“Do you know me? Really know me?”
Billie Eilish asks listeners this question in a spoken word piece from her new album, Happier Than Ever. The interlude, “Not My Responsibility,” makes a powerful statement about the critical nature surrounding pop stardom and young womanhood. At 19 years old, these concepts have trailed the young star’s career since it first took off when she was just 14. And despite the trials that fame has confronted the young star with so far, she’s never stood down from a good fight.
From environmental activism to mental health, Eilish has used the harsh glare of the spotlight to her advantage, championing the causes most important to her and her generational peers.
With seven Grammy Award wins and just two full albums released to date, the “Bad Guy” singer has solidified her voice as one to represent a new generation. From bedroom pop to world tours, how did the teen go from somber SoundCloud beats to radio-dominating songs of the summer?
Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell was born in 2001 in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in a cozy bungalow, where she still lived until moving out in 2021. Her childhood home, where she and her brother recorded her hits, is a place of solace for Eilish, who still spends most nights there.
It’s impossible to talk about her success without bringing family into the conversation. Eilish’s brilliant songwriting comes from a deep collaboration with her brother, Finneas O’Connell, known professionally as FINNEAS, who produces all of his younger sister’s music. They’re a pair that may have been destined for fame, with both of their parents being actors and homeschooling them with a vision of musical success.
In a home studio located in her brother’s childhood room, Eilish and FINNEAS recorded their first hit together, “Ocean Eyes,” a harmonic, enchantingly bareboned ballad FINNEAS had originally written for his own band. The song quickly became an overnight hit and launched the then-14-year-old Eilish into immediate fame.
Since then, Eilish has occupied a good chunk of the internet, representing a trend of Gen-Z artists making names for themselves online from the corners of their bedrooms.
Her latest album, Happier Than Ever, released in July 2021, topped the Billboard charts at No. 1 for three weeks. The sophomore album is a departure from her former catchy beat-laden, lo-fi, trip-pop sound.
But one thing hasn’t changed, Eilish isn’t holding back from speaking — and singing — about what’s been on her mind.
In April 2020, she and FINNEAS joined Global Citizen’s historic global broadcast event One World: Together At Home, covering the song “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb and thanking frontline health care workers for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And on Saturday, Sept. 25, Eilish is joining the New York City stage for Global Citizen Live, a once-in-a-generation, 24-hour global broadcast event bringing together more than 70 artists, activists, and world leaders to defend the planet and defeat poverty.
How Billie Eilish Defends the Planet
From putting on eco-friendly, plastic-free shows to marching with Greta Thunberg to posting video campaigns to speak out about climate change, Eilish echoes the sentiments of many in her generation whose futures are at stake due to the current climate emergency.
“Our earth is warming up and our oceans are rising. Extreme weather is wrecking millions of lives,” Eilish said, alongside Woody Harrelson, in a video message urging the public to address climate change.
In 2019, Eilish teamed up with Global Citizen in support of our campaign against climate change, offering free concert tickets to those who took action to defend the planet.
Eilish, who grew up vegetarian, switched to veganism seven years ago. She often takes to her Instagram stories to promote animal rights and speak out against cruelty to her 90 million followers. Recently, Eilish used her glamorous 2021 Met Gala debut to influence the iconic fashion house, Oscar de la Renta, to eliminate animal fur from all future designs.
A Body-Positive Pop Star
Eilish is more than a survivor — she’s a fighter. Being thrown in the deep end of instant stardom and media scrutiny isn’t easy, especially at such a young age. But Eilish has never been afraid of calling out issues when she sees them. On the media’s obsession with her body, Eilish, who has discussed her negative body-image issues in the past, takes it in stride.
“We only need bodies to eat and walk around and poop. We only need them to survive. It's ridiculous that anybody even cares about bodies at all. Like, why?” she told the Guardian.
Baggy clothes have been an iconic part of the singer’s look since the beginning of her international rise to fame. Body positivity and autonomy, especially for women, is something Eilish has been continually vocal about. And the publicity surrounding her body is the topic of multiple songs in her latest album. In an interview with Laura Snapes for British Vogue, Eilish clears up any misconceptions about her transition from loose-fitting clothes to corsets for the magazine cover.
“It’s all about what makes you feel good. If you want to get surgery, go get surgery. If you want to wear a dress that somebody thinks that you look too big wearing, fuck it – if you feel like you look good, you look good.”
Advocating for Mental Health
Eilish is getting in touch with old Hollywood vibes, wiping away the black tears, and may even be happier than ever. Although the new album details toxic relationships, personal and with the public, Eilish has used it to heal and become the figure of guidance she wished she had.
“It's about many, many different situations that I've witnessed. Some lines are about my life, some lines are about things that I've seen, some lines are just general things that I've noticed about women being taken advantage of. And it's a crazy thing and I wish that when I was younger I had a song like this to listen to” said Eilish in an interview with NPR when asked about the song “Your Power”.
Like many artists coping with the pandemic, Eilish found productivity while the world was on pause. In an interview with the Guardian, she talked about how deadlines and industry pressures prevented her and her brother from having the time and freedom to write new songs.
Eilish has always been open about her mental health. From discussing her experiences with Tourette’s syndrome to her battles with depression and suicidal thoughts, Eilish has never shied away from using her fame to combat stigmas.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Eilish points to the summer of 2019 as the point in which she felt happier. She had ended a relationship, was on tour with her best friend and family, and had started seeing a therapist.
“My mom was saying this yesterday. When you’re happier than ever, that doesn’t mean you’re the happiest that anyone’s ever been. It means you’re happier than you were before,” said Eilish.
And we’re happier than ever to welcome the young advocate back to the global stage. Billie Eilish joins Lizzo, Coldplay, Shawn Mendes, and more, Sept. 25 at Global Citizen Live in New York City.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defend the planet and defeat poverty by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.