Billie Eilish’s latest transformation has been causing a stir in the media. The singer-songwriter has long been known for her black and green hair and her baggy designer clothing. Her look, which was often accompanied by a brooding face, went perfectly with the dark electronic pop sound of her debut album, When We all Fall Asleep Where Do We Go. But now, Eilish is taking her look in a new direction.
The media has deemed Eilish an “anti-pop star.” But what does being an anti-pop star actually entail? Was it Eilish being honest about the difficulties of being young and struggling with mental health in her music? Could it be about the darkness of her sound? And now, as Billie Eilish changes her brand to fit more within the accepted standards for women, is she still an anti-pop star? Or, now, as a more feminine presenting musician, is she just a pop star?
A quick rise to fame
Eilish’s hyper-fame is irrefutable, specifically in regards to her achievements at a young age. Eilish has won 7 Grammys in the past two years. She holds the title for the youngest person to win more than one grammy for Record of the Year. For the past two years, Eilish has been the top streamed female artist on Spotify and is the first musician born in the 21st century to have an American number one song. In addition to Grammys, Eilish has won countless awards from MTV, iHeartRadio, Billboard, and Apple Music. She even has a Guinness world record for youngest female artists to reach number one on UK album charts.
However, Eilish is also breaking records outside her music. When Eilish’s “transformation” hit Instagram, she broke the record not once, but twice, for the fastest time a post has needed to hit a million likes. In Eilish’s initial reveal of her blond hair, the post reached a million likes in just six minutes.
Next, when she released her cover photo for Vogue, where she is in a pink corset and a form-fitting tan skirt, she broke the record again. The two photos have claimed the title of third and fourth most-liked Instagram posts in history.
An accompanying shift in sound
It is undeniable that the anti-pop stars transformation is a move towards a more traditionally feminine outward presentation. She has shifted from black and green to lighter, more stereotypically feminine colors, like pink. She has also switched to more tightly fitting clothing. This is a break from her previous brand where she did not disclose the details of her body to the public. But, what is it about this shift that has captivated millions of Instagram users?
Eilish’s new look also accompanies a shift in the sound and subject matter of her music. One of Eilish’s new singles, Your Power, is a direct address to men who abuse their power to take advantage of younger girls. Eilish has made it clear this is not about anyone in particular. Instead, she is commenting on a problem that persists “everywhere.” Despite this, in conjunction with her look, which calls to mind old Hollywood glamour, it is easy to draw a line to the music industry.
Does it keep you in control? (In control)
For you to keep her in a cage?
And you swear you didn’t know
You said you thought she was your age
The song fits well within Eilish’s persistent use of her platform to raise awareness and spark change on social issues. In Eilish’s first album her lyrics were similarly honest and hard-hitting. When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go touched on Eilish’s struggles with anxiety and depression, even going into Eilish’s experiences with suicidal thoughts.
Part of Eilish’s appeal is the honesty that comes from her music. As she is growing up, her concerns have been evolving too, and Your Power is a prime example. Your Power is a shift from her struggles with mental health to an issue that every woman must confront; the exploitation and abuse of women at the hands of men.
In addition to Your Power, Eilish released Lost Cause. In the Lost Cause music video, Eilish and a handful of female models and dancers have fun together at a sleepover. Lost Cause is much more upbeat than Your Power, as well as most of Eilish’s repertoire. Despite the subject matter of Your Power, Eilish’s released singles have a lighter tone and more acoustic sound than fans have become accustomed to from her first album.
The persistence of femininity
Eilish’s previous rejection of femininity created a certain level of intrigue that added to her image. Now, as she chooses to turn to a more feminine style, it is having the same effect. In her interview with Vogue, Eilish was clear that her change in style was very much her own decision. She had anticipated all of the backlash and misrepresentation that would come along with it.
In a charade of how she would imagine a conversation with a critic going, she stated, “‘If you’re about body positivity, why would you wear a corset? Why wouldn’t you show your actual body?’” In response to her imaginary critic, she replied, “My thing is that I can do whatever I want.”
Eilish goes on to reject any criticism for her decision to show skin, “Suddenly you’re a hypocrite if you want to show your skin, and you’re easy and you’re a slut and you’re a whore. If I am, then I’m proud. Me and all the girls are hoes, and f**k it, y’know? Let’s turn it around and be empowered in that. Showing your body and showing your skin – or not – should not take any respect away from you.”
Billie Eilish’s “reveal” of her body was a moving between extremes that is rare to see. The concept of Eilish “revealing her body,” as has been floating around in the news surrounding Eilish’s Vogue shoot. This “reveal” reflects the culture that famous women’s bodies are owed to the media. Because of Eilish’s intense fame and the unrelenting focus on her in the media, rather than a slower more natural reveal of her changing self-expression, Eilish had to make a definitive choice. Switching to a more feminine presentation is synonymous with accepting the sexualization of her by the media, and the hellstorm of the male gaze that was sure to come.
Eilish’s switching shows how central femininity is to the public’s view of famous women. Eilish’s dissent from femininity caused an initial spectacle of public attention. Then, when Eilish returned to the more “default” for famous women, by presenting femininely, this raised such intense public attention that Eilish quite literally broke records.
A twist to the anti-pop star
However, when Eilish changed her entire look to fall more in the style of a “classic, old-timey pin-up,” as Eilish self-described, it was not because she was finally succumbing to the same pressures that had always been around. Instead, with a steady hand, Eilish controlled her own image. She balanced the public reaction she knew was sure to come, and decided to present herself in a new way.
Towards the beginning of Eilish’s fame, she was seen as a star that didn’t conform to typical norms in a number of ways. In addition to not showing her body as many female pop stars do during their rise to fame, Eilish was creating a new sound that has been championed for its uniqueness. Now, the artist has taken a turn, but she is still doing it on her own terms.
Billie Eilish’s second album, Happier Than Ever, will be coming out on July 30th on all streaming platforms.