American singer and songwriter Billie Eilish became a pop superstar by way of her distinctive musical and fashion sensibilities and songs like “Ocean Eyes,” “Bad Guy” and “Therefore I Am.”
Who Is Billie Eilish?
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Billie Eilish was barely a teenager when her song “Ocean Eyes” became a viral hit. She teamed with her brother, Finneas, to create the tracks for the breakout EP Don’t Smile at Me and the smash album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, establishing the artist as a global sensation and multi-time Grammy winner before the age of 20.
Early Life and Family
Eilish was born on December 18, 2001, in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connell, were longtime actors before joining their teenage daughter’s professional team. Eilish’s full name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. Her first name is in honor of her maternal grandfather, William; the second was inspired by a conjoined twin her parents saw in a documentary; and the third came from the insistence of her older brother, Finneas.
Raised in a two-bedroom house in Highland Park, where she and her brother were homeschooled, Eilish was encouraged to pursue her interests in dance, gymnastics, horseback riding and especially music. She learned to play the Beatles’ “I Will” on the ukulele at age 6; joined Los Angeles Children‘s Chorus at age 8; and began writing songs in earnest by age 11, her talents nurtured through her mother‘s songwriting class. Eilish has said her first “real” song, “Fingers Crossed,” was penned around that time after watching an episode of The Walking Dead.
The elder sibling by four-and-a-half years, Finneas became his sister’s indispensable collaborator, co-writer and producer, the pair continuing to compose and record together from a bedroom in their Highland Park home even after Eilish’s emergence as a global phenomenon.
“Probably 75-80 percent of the songs are written with us sitting next to each other at a piano or with a guitar, singing a melody together,” he told Variety in 2019. “It’s like a relay race — we really feel like we both have to kill our portion of it to get to the finish line.”
Finneas, who released the solo EP Blood Harmony in October 2019, has also co-written and produced tracks for other popular artists like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Camila Cabello.
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Albums and Songs
Originally written for Finneas’ band, “Ocean Eyes” sprung to life when infused with a 13-year-old Eilish’s ethereal vocals and became a viral sensation upon being uploaded to SoundCloud in November 2015. A second SoundCloud offering, “Six Feet Under,” was followed by her summer 2016 signing with Darkroom Records, which re-released both tracks as singles later in the year.
‘Don’t Smile at Me’
Eilish’s popularity surged with the steady unveiling of singles from her August 2017 EP, Don’t Smile at Me, with tracks like “Bellyache,” “Copycat” and “My Boy” showcasing her willingness to explore dark and prickly terrain amid a stream of shifting but danceable electronic beats. Don’t Smile at Me peaked at an impressive No. 14 on the Billboard 200 in January 2019, around which time Eilish became the youngest artist to top 1 billion streams on Spotify.
‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ and “Bad Guy“
The March 2019 arrival of Eilish’s full-length album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? came with the simultaneous release of “Bad Guy,” the song that became the first megahit of her career. Still, the chart-topping album retained the early hallmarks of her unique style, from the whispered ruminations on drug use in “Xanny” to the jarring imagery of “Bury a Friend.” Eilish also displayed her theatrical sensibilities in the riveting videos for those and other tracks; “When the Party‘s Over” shows the artist singing through the black liquid pouring from her eyes, while “You Should See Me in a Crown” features a spider crawling from her mouth.
James Bond Soundtrack: “No Time to Die”
In January 2020, it was announced that the 18-year-old Eilish had become the youngest artist to write and record the title track for a James Bond movie. The ominous ballad “No Time to Die” landed the following month, before the film of the same name was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and became her first single to reach the top spot in the U.K.
Eilish has also contributed to the soundtracks of other projects; “Bored” and “Lovely” appeared on the controversial Netflix teen series 13 Reasons Why, and “When I Was Older” was among the musical selections that accompanied Alfonso Cuarón’s 2018 drama Roma.
Eilish began earning her first major accolades in 2019 when she claimed wins at the MTV Video Awards and American Music Awards and was named Billboard‘s Woman of the Year. But her big moment came at the January 2020 Grammys, when she became the first woman and the second artist overall to sweep the “big four” categories of Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist, adding Best Pop Vocal Album for good measure.
Eilish won two awards at the 2021 Grammy awards, including Record of the Year for “Everything I Wanted.”
Clothes and Style
Eilish became known for wearing oversized clothing, a style born from discomfort with her body that bolstered her appeal as the antithesis of the polished pop starlet. She met the demand for her signature apparel with the early 2018 launch of her online shop, Blohsh, and established her own niche in the fashion world by signing with Next Models later that year.
Tours and Documentary
The artist embarked on her first headlining tour to back Don’t Smile at Me in fall 2017 and returned to the road for much of the next two years, though her 2020 Where Do We Go? Tour was cut short and eventually canceled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Eilish has also drawn attention for performances at some of the industry‘s biggest festivals, including Coachella and Glastonbury in 2019.
Her whirlwind schedule and life inside the eye of the storm became the focal point of the February 2021 documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry, which also features childhood footage, interviews with family members and the singer putting together her debut album.
Personal and Social Issues
A life-long vegetarian, Eilish made the transition to a vegan diet in 2014.
Eilish has been open about her struggles with mental health, telling Gayle King in early 2020 that she considered suicide even as she was being fêted the next big thing in pop music. The singer also revealed in November 2018 that she was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as a child.
Outspoken in her concern for environmental issues, Eilish joined actor Woody Harrelson in 2019 for a video that highlighted the dangers of climate change. She has also urged her fan base to become active voters, notably pairing with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on an initiative to register high school students in 2018.