Billie Eilish might not know what it means to be called the “voice of her generation,” but it’s obvious that the singer/songwriter’s music, touching on subjects ranging from mental illness to climate change, has managed to capture some of the particular angst and nihilism of Gen Z. Her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, took home five awards at this year’s Grammys—making Eilish the first woman (and youngest woman) to win best album, record, song, and artist of the year.
“I never really thought about it. I didn’t know anything about an industry or entertainment or whatever,” she shrugs. “I wanted to work at Jamba Juice. So I didn’t know shit.”
In other words, no one saw this coming. Before the awards show, Finneas had expressed concerns to their mum, Maggie, about not knowing how to act when they lost. Billie, meanwhile, was filmed mouthing the words “please don’t be me” before her name was called for the fourth time. “I was sur-prised,” she says, elongating each syllable. “I was dead surprised. And I was embarrassed, dude, I was fuckin’ embarrassed. I was in front of Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey and fuckin’ Beyoncé is nominated, and I win. I was like, Nooooo…” Eilish groans, wrapping her scarf around her head. “I don’t deserve it. They deserve it.”
One of the most endearing aspects of Eilish’s personality is that every time she opens her mouth it’s so clear that she’s really just an 18-year-old, still trying to grow accustomed to the blinding spotlight that’s now placed on her life. After all, what’s more quintessentially teenage than being deeply embarrassed that people who you admire are looking at you? (Even if the reason they keep looking at you is that you keep winning more Grammys.)
Before it was postponed, her new tour visuals included a film where she sheds layers while opining on her body, clothes and the judgment of others. “If I wore a dress to something, I would be hated for it,” she says on set today. “People would be like, ‘You’ve changed, how dare you do what you’ve always rebelled against?’ I’m like, ‘I’m not rebelling against anything, really.’ I can’t stress it enough. I’m just wearing what I wanna wear. If there’s a day when I’m like, ‘You know what, I feel comfortable with my belly right now, and I wanna show my belly,’ I should be allowed to do that.”
A disproportionate amount of the media coverage of Billie has involved scrutinizing her clothing choices and sense of style (in other words, her body), which involves a lot of men’s designer sweatsuits, baggy streetwear, and monochrome looks in all colors. Eilish herself has talked in previous interviews about her frustration with the ways people attempt to attribute certain meanings to what clothes she chooses to wear—oftentimes assuming either that her outfits are either a statement about the sexualization of women in media or that she’s trying to look less like the “stereotypical female,” both assumptions that Eilish herself has challenged.
Eilish occasionally talks about her own struggles and discomfort with her body—understandable for any young woman, but particularly when the paparazzi won’t stop trying to snap photos of you in a tank top. In the video interlude that would have been shown during her now-postponed tour, Eilish recited a monologue about body image while slowly removing different items of clothing. “If what I wear is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I am a slut... Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge me for it. Why?”
Eilish has also become increasingly vocal about climate change in recent months as she prepares to vote for the first time during the 2020 election cycle.
“I didn’t know what global warming was for a really long time,” she admits of her relatively recent conversion to the cause. “Doing more and more research and learning more about it, it’s so insane. Like, we’re gonna die if we don’t do something.”
I mean, she’s not wrong.