Wow! How did this happen?
Last night we watched “The World’s a Little Blurry,” documenting the meteoric rise of the American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, whose actual name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. In 2015, at the age of 14 she decided to record the song “Ocean Eyes” written by her brother Finneas. Then just for fun, she posted the song on SoundCloud. Almost instantly, she was acknowledged with 10 million hits and her career was launched. Then in 2020 she won five Grammys. That same year Forbes reported that she had an estimated net worth upwards of $50 million, even before the release of her documentary-style movie.
Like many creatives, she expresses herself not only in her art, but also in her appearance. You can’t help but notice her brightly colored hair, baggy eclectic clothing and jewelry—lots of jewelry. She was born and raised in Los Angeles. Billie and Finneas were encouraged to be unique, creative and expressive. But LA and and the US are full of talented people. So we wonder, “Why Billie? How in the world did this success happen for her?”
Billie belongs to Generation Z, sometimes called Zoomers. In fact, she’s one of the charter members of that group—nearly 68 million strong in the US. The general characteristics of this “selfie-generation” according to experts, is that they’re completely comfortable in a digital world, entrepreneurial, and insistent about diversity. They’re mostly unaffiliated with religion, and generally less rigid—blurring traditional “lines,” which results in being very progressive and individualistic.
But, lurking beyond this seemingly unlimited potential is a blaring contradiction. Although they may be quite connected via technology, they seem overwhelmed with life in general, somewhat lonely and depressed. Why? Of course they exhibit the same needs as every previous generation. Everybody wants love, significance, meaning, and belonging, right? But the Zoomers have the added overlay of the extreme complexity of today’s world. Imagine being a Gen Z whose reality is constantly changing with rapid-fire high-tech information, coupled with an immediacy of communication and potential influence in the world. In this case, writing a song is daunting and the recording process is another task altogether. Then, and only then comes the marketing, right? No! Gen Z’ers write, record and upload all within days or even hours—the entire world is at their fingertips!
In a way, it all makes perfect sense. Think about it: young Billie is highly charged in a creative environment at home. She considers many different directions for her life, but is naturally drawn to the freedom and expressivity of music which is already a familiar part of her home-life. She adores her older brother Finneas and they develop a collaborative style of writing and producing music together in their bedroom studio. Being spontaneous and comfortable with social media, she probably had no hint of hesitation about putting their first song out on the airwaves.
Nearly 70 million young people are listening for words and sounds that reflect how they think and feel about their place in this world. They’re not looking for answers, but rather, a voice that’s poetically and romantically asking their own personal questions. Billie projects a dark but playfully creative persona that resonates with them. Just imagine hearing her music for the first time. Perhaps feeling an immediate resonance, each listener forwards it on to several friends, inviting them, “Listen to this! You won’t believe it. She’s like me. She feels the way I do. She sees me!”
Like magic, suddenly everyone knows and loves Billie Eilish and can’t get enough of her personalized musical view of and from the Gen Z perspective. Creating a musical narrative of her life is just Billie doing exactly what she loves to do with her best friend/brother, all the while being coached and encouraged by loving parents.
Billie Eilish is the classic electrical spark, the confluence of powerful forces at play—the right person at the right place on the right platform at the right time. Boom!
There’s really little reason to wonder how or why Billie Eilish became a phenomenon. Her passion is that she speaks (or sings) from the heart on behalf of millions. To quote philosopher, Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” Seems that Billie’s bliss is both magnetic and magical.