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She’s Reinvented Pop Stardom

June 05, 2020

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I became aware of the 18-year-old Billie Eilish when she won four top awards at the 2020 Grammy Awards: Best New Artist, Song, Record and Album of the Year. Then I received my March 2020 issue of Vogue and saw an incredible 16 pages of copy + photos of this pop star in the magazine. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this much coverage of one person in Vogue – or any magazine for that matter, in my life! I wasn’t familiar with Eilish so I decided to listen to her sing “Bad Guys” which was fascinating. CLICK HERE to listen to it for yourself.

OVER 800 MILLION VIEWS (SO FAR) AND COUNTING I found the song and her voice riveting so, since I focus on outstanding achievements by females for ADEA I decided to delve into the magazine’s lengthy write-up by Rob Haskell and learn as much as possible about this new kind of hit maker.

Let’s begin with her name: her full name is BILLIE EILISH PIRATE BAIRD O’CONNELL and is explained this way: BILLIE for her maternal grandfather, William, who died a few months before she was born; EILISH, the name of an Irish conjoined twin (physically joined at birth) that her parents discovered in a TV documentary; PIRATE that her older brother, Finneas O’Connell, began calling her before she was born and finally, her parents’ surnames. (That’s quite an explanation, isn’t it?)

EILISH HAS HAD A VERY UNUSUAL UPBRINGING For me personally one of the most interesting aspects of this pop star is the way she was raised. (Eilish’s parents, actors who have supported themselves over the years with a mix of jobs, now work the crew on their daughter’s tours.)

Eilish’s childhood was a happy and loving place in which all manner of artistic expression was encouraged (lucky girl). Her brother, a songwriting prodigy (plus her best friend and collaborator) paved the way. She wrote her first song on the ukulele at age seven and soon taught herself how to play piano and guitar from watching YouTube videos. She was willfully independent – never pushed to the stage.

Eilish and her brother were home-schooled for a variety of reasons. Her father, Patrick had read an article about the Oklahoma sibling band Hanson and was drawn to the idea that home schooling had given them the freedom to focus on their artistic interests. Her mother, Maggie is from Colorado, where the Columbine massacre had taken place two years after Finneas was born – both parents liked the idea of spending as much time as they could with their kids.

Eilish had enormous amounts of energy, which her parents sought to dissipate through dance class, gymnastics and horseback riding. And because the O’Connells had little money her parents would barter their time: Patrick did handiwork in the gymnastics center and Billie brushed and bridled horses at the San Pascual Stables in South Pasadena. (This is what I call truly “creative living” by figuring out an independent and smart way to fulfill your dreams.)

There was no need for rebellion in the O’Connell household. “I don’t know what a conventional childhood is,” Finneas explains. “Our parents never trivialized our questions and our interests. Our whole childhood was a conversation. You ended up feeling that decisions made sense.”

LOOKING AHEAD AND WHAT TO EXPECT

In February 2020, Eilish performed at the Oscars and she has also written (with her brother) and performed the theme song to the latest film in the James Bond franchise, No Time to Die. Her concert tours have been staggering successes without the highly produced dance numbers that characterize the millennial pop era – she has sold out every tour over the last four years.

All photos – Courtesy of Vogue, March 2020

And guess what? She still lives at home with her parents in the two-bedroom house in East Los Angeles where she grew up. Or, as she explains, “I keep hearing that I’m a rule-breaker. What rule did I break? The rule about making classic pop music and dressing like a girl – I never said I’m not going to do that. I just didn’t do it.” (This makes me laugh out loud.)

Shaun Nelson-Henrick



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