After watching the Grammy awards this Sunday, I found my Facebook and Twitter feeds flooded with news about Billie Eilish and her game-changing inaugural Grammys. Normally I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about who wins what music awards – save for Hadestown winning the award for Best Musical Theater Album (congrats, guys!). But after seeing the outcry of negative feedback over Billie’s win, I knew I just had to step in and prove some people wrong. Now yes, we are the Video Game Utopia, and it may seem weird to read an article about music here, but I figured this would best be handled in a think piece, rather than an extended Facebook status that nobody would read. So if you continue reading, well, thanks!
Throughout 2019, Billie Eilish has been a force to be reckoned with. Her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? started off at the top of the charts, and over the course of the year produced five singles that landed in the top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100. The girl’s on fire, and that fame continued into 2020 with the 18 year old winning 5 Grammy awards alongside her brother/producer Finneas, who found himself winning Producer of the Year. All in all, the year’s been quite good to the O’Connell clan (“Eilish” being a middle-turned-stage name), yet her popularity seems to be lost on many, even so.
Now that we’ve got the facts out of the way, let’s get to some loud opinion-ing! What’s probably the most upsetting thing about music criticism is the whole “this isn’t music” argument. If I were to sit here and tell you that the majority of today’s rap/hip hop/trap/whatever-we’re-calling-it-now isn’t music, you know how much hate I’d get? I wouldn’t even dare to shit on half the industry of same-sounding beats and thoughtless, simple lyrics that are out there. Because they’re out there. But I’d rather look at this critically. Sure, Billie may sound like she’s whispering in the songs on the radio. But have we ever considered perhaps that’s an aesthetic for particular songs? Have any of these people looked into her discography and found the plethora of emotional songs that utilize her range? Allow me to demonstrate.
At the Grammys, as well as many other talk shows and live performances, Billie sang her first big hit, “When the Party’s Over.” Is it somber? Yes. Is it melancholy? Absolutely. But this song also demonstrate’s the kid’s tremendous range in three short minutes. As my sister’s described it, Billie has three different voices, and they’re all on display in this song. Give it a listen.
Awards deserve to go to unique voices. That’s what the growth of any industry is all about: innovation. Why should awards go to the same kind of music year over year? Furthermore, the argument shouldn’t be about race, or size, or age, or any of that. It should be about talent. Which brings us to the next big criticism I’ve seen: she doesn’t deserve it; she’s privileged.
As stated by her brother, Finneas, during their first acceptance speech, “We just make music in a bedroom together. We still do that.” Billie still lives at home. She hangs out with her older brother. Her music videos are fairly minimalist; no flexing. She’s stated she doesn’t do drugs, she insists she wears baggy clothes so she can’t be body shamed – what I’m getting at is the girl’s a totally sane, basic 18 year old who can sing her f-ing ass off. She does it well. She wears fame extremely well. Yet people continue to hate and call her privileged because… I really can’t even tell why.
You get girls out there like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande who either flaunt their fame around to influence elections and back causes just to stay in the spotlight, or change their style up constantly to remain on rotation – I don’t get that. I can understand trying to stay relevant, but if your fans truly love you, they’ll stick with you no matter how little you change; no matter how “outdated” people may call you. I’ve said for years that Taylor Swift could’ve continued being a successful country musician, making absolute bangers in that genre and staying just as popular. Because that’s talent. You don’t see bands like Lady Antebellum or Little Big Town fighting to change their style just to stay on the radio. They stick to their roots, keep in their circles, and they’re beloved for it. That’s what really sickens me about Swift, at the core of it all.
That’s not to say bands shouldn’t change. I mean, look at my favorite band, Bastille. They’ve produced three albums with completely varying sounds, and I love it all. I’ve embraced that change. But it’s the intention behind it. They’re far from mainstream, with just a couple hits on the radio (yeah, they’re the “Pompeii” guys), but they still dabble in other genres to shake things up. They do it to expand on their talent, not to grasp for straws and milk that limelight as long as they can. Speaking of limelight, look at Ariana Grande, who’s taken the world on just as long a ride as Billie throughout 2019 – arguably her biggest competition in the Album of the Year category – yet failed to bring home any Grammy awards this year. While the social media ranters were quite displeased with this overlook, it comes back to that simple mantra of “quality over quantity,” and Billie’s lack of spotlight obsession, famous friend-toting, and headline making allowed for her to fly under the radar and drop some genuine talent on the musical world.
Now as I said, this is an opinion piece, and while this may rustle some of y’alls feathers out there, I’m truly not trying to shit on any one of these Grammy nominees, or anyone in the music industry, for that matter. I’m a fan of so many artists across so many genres, I can’t even keep count. While I may find it fun to be contrarian sometimes, I genuinely care about this issue because I just can’t understand hating on someone for the most mundane things. Hell, I decided recently that I can’t keep hating on Alessia Cara like I have all these years just because I don’t like her voice, because dammit, the girl has some bops! Hate is really such a strong word, and it’s crazy to point fingers and call people names just because they win an award over your favorites. You didn’t see me crying when Frozen II got repeatedly snubbed at the Golden Globes and the upcoming Oscars. Well, maybe I shed a tear but just one.
Now to round this out, let’s tackle the third and final criticism I keep seeing everywhere: Billie’s staying power. There are a lot of music acts out there today, and there are bound to be several that won’t make it through another year or two. Look at Lil Nas X, for example. He’s trying to keep the “Old Town Road” momentum going with songs like “Panini” and his outlandish fashion choices, but really the guy is just another “Gangnam Style.” It was nice to see Billie Ray Cyrus again, though.
But that’s how the industry works: artists rise and fall. But what Billie has going against her is age. You look at child songstresses of old like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson or New Kids on the Block who had their few years of fame and then fizzled as music shifted. What’s crazy about that comparison, as I think about so often, is that they were touring in shopping malls, which are not only impractical these days but they’re basically obsolete. Billie, on the other hand, is already selling out arenas with tickets going for upwards of $100 a piece (which is essentially my only problem with her). Marketing has completely changed alongside the music industry, and with acts like Selena Gomez and The Jonas Brothers seeing substantial staying power thanks to big companies like Disney and Nickelodeon acting as launchpads, the “child star” label doesn’t always keep artists from growing. Furthermore, the Grammys saw Demi Lovato making her triumphant return to the stage, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd, and she’s been in show business since she was eight years old!
What I’m getting at is it’s not so hard to stay afloat in this business anymore. Seriously, have you heard Justin Bieber’s new piece-of-garbage single, “Yummy?” People eat that shit up. It’s catchy. But I digress. Billie will get by on talent and talent alone. Younger acts these days make their own paths and it seems as though the fans will follow if they do it well. One Direction broke up, but they’re all doing great. Lorde’s been on a three-year hiatus, yet we’re waiting with bated breath. Billie Eilish has been writing songs since she was 13, and even then the world thought she was a rising star. In case you’re not familiar with that, here’s a taste.
Before her debut album, Billie had released multiple singles, including a collaboration with Khalid, and I knew friends who were praising “Bury a Friend” months before the album even came out. The truth is, I don’t see Billie Eilish going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately for some, in the wise words of fellow Grammy nominee Lizzo: truth hurts. Speak of the devil, congrats to Lizzo for winning two Grammy awards. On top of being a plus-size African American flutist, the girl is a phenomenal singer who certainly could’ve snatched that Album of the Year win from Billie. She showed up in 2019 with a fair amount of hits, and I’m excited to see how she grows as an artist, as well.
Though in the end, I can see Lizzo being one of those spotlight-chasers who changes her style to keep up the pace. Billie Eilish, on the other hand, will run her own race. A teenager with many musical years ahead of her, and hopefully many more Grammy awards, Eilish continues to be an unstoppable beast within the music industry. She seems to take pride in being threatening in appearance, with brightly-colored hair and downright terrifying music videos, and now with five Grammys under her belt, the monster lives on. Whether she’s whispering or belting it out, Billie Eilish is certainly one to watch out for. The whole world should be paying attention to this music royalty in the making. Really, you should see her in a crown.