Billie Eilish is only 18. She turned 18 in December (she’s a Sagittarius). But there’s that thing people sometimes say about “old souls,” about young folk whose exteriors seem misaligned with the being that lies beneath them. There’s a wisdom there that seems inherited, a clearer sense of how things work, or don’t.
This has often been said about Billie Eilish, whose music tends to explore the tough stuff. Loss. Uncertainty. Mental health. Death. Mostly, she confronts these things with a whisper so intimate it can sound like you’re eavesdropping on a therapy session. Eilish is interesting not only because of her music, but also because of her political engagement, and the way she leverages her platform to activate her fans.
For example: on Wednesday, the singer appeared on the Democratic National Convention broadcast to remind her fans that silence, in a moment of social upheaval, is “not an option.” “You don’t need me to tell you things are a mess,” she said. “Donald Trump is destroying our country and everything we care about. We need leaders who will solve problems like climate change and COVID, not deny them; leaders who will fight against systemic racism and inequality.”
She implored all viewers to register and vote in the upcoming U.S. election, then, quite fittingly, sweetened the deal with a performance of her latest single, which is aptly titled “My Future.” The song is a departure from Eilish’s usual macabre, melancholy electro-pop, where fictionalized narrators sometimes “murder their friends and liken lovers to hostages.” Instead, it’s a refusal to take romance as the most desired conclusion, foregoing affection for the excitement over a bright future.
And the way she performs it is perfect. It’s my favourite thing this week. Studio recordings are great, obviously — polished, manicured, pristine — but the wrinkles they smooth out are often what gives the song more character: the sharp inhales; the occasional raspiness; the spectacle of emotions that travel across the performer’s face.
Eilish’s performance begins with her at the piano, playing by her lonesome. The set does an approximation of what we get in the video, which is a forest that could have been pulled from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” (arguably his best film), with violet light spilling through fake trees.
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But when the beat picks up, so does Eilish. She rises from the keyboard, the lights turn gold, the drums roll in, the electric guitar fades up, and joy sets in like a sunrise. She looks like she’s having fun, flashing smiles, winking, held rapt by her own creation. It’s beautiful.
And Eilish does care about the future. She has so much ahead of her. “I’m pretty worried about [2020,]” she told the Los Angeles Times in an interview late last year. “I think stupid Trump is probably going to get reelected, and that makes my heart break. You know, some people just love horrible people. It’s weird.”
So she’s doing what she can to forge a better future. “Like a lot of you, I’m going to be voting for the first time — and so are you,” she said in March, partnering with HeadCount.org to register voters. “You’ve got to make sure you’re registered to vote already, pre-registered to vote, whatever it is.”
Over the last couple of weeks, she’s made multiple posts in support of Black Lives Matter, and spoken candidly about politics. As she said at the beginning of her incredible performance, “Silence is not an option, and we cannot sit this one out.”