Billie Eilish on Surviving Teen Fame and Trauma, and how she Finally stopped Reading the Comments


Billie Eilish is crying on the cover of her new album. The lone teardrop isn’t obvious at first, shiny enough that it could just be part of her glittery makeup. Her eyes are blue and empty, staring vacantly into the distance. “Happier Than Ever,” read the words above her face.

Is this what fame has done to Eilish? Taken the air out of the lungs of the wunderkind from Highland Park? Stripped her of her Rainbow Brite hair colors and oversize tees and turned her into a blond pin-up?

Not entirely. But it’s complicated.

There was a moment not too long ago, admits the 19-year-old, when she was truly miserable. After her debut single, “Ocean Eyes,” became a viral hit on SoundCloud in 2015, she signed with Darkroom Records and landed a deal with Interscope. But she felt ill-equipped to deal with the sudden onslaught of attention. Which isn’t surprising, because the music industry didn’t see her coming either — a teenager with such a distinctive look and sound that mass appeal was in no way inevitable.ADVERTISEMENT

“I hated going outside. I hated going to events. I hated being recognized. I hated the internet having a bunch of eyes on me. I just wanted to be doing teenager s—,” says Eilish, who was 16 when she toured her four-times platinum debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” She grew depressed, and her body didn’t react well to the stress; she was constantly coming down with laryngitis or developing fevers. And she was surrounded by adults. The only people her age were in the audience, which had become both physically and emotionally untouchable.

So how did she end up at this industrial compound in the San Fernando Valley, readying for the July 30 release of her sophomore effort?

“Honestly, it took growing up a little bit. Literally, physically growing up — like the actual chemicals in my brain shifting,” she says, sitting opposite a couch filled with vitamins and wellness supplements. Her brother, Finneas O’Connell — who has served as her sole musical collaborator since she began writing music — has a cold, and everyone on Eilish’s team is worried about her catching it. Her mother, Maggie Baird, hands her an immunity shot.

“Oh, I don’t need all that!” Eilish groans, downing it begrudgingly.

“Just in case,” urges mom. Baird and husband Patrick O’Connell — with whom Eilish lived in her northeast L.A. childhood home until roughly a year ago — then leave their daughter alone for the interview. But the singer’s publicist remains within earshot directly outside the room, and when Eilish asks if she can close the door, she’s denied.

Even though she’s technically an adult, Eilish is still figuring out who she wants to be as a grown-up. Between 17 and 19, she played Coachella, won seven Grammy Awards — in 2019, becoming the youngest person ever to sweep the prizes for best new artist and record, song and album of the year — wrote the theme song for a James Bond film and released an Apple TV+ documentary about her life. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she finally had an opportunity to pause and “do the self-reflection I’ve never had the time for.” Under her own roof for the first time, she began to think about what she’d been through “and how it affected me — how I actually feel about it all instead of just doing it.”

Baird suggested to her two kids that they use the unexpected free time during the pandemic as an opportunity to create new music.

“My mom was, like, ‘What if you guys had a schedule where Billie came over and you worked three days a week?’” recalled Finneas, 23. “At first I was like, ‘I don’t think that’s needed.’ But she said: ‘Listen. Why don’t you just try it for one week? You don’t even have to make anything.’ And within the first week, we’d written and recorded ‘My Future.

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