Change is inevitable, and some changes are more welcome than others. Getting a drastic haircut is usually a toss-coin situation, corporate rebrands are a necessary evil, and puberty is almost always a mistake. In the music industry, change came in the form of a Soundcloud demo in 2015, posted by a then-14-year-old, then-nobody named Billie Eilish Pirate (!!) Baird O’ Connell.
The song was the now ubiquitous ocean eyes, and to say it was well-received is an understatement. It was sensational. A couple million streams later, and Billie Eilish was suddenly somebody. She quickly followed up with singles here and there, landing impressive co-signs with the likes of Vince Staples and Khalid. Visually, Billie was hard to miss in her baggy clothes and chunky shoes with a strange Missy-Elliott-meets-Kingdom-Hearts steez. I didn’t know how to feel about her style, but the music was something unto itself. I was interested in the unadulterated darkness of it all — she builds a world of desolation and longing. There is a certainty in her aesthetic choices that shows she could leap where the likes of Halsey may have stumbled.
Since her breakout in 2015, Billie’s face has been plastered on the timelines and covers of Cool Publications and the phone lockscreens of tweens. She’s become the embodiment of “what’s your excuse?” for anyone who wants to feel like they haven’t done enough at their age. She’s also become the center of many think-pieces on the streaming-age music industry, being one of the most high profile Generation Z artists. I, a 20-year-old relative nobody, am writing about her right now. Most alarmingly though, she has become the butt of many, many jokes online. And a lot of her torment comes from the less impressionable pocket of the internet community: older millennials.
The sentient, depressive humor that characterized millennial memeing has distinguished itself from the straight-up nihilism of Gen-Z. Millennials are open-minded, but perhaps only to an extent.
The world wide web has widened the cultural gap between its users. It’s visible in meme culture. The sentient, depressive humor that characterized millennial memeing has distinguished itself from the straight-up nihilism of Gen-Z. Millennials are open-minded, but perhaps only to an extent. Their disdain for new-fangled things like Tik-Tok and Soundcloud Rap goes to show the growing lapses in understanding for the generation who were once the youngest inhabitants of the internet in history. People aren’t always certain to hate change, but they almost always hate the things they don’t get.
This isn’t to say Billie is a perfect figure. Maybe it was the moment she had an actual tarantula in her mouth for the you should see me in a crown video that started this hate campaign. Despite her mother’s claims that the arachnid was, in fact, not harmed during the making of the video, the damage had been done. In the eyes of the internet community, Billie was now a perpetrator of White Buffoonery, no better than the girl who brought her friend (?) to the mall on a leash. This was later aggravated when she released another single, wish you were gay. No, it wasn’t about the crushing agony of liking a straight girl, but about wishing that a boy not wanting you was a matter of sexual preference, instead of a result of your own shortcomings. Now the LGBT community and overly-zealous allies were up in arms. Who does she think she is? Katy Perry in the early aughts?
The public also zeroed in on a moment in bad guy where she, a 17-year-old, boasts that she’s the “Might seduce your dad type”. Amidst her sonic cousin Melanie Martinez’s pedophilia allegations, this lyric comes out in a particularly bad light. The bullet points in the list of her context-less, semi-problematic incidents were piling up. Gay Twitter continues to openly drag the young pop-star with mean retweets and rebuttals, but the media had nothing but praise for her artistry.
That’s another thing about her. At her age, she exhibits exceptional artistic maturity. Then again, being called a prodigy shouldn’t exempt you from being a teen prone to doing and saying dumb things. This, coupled with her edgy proclivities, made her an easy target.
Think of it this way: the internet has had a history of celebrities who’ve suffered for having either of these. Bangs-era Justin Bieber was one of the most disliked celebrities ever. He didn’t do anything particularly awful, yet he received a disproportionate amount of hate for being liked by teenage girls. In contrast to musicians who we turn a blind eye to in terms of problematics (is Kanye’s Sunday Service enough to redeem his MAGA tendencies?), it’s alarming to realize what we can and cannot tolerate.
Women in music in particular have historically been subject to this kind of scrutiny. It’s only in hindsight that we understand that they probably didn’t deserve all that criticism. Artists like Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Fiona Apple, Lana Del Rey, Nicki Minaj, Amy Winehouse, Lorde, and others have had to suffer from mockery for being too weird. Even more conventional artists like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus were bashed at a point for changes in their appearance.
Our collective disdain for Billie Eilish may say more about us than it does about her.
I guess this just points to a larger issue of how stans and haters alike interact with celebrities online. It’s easy to dismiss the feelings of these people who live in a bubble of fame and money, but there are many cases when unwarranted backlash has had severe effects on someone’s mental health. 2007 Britney is a glaring example of this. When you have a young person like Billie just starting to deal with fame, it can get a girl worried.
Our collective disdain for Billie Eilish, one of the youngest popular recording artists in the music industry, may say more about us than it does about her. In an age where people have the power to weigh in on nearly every topic, it’s about time to consider that perhaps, celebrities don’t have to please everyone. One thing’s for certain though, she’s not going anywhere any time soon.