“DID WE JUST BECOME BEST FRIENDS??” How Billie Eilishs’ Documentary Made Her A New She-ro

I made myself some homemade shrimp alfredo and iced tea on a semi-cloudy day and cozied up on the couch to watch Billie Eilishs’ documentary “The World’s a Little Blurry” (directed by R.J. Cutler, available on Apple TV+). 

I did not anticipate I would spend about six hours watching a two-hour documentary.  This film is moving, inspiring, intimate, and candid, Just like Billie herself.

I will admit, I have listened to Billie off and on. I have not been one of her die-hard fans since Spotify. One of the first times I realized she was such a big deal was when she surprised Melissa McCarthy on “Ellen”. When you have a grown woman who is a fangirl for a teenager, that’s a pretty big deal.  When you have one of the biggest movie stars in the world, fangirling for a teenager, then you really need to pay attention.  

What truly piqued my interest was Billie’s interview on “Ellen” as cameras were invited into her childhood home. She sat on the bed in her room where she and her genius brother Finneas wrote one of the most profound albums of all time, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”

She also appeared on “Carpool Karaoke” with James Corden and sang like a songbird from a Disney movie, while playing the ukulele. I was basically all in at this point but still had not done a full dive into her work.

The film is a combination of home movies filmed mostly at her parents’ house and a professional crew who interviewed her, her family, and followed her on tour. There is also footage of interviews, live shows, Coachella, and fan meetings.

The love this family has for each other is abundantly clear. This is a regular nuclear family with a fence and a dog, who happen to have two kids taking over the music world including the 2019 GRAMMYs. They snagged a couple more this year as well.

She has a father who is sad seeing her drive off for the first time on her own after getting her license. She had been gifted a car before she could even legally drive it. He tears up knowing he had to finally release his daughter into this unknown world, and hope for the best.  

Billie jokes with her brother about making the first track of the album just audio of her taking out her Invisalign braces. They have secret handshakes and catchphrases that they share. While listening to the playback of one of her most depressing songs, they decide to play tricks with the camera. He argues with her about how great she is when she loses her confidence.

Her mother is crying through most of the film, proudly watching all of her children’s biggest dreams unfold in front of her eyes. The fun and real heart of this film is the contrast of seeing the millions of people she is performing for regularly, tons of press, endless access to custom designer clothes, high-level celebrity greetings; then heading back to her house where her father is picking up dog poop and showing her how to wash her car.

After seeing this film I realized I wish I would have been her at 15 wanting to pursue my dreams and passions as she does. And at the same time, I want to be the cool mom who raises a kid with that same passion like that someday. She is not afraid to be herself, she feels what she feels, and she does not apologize for it. And her family raised her to be that way. What’s the word the young kids say nowadays? She’s got moxie!

This film took me six hours to watch because I stopped in the middle of it to write a few songs of my own. That was the kind of effect she had on me. Artists inspire other artists. It is just one of those feelings. Like when you hear the lyrics that speak what you feel and you cannot believe someone else is speaking them out loud. How it makes you wish you were the person who had written them.

I kept pausing the video every few minutes to make a note of how I was feeling while watching certain scenes, or writing down a really great quote or lyric. A couple of times, I just had to cry and let my emotions out.  

I feel everything this young woman feels.  That goes for so many young people like her, which is why, before her album even dropped, she was generating tens of millions of streams on Spotify. Each month.  In the course of a year, her Instagram followers went from one million to fifteen. As of today, about three years later, it is now at almost eighty. Yes, I checked, I follow her too. Impressive is not even a word for all of that.  

During one of her live performances she asks the audience why they even like her, she’s “nobody”.

“You love it because you love it, and that’s it.”

We open with the home movies shot at the house.  Some are older videos with Billie and Finneas as young children, performing and practicing with their parents.  Their parents taught both of them how to sing, harmonize, and play multiple instruments.  Some of the videos are from recent years: a video of hearing her breakout song “ocean eyes” on the local radio; her days as a trained dancer; and the creative process of “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP…”

There is a tiny room with two beds crammed into a corner, and barely any room to stand up and sit at the piano, keyboard, and computer desk beside them.  She is on the bed, Finneas is sitting with his guitar, working out the final lyrics of “bad guy”.  As I have said before, to watch creation at its best is a gift!  Imagine if we had the technology, centuries ago, to see how the most amazing structures, symphonies, and paintings were conceived.  This is why I love these types of films, to watch art become art.  

She is directing her mother in the backyard to create the treatment for her music video for “when the party’s over”.  Apparently, as we see later in the film, this may have been the last time she allowed someone else to direct the shoot because she was not satisfied with their direction.  Loved that.

I do not recall seeing any recording ever shot in a booth.  It is in their house, on a tour bus, in a green room, or at a hotel.  One of the clips from the hotel had her in front of the mic with a towel over her head for soundproofing.  And almost always, Finneas is sitting with his guitar, or at the piano, while they write.  During a stage performance, the set is a bed lifted in the air, with just Billie and Finneas sitting on it, tilted towards the audience.  He plays, she sings, and he holds her as she begins to cry.  The audience is also crying.  Everyone is just in a room, with their big brother, upset over a boy.

There is a discussion in the kitchen about artistic integrity.  Finneas explains how Billie does not like the writing process.  She is afraid that if it becomes exposed on a mass level, then it generates hate and criticism, and she is right.  It is such an ache for her that the label told Finneas to not even mention to her the album needed a full “hit”, in hopes of reducing the pressure.  He tells her, in his mind, they have to write each song like it is the best song they have ever written.  Her mother is encouraging her to consider adjusting the songs to be more appealing to other audiences.  

This is the artist’s internal dilemma, isn’t it?  Do what you love; or create something you sort of tolerate to get people to pay for it, and you survive.

“I just talked about what I was feeling.”

Billie mentions in an interview how critics began speaking about her music as a big social statement.  But she simply states she is writing what she is feeling.  She did not realize, until then, the music was so popular because she expressed feelings out loud that no one else was.  

Her music is dark, it is emotional, it is not coming from the happiest place.  It is littered with haunting minor chords, dissonant harmonies, soft throaty vocals, and hushed tones.  I cannot even explain some of the sudden switches in her tracks that basically sound like it came from a demonic dimension.  It is otherworldly, and at times, a bit unsettling.  However, do not let that dissuade you.  If anything, the clear, bell-like tinge of her soprano voice, reminiscent of the Big Band and jazz ballad genres, should be plenty to appeal to anyone.  

Billie is inspiring a generation, there is no question about that.  The way she loves her fans, she says they are not just fans, they are a part of her. At the end of each concert, she hugs herself as a hug to her fans.  She sits down at the edge of the stage to sing to, and with, them.  There is a cute shot of her being underneath an outdoor stage, before a show.  The fans are waiting on the other side of the fence, and the stage underneath is concealed by a tarp.  She teases them by sticking out one of her custom neon green sneakers so they know it’s her, then pulls it back like a game of peek-a-boo.  She is leaving an interview, and a fan is running by the van screaming that Billie saved her life.  

Every concert is primarily a sea of young women, most likely all under the age of 25, singing every line.  They do not just sing, they feel the spirit of healing and community flowing through the crowd.  Music does what it does.  When her songs bust into the pounding bass effects, the crowd is jumping with her, and from above, you cannot distinguish it from watching the movement of one heart beating. 

Did I mention she is a vegan?  She is a vegan.  So there’s that.

“No, kids are depressed.”

Her mother speaks to the camera in response to the mass criticism of how dark the music is.  She explains how this generation of teenagers is dealing with a lot.  Parents who went through the recession, climate change, political divides, etc. 

Billie is widely known for publicly discussing her own battles with her mental health.  She has Tourette’s, and when she is overwhelmed and tired, her head ticks, her eyes, and mouth open wide while looking upwards and to the side.  The film did not hide this.  She had live attacks during filming.  

In an interview, she is asked what comes to mind when she thinks of mental health, and her answer is not taking care of hers.  Later in the film, she shows pictures from her diary, around age 14, with graphic notes about cutting herself.  And she did.  She hid razors and bandaids in her room.  Her signature style is to cover her body with oversized hoodies and jackets, and baggy pants, because she has previously expressed insecurity about her body and her cutting scars.

In the very beginning of the film, Billie is working with Finneas in her room, and reading lyrics that describe her wanting to jump off of a building.  Her mother, of course, is greatly concerned to hear that.  She is also concerned about how that could influence other teenagers.  But Billie explains that writing out the feelings of wanting to do it is exactly what is preventing her from doing it.  She is holding on to music as her catharsis. 

There was an argument between a member of her team, and her mother, over a video Billie recorded about not drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or smoking cigarettes.  The team member was concerned if it was released, and if later Billie did end up partaking in any of that, she would receive public backlash for going back on her word.  Yet, her mother made a good point of explaining, first, is she not allowed to change and make mistakes as she goes through life?  And also, is it not the parents’ and the team’s job to surround her with support so she does not feel the need to go to substances for relief?

I admire her for admitting the emotional pain she deals with, and ways she has tried to avoid it. You forget that you are watching a 17 year-old when she asks her mother why people cannot allow themselves to simply feel the feeling of missing those they love when they are away.  Her mother responds that it hurts too much, so they have to learn to cope.  Billie’s response is “So? Let it hurt.”

“I can’t have one moment.”

Celebrity life ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  After a performance, Billie suddenly finds herself flooded with people during a label meet-and-greet.  Sponsors, label executives, and even their children, are all vying for a photo op with her.  In the middle of it all, she is obviously overwhelmed, and leaves for the green room.  Her mother chases after her to come back, and almost has to physically drag her out of the room.  The crowd was not expected to be as large as it was, and Billie was not having it. Her face is clear when she is forced to smile and be polite to executives from Verizon.  What some did not know was, just before that, she had broken up with her boyfriend, Q.  He is dealing with self-destructive behavior, so she has to let it go.  This reminded me of a Katy Perry concert film scene. Backstage at a show, she gets off the phone with Russell Brand, had the realization that they are about to divorce, and still has to perform.

Billie is upset the next day after reading a comment on social media she was rude at the meet-and-greet.  She complains how she cannot have one bad moment without it being publicized.  But mostly, she is embarrassed because she values her fans so much, she never wants them to feel they are bothering her.  This argument happens in a van on the way to an interview, and as soon as she steps out, her smile is back.  She appears to genuinely feel better as staff in the building, who are fans, come to hug her.  Each expressing their love for the other. 

“No Time to Die”

What brought me into more of the Billie fandom was hearing the release of this Bond theme song.  I had not listened to enough of her music to truly appreciate her voice.  And even better, it was recorded on a tour bus, and in a green room.  Initial composition was done in three days.  

This title represents Billie so well.  Her resilience needs to be noted.  

She injured her hip a few years before doing music, and it ended her dancing practice.  During a live show, she jumped so hard she developed shin splints, sprained her ankle, and inured her neck.  

The most amazing moment was during another live show, the first song had just started, she did one jump, and immediately sprained her ankle again on stage (later they find out she actually tore ligaments).  She fell, and from a painful sitting position on the floor, she was still pumping up the crowd, with her arms, keeping tempo with the song.  She had to give in and leave the stage, put on an ankle boot, and then tried to continue the show from a stool.  She left the stage because she was unhappy that she could not give 100% to the fans, so she would rather not perform at all.  She almost cancelled the concert right then and there.  Her family and staff convinced her that the fans came all this way to see her, in any form, and she continued.  This type of stress can also trigger ticks from her Tourette’s condition.  There are countless scenes of her physical therapy and body massages to help heal her and prevent injury. 

Basically, she’s a badass with a seemingly high pain tolerance.

“Life is Good”

When they begin the Coachella footage, she mentioned that she had a dream the night before that she screwed it up and Coachella ruined her career.  Now, she did forget the lyrics to a song at one point, and was easily embarrassed by it.  Artists are perfectionists and if the art does not come out the way it was intended, it is immensely frustrating.  Especially when you have one shot to impress people by singing on stage.  As she mentions to her audiences, we are always looking for the next and the next, but never appreciating the current moment, so be in the moment. 

Despite this lyrical incident, and arguing with her boyfriend about making time to spend with her, the next day changes her life completely. The film shows the viral video of Justin Bieber, her celebrity obsession as a young girl, and collaborator on the “bad guy” remix, surprising her in the audience during Ariana Grande’s performance.  

Okay guys, here is where I lost it.  He hugged her so tight that she wept in his arms, and he let her.  He softly stroked her hair, and pulled her to his chest.  I witnessed the pure love and appreciation of two people who understood each other. There was no pretense, nothing “Hollywood fake”.  It was two fans’ dreams come true, an expression of devotion, and the development of a lifelong friendship, all in one.

Later, he texts her saying that the moment meant as much to him as it did to her.  He said he was reminded of how much of what he does affects people. Immediately following is video of her blasting Justin’s music in their car, and in the house, singing every word.  He even called her on FaceTime, right after the 2019 GRAMMYs aired, to congratulate her and Finneas on their multiple wins.  

I had the pleasure, once, to meet a couple artists that were my devotion as well from a young age.  I almost fainted while taking the picture, and held my breath until I could scream at the top of my lungs in my car LOL.   I get it. 

The film ends on a happy note.  She is driving in her birthday car, with her dog, enjoying the rain and reflecting on her life, her relationship with her family, and her fandom.  The adorable “Christmas Day” wake up with the GRAMMY nominations is one for the books. None of that is going anywhere anytime soon.  

One of the previous clips was Finneas joking backstage about how they’re millionaires now.  Billie quickly retorts, “we have millions of dollars, but that does not make us millionaires.”  They laugh at the surreal ridiculousness of it all, essentially saying, there is no reason we belong here.  Well, in this writer’s opinion, you absolutely do.  

The final shot is a full circle moment of Billie performing her big hit “ocean eyes”.  

We transition into the credits, while playing “my future”.  This is a gorgeous song about seeing your future self developing in the present moment, and falling in love with the process (I can relate!).  To cement this concept, the director slips in one last clip of a very young Billie playing her guitar in front of her camera and thanking her future audience.

Well done, sir. Well done. 

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