran the risk of slipping into the wrong scene. A little alcohol? A couple of joints? Didn't Eilish find the idea of ​​rebelling a bit tempting? Was there really no peer pressure in the home-schooling world?

“Of course there is peer pressure,” she explains. "But since I didn't go to school and actually didn't really know what school actually was, I was spared a lot of all the blatant bullying that goes on in the hallways between lessons." I tell her that my older daughter doesn't want to go out of the ordinary at school. As clichéd as it sounds, she just wants to be part of it. Has Eilish ever asked her parents to lead a “normal” (whatever that means) life? Going to school, wearing a school uniform, having to go to detention, decorating the school locker with stickers?

The desire to be someone else

“Yes, I also had a phase like that, I wanted to be someone else, I also wanted a locker. I only went to stores that were supposed to be trendy and wore things that others thought were trendy. That was a really uncomfortable year. Then there was the fact that I wasn't rich, but most of my friends were. It was hard to come to terms with. But that passed quickly, I don't know why. Since then, I've never felt comfortable looking like other people again. "

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Alcohol and drugs? Not with Billie Eilish

And what about alcohol and drugs? No need to experiment? “Sure I drank alcohol once, but that wasn't good. I just found it uninteresting. When I was younger people tried to pressure me to do certain things, but it really only made me want to do those things even less. I've watched people get drunk and just disappear before my eyes, become someone else. For a week I thought smoking was cool, but then ... no. And my lungs are really beautiful, fucking beautiful, man! "

Social media and suicidal thoughts

In February 2018, Eilish was on the verge of suicide. It was in a hotel room in Berlin, and the reason was the hatred she experienced on social networks. Many artists who want to fight their way to the top - including Eilish - grow their obsessive, hyper-engaged fan bases online. Such so-called “stans” (an artificial word made up of “stalker” and “fan”) usually appear long before labels or management allow the artist to jump to the next commercial level.

Eilish totally understands the "stans". After all, she was one herself for a long time, from Justin Bieber. Not least because of this, she finds it so difficult to withdraw completely from social networks. She understood that they are the place where millions of their fans spend day after day of their lives. It is their platform, their realm.

How Billie Eilish deals with negative comments on Instagram:

“Even if I try to avoid critical posts, I end up seeing them because the fans who want to defend me repost and comment on the posts about me in their feeds. I just can't win. I tried turning off the comments feature on Instagram, but that didn't make me feel any better either. I can't completely get out of there. Instagram pushes the comments of people you follow - my friends - at the top next to the posts, but if I go one comment too far, it will destroy my whole world. I try so hard not to read all this hatred ... "

What happened that evening when Eilish tried to take his own life

I ask Eilish if she knew why she thought about killing herself in the Berlin hotel room that February day two years ago. She says she was still on Twitter at the time. Would have scrolled, read, scrolled, read. She was soaked by the poison that was spread on Twitter, it felt like she was drowning in it. "I was thinking about how I was going to die." She cried. Was alone.

“No, that's not true at all.” Eilish corrects himself. "Now I remember again. And I remember how I was catapulted back into reality. Shortly before that, my mom and brother were there and said, 'We're going to get something to eat. Can you handle it on your own? And I just said: 'Of course, no problem. ‘"

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But of course it was a problem, and Eilish's mother, the highly sensitive emotional Geiger counter, immediately understood what was going on. Did the two of them know that she wouldn't be able to cope alone? "Absolutely. But I really wanted to be alone because I had things on my mind that I ... well, I made plans. And I think they sensed that, so they left but texted my tour manager who was staying in the same hotel. I don't know what exactly they said, at least I was sitting by the window by the bed and that's when I saw him. His name is Brian, I've worked with him since I was 14. Anyway, he came running over to me from the other side of the hotel, there was a knock on the door, and he came in. He made me laugh, joked. I asked him, 'Did my mom tell you to come over here?' And he said, 'Could be.' "At that moment, with a little help, she was able to shake off her gloomy mood - temporarily. But that doesn't mean that the thoughts disappeared with it. “That took years,” confesses Eilish. "And the whole week after that was really bad."

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Can you ignore hatred?

Eilish now has a more philosophical relationship with social media. “Right now I'm clickbait. No matter what I say or do - anything with my name on it will be used against me. I no longer look at Instagram stories from others, a few years ago I logged out of Twitter, every now and then I look at a meme and have a guilty conscience that I don't publish any more posts because the fans do would like to have. But there is nothing to post there. Honest. Zero. A while ago I realized that when you reach a certain level of fame, it doesn't matter what you say or do - you are extremely hated. But also extremely loved. There are millions of people who don't like Beyoncé - no idea how not to like Beyoncé. It's the same with Rihanna. And with Trump! There are seriously people who like this idiot! How can you like that? Anyway, everyone is loved and hated. ”So can she ignore the hate? Just shake it off? "Not quite. It still feels terrible to be hated, no matter what you tell yourself. "

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The friendships that have broken in recent years have also severely affected Eilish's emotional stability. These losses were a side effect of the "middle era", as Eilish calls the period between summer 2018 and early 2019, before her debut album was released. At that time, their fan base was already huge, but otherwise hardly anyone took Eilish's future prospects seriously. Not even some of her closest friends.

"The better known I get, the safer I feel"

"February and March of last year actually felt worse than the story in Berlin, if I'm honest," says Eilish. “The problem was the tour. It was really hard. ”What exactly was so hard? “The workload. And because I haven't had any great commercial success yet, all the fans were there with their huge passion, but the infrastructure was still missing. Not enough attention was paid to my mental health, and the security measures were not sufficient. That might sound weird now, but the better known I get, the more secure I feel. And I also have more freedom of movement and can think more freely about what I actually want. In any case, back then it was all about the tour, hotels, catching the earliest plane, press, meetings, blah, blah, blah ... And that's how I lost all my friends. ”Because of the strict daily routines? Or because of the success? “The tour, jealousy, misunderstandings: I think it was all together.

One day I had 50 friends, the next two. I was so incredibly sad. I could just cry when I think about it today. A lot of my friends were really upset because I didn't have time to hang out with them. I remember that I didn't even want to go to family get-togethers, that I didn't want to see my friends' performances anymore because I had that tiny bit of success and fame, and everyone thought it was just cute, no one took it seriously. They kept saying, 'Oh yeah, that's the girl who sings' Ocean Eyes' and ... well, who cares?' We came back from the tour with hundreds of screaming fans in a world where it was said, 'Oh , there's Billie. She's just trying a bit as a singer. ‘That might sound arrogant, but I'll just honestly say how it was. And now I finally have something like… “… a certification? "Exactly! An authentication! That's the word: authentication. I've won five Grammys, no further questions, please, that's all you need to know. "

Is there anything that she would like to give to the 14-year-old, who was stuck between the beginnings and the great success at the time? “Yes: 'Relax, little one. Everything will be fine. And please, don't kill yourself. ‘"

"Mom? Mom! Can you please close the curtain I usually look like a ghost. Thank you! ”When I can finally have a longer conversation with Eilish, it is mid-March, and since our last meeting in Los Angeles in January, the world has been turned upside down. She sang a cover version of "Yesterday" by The Beatles at the Oscars in a bespoke Gucci outfit. She was honored at the Brit Awards in the "International Female Solo Artist" category, and her theme song for the next Bond film "No Time to Die" debuted at number one on the UK charts.

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And their “Where Do We Go?” World tour has started. Only started because after three concerts all further performances had to be postponed due to the corona pandemic. Two days before this article was written, I was supposed to have got on a plane to Manhattan and met Eilish for a longer period of time before seeing her concert in Madison Square Garden. But then Trump closed the borders, and there I am sitting in front of Zoom while Eilish, also in voluntary isolation, struggles with the sunlight in her Los Angeles home.

This is what happened to Billie Eilish in quarantine

And how are things going with the quarantine? “Pretty awful, but there are good reasons for it. We should really be living in a ghost town. But I went to my brother's to pick something up and everything was full of people. The people are really so stupid! This is crazy. You drive around and in some places it's really like nothing has ever happened. I think that's completely wrong. It's crazy, I had this hardcore life for three years, my schedule was always full, and now, all of a sudden, nothing is happening for the foreseeable future. "

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