Billie Eilish Interview: The Pop Star on Finneas, Her Grammy Wins, Joe Biden, and More Leave a comment

While a generation of teenage girls may be channeling their angst and vicarious rebellions through Eilish’s moody lyrics, the concerned parent can take comfort in the fact that Eilish is a teetotaler. At 15, one of her friends ended up in rehab following an overdose, others close to her have died. The motif of “burying” friends and lovers “not dying by mistake” appears throughout her music. In a sea of anthems to the glory of getting fucked up, Eilish’s “Xanny,” sung with a jazzy, benzo-laced ennui, is actually about the sadness of being among people who can’t stay sober. “When I was growing up and I was around my group of friends back then,” says Eilish of her own sobriety, “and they would all be drinking and smoking and doing drugs and whatever, I think because of the way that my personality is—I’m a very strong-willed person, and I think at the time I was very alpha—I’m coming to realize that I may have felt a feeling of superiority.”

These days, she says, as long as her friends are steering clear of hard drugs and being safe with everything else, she’s not worried—besides which, the issue comes up less. “I’m not out here going to parties and also,” she slows down, “I’m me, so I can’t really go…anywhere.” I must have made an expression of sympathy, because she follows with “But it’s okay!” as though trying to reassure me.

The world has no shortage of child stars hewn by parent managers—Britney, Beyoncé, Lindsay—whose relationships, as the children inevitably turn into adults, follow varying rocky trajectories. From a distance, Baird and O’Connell bear the hallmarks of stage parents: They’re both actors who had fine but less than dazzling careers; the Hanson inspo could’ve been a red flag. But the ingredients haven’t concocted trouble. While Baird, who taught the kids, does serve as a sometime manager for her daughter, she’s more of a tour mom, and O’Connell, who worked construction for Mattel, started out as a handyman at his children’s shows; now he does the lights. “[Billie] seems to have such an even keel, and I credit it to her extraordinary, very tight family,” says Harrelson, who went to lunch with them the day after the SNL broadcast. (His daughter didn’t join, but Eilish did record a video for her.) “They’re looking after each other, they love each other immensely. And so there’s not the same kind of head games.”

Billie Eilish’s Clothing by Burberry; Rings by CHROME HEARTS.Photographs by QUIL LEMONS. Styled by GABRIELLA KAREFA-JOHNSON. 

And a sibling rivalry is meanwhile hard to imagine. Finneas has a full-blown musical career in his own right, putting out a solo EP in 2019 and producing songs for Selena Gomez and Camila Cabello. “He has this special and unique ability to work with Billie that nobody else has,” says O’Connell. “He’s her older brother. He’s seen it all from the start. She’s seen it all. So they have this honesty with each other and they can be very frank. They can tell each other that they suck. They also have great respect for each other’s individual talents.” Her pretty, mournful song, “Everything I Wanted” (which, after we speak, is nominated for three Grammys) is about the comfort and stability of their relationship.

I had a dream

I got everything I wanted

But when I wake up, I see

You with me

And you say, “As long as I’m here

No one can hurt you…”

As the Eilish operation (or what O’Connell calls, with a smidge of ponderous remove, “the Billie Eilish phenomenon”) scales exponentially up, moving from the single bus and motel rooms of its early tours to the arenas, first-class flights, and full security detail that it is today, on a basic musical level it has retained its DIY roots: Eilish and Finneas still record all of their songs themselves, most often in Finneas’s childhood bedroom, his multiple keyboards jammed between Murakami flower pillows.

The homespun production has lent them a nimbleness that proved useful pre-pandemic, when they spent so much time on tour. In 2019, when longtime James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli invited Eilish and Finneas to work on a No Time to Die theme, they wrote it on the road and recorded it in the quietest place they could find: their tour bus. “The bus was off, so it was completely pitch-black,” Eilish says, “and I was sitting hunched over in my bunk and Finneas was sitting in his bunk across the aisle.” Hans Zimmer himself plucked the song from the list of options—going against the sensibilities, he’s said, of other decision makers—calling it “hugely personal,” “really well crafted,” and “lean.” The morning after Eilish’s 18th birthday they traveled to London, and following a jet-lagged viewing, they recorded “No Time to Die” with Zimmer’s orchestra at Sir George Martin’s AIR Studios. (“I worked harder than I ever have to keep myself awake, because I wanted to be awake so bad, because the movie is so incredible,” Eilish says. “I did everything I could. I was wiggling and rocking around and eating chips.”) It, too, garnered a nomination at this year’s Grammys.

If a Google search turns up scant paparazzi shots of one of the world’s most popular musicians, it’s because she makes herself vigorously unavailable. She doesn’t eat out and no longer takes spins around Trader Joe’s, where she once hoped to become a checker. Weeks before I met her, a pap snapped a photo of her in the few seconds it took to get from her car to her brother’s house. She was wearing a tank top, on the way to the beach, and the image spawned a range of opinions, from the celebratory (embrace all body shapes!) to the vile.

“I think that the people around me were more worried about it than I was, because the reason I used to cut myself was because of my body. To be quite honest with you, I only started wearing baggy clothes because of my body,” says Eilish. “I was really, really glad though, mainly, that I’m in this place in my life, because if that had happened three years ago, when I was in the midst of my horrible body relationship—or dancing a ton, five years ago, I wasn’t really eating. I was, like, starving myself. I remember taking a pill that told me that it would make me lose weight and it only made me pee the bed—when I was 12. It’s just crazy. I can’t even believe, like I—wow. Yeah. I thought that I would be the only one dealing with my hatred for my body, but I guess the internet also hates my body. So that’s great.”

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