The out­sider pop star goes against the grain but climbs up the charts

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TAKE | CRITICS’ CHOICE - LOUISE BRU­TON

While the rest of the world are busy dig­ging up pho­tos of them­selves from 2009 to com­pare them to a re­cent one in so­cial me­dia’s 10-year chal­lenge, the alt-pop star Bil­lie Eil­ish O’Con­nell has been re­peat­ing a video in­ter­view she did with Van­ity Fair in 2017, when she was just 15. She is an­swer­ing the same ques­tions this time around – while watch­ing her younger self in slack-jawed as­ton­ish­ment.

If you don’t think much can change in 12 months, you try liv­ing the life of a teen pop star for a day. Be­tween Novem­ber 2017 and Novem­ber 2018, the num­ber of peo­ple fol­low­ing the Belly­ache singer on In­sta­gram leaped from 257,000 to 6.1 mil­lion (it’s now 11.4 mil­lion). Bil­lie Eil­ish went from be­ing a gig­gly but smart teen to be­ing a sage and slightly jaded teenager. Now at the grand old age of 17, her de­but al­bum is in the mas­ter­ing stages, so get to grips with your fu­ture VBF.

Eil­ish, who has been in the pop game since she was 14, works along­side her brother, Fin­neas, who co-writes and pro­duces most of her mu­sic. They were raised in Los An­ge­les by their ac­tor par­ents, Mag­gie Baird and Patrick O’Con­nell. Their songs are in­tro­verted, sen­si­tive, dark and deeply in­tu­itive, but she still finds her­self with three sin­gles in the Ir­ish charts: the mur­der­ous Belly­ache, the anx­i­etyrid­den pi­ano bal­lad Idont­wannabe­y­ouany­more and the fan­tas­ti­cally down­beat When the Party’s Over.

A sin­gu­lar pop star who wears de­signer track­suits and has a dif­fer­ent shade of hair in al­most ev­ery photo she posts, she cap­tures the mood of the Xanax Gen­er­a­tion. Like the mod­ern hip-hop acts that are defin­ing this gen­er­a­tion, she takes on a slower, thud­ding beat with her melodies. Lyri­cally, she toys with the macabre and, like Lana Del Rey, she plays the role of the watch­ful out­sider per­fectly.

Bil­lie Eil­ish’s mu­sic will res­onate with any­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced angst as a tween, a teen, a twen­teen or what­ever word you use to avoid iden­ti­fy­ing as an adult. This is a su­per-in­ter­est­ing time to be a pop star, with the up­lift­ing bangers of Si­grid, the re­flec­tive mus­ings of Khalid, the con­fi­dence of Lit­tle Mix and the emo­tion­ally ex­plo­rative na­ture of Bil­lie Eil­ish’s mu­sic sit­ting side by side in the charts. Dif­fer­ence is now cel­e­brated.

Un­til her de­but al­bum drops, her Don’t Smile at Me EP, from 2017, has enough grit and char­ac­ter to bide us over.


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