Billie Eilish’s new documentary, Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, gives fans an inside look at a year in the life of the young pop star, as she ascended from viral sensation to bona fide global superstar.
“It’s quite a ride, that year,” director R.J. Cutler shared with ET, explaining how he and a minimalist crew embedded themselves with Billie and her family for over 140 days over the course of about one year — and ended up tracking her through the release of her massively successful debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, all the way to GRAMMY night, where the album netted Eilish a sweep of the Recording Academy’s Big Four awards.
“[For] every 17-year-old, your 17th year’s quite a ride,” Cutler noted. “But this one involved, you know, emerging as the voice of a generation, if not the voice of our time, and the burdens, responsibilities, privileges, opportunities that go along with that.”
The documentary doesn’t shy away from the tougher stuff, allowing Billie to open up about her love life, struggles with stardom and history with depression and self-harm. Here’s a look at what the singer shared with fans in the candid new film.
Along with touring the world and releasing multi-platinum hits, the doc gives an inside look at Billie’s surprisingly grounded home life — as Cutler explained, “There’s also, you know, the story of a very real girl in her 17th year.” The singer still lives in her childhood home in Los Angeles, with parents Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connell, and her older brother and musical collaborator, Finneas.
Theirs has always been a musical household, Billie explains, with her mom playing guitar, her dad teaching her to play piano and ukulele, and Finneas always there to harmonize. “Our family was just one big f**kin’ song,” she quips early in the doc.
Even as she shot to success — first with her popular debut single, “Ocean Eyes,” which spread like wildfire across the internet, and on through When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? — Billie still had typical teenage life to contend with, “graduating” early from online school, getting her driver’s license, and yearning for freedom while still living (and recording) in her childhood home.
“I don’t think it was particularly easy to have a crew around,” Cutler admitted. “The more the stakes rose, the more intense things got… But God bless [the family], they couldn’t have been more supportive.”
Writing music with brother Finneas is how Billie has found her greatest success to date, but that doesn’t mean the partnership is always an easy one. At one point in the doc, as the siblings struggle to complete the debut album, her brother admits he feels caught in the middle of the creative process.
“It feels like kind of a minefield to me, because I feel like I’ve been told to write a hit, but I’ve been told to not tell Billie that we have to write a hit,” Finneas shares. “And Billie hates writing songs in general, and is so woke about her own persona on the internet that I think she’s terrified of anything she makes being hated. I think her equation is that the more popular something is, the more hate it’s gonna get.”
Billie herself admits that she finds the songwriting process a struggle, even declaring that she’ll never complete another album after her debut. “I hate writing songs,” she tells her parents during an emotional conversation about her creative trajectory. “Every time that I’ve written a song that I actually like, I’ve hated the process.”
(Notably, in her November 2020 installment of Vanity Fair‘s “Same Interview,” Eilish said she feels she’s gotten much better at songwriting over the last year. “I feel so much more confident in my writing. I feel like I know myself better, I’m better at advocating my opinions and communicating and I think Finneas and I have just seriously gotten in the groove.”)
“Scratch a perfectionist and you’ll get that, a refusal to ever work again,” Cutler admitted with a laugh. “Who among us, in a moment of peak intensity on a creative project or any project ever, who hasn’t said, ‘I’ll never do this again?'”
Struggles With Success
Once the album is out, and begins its reign on the charts, Eilish faces a struggle of another kind: her desire for constant perfection in her performances and public persona, lest she hear about it from fans online.
“I can’t have one bad moment,” the young performer reflects after gritting her teeth through a backstage meet and greet, only to read how she was “rude” on Instagram the next morning.
“Billie Eilish is somebody who is incredibly demanding of herself,” Cutler shared of his experience with the singer, “and she lives in a moment where, if you’re Billie Eilish, there are 77 million people on your Instagram feed, and there’s a lot that comes along with that… There are enormous opportunities and privileges and benefits and burdens and pressures and it’s complicated.”
Thankfully, Billie does have the constant support of her family — mom Maggie admits in the doc, “I honestly don’t know how any artist of any age, on this kind of trajectory, is doing it without a parent, someone who loves you more than life itself. You can’t pay someone to do that.”
She also receives support from fellow artists like Katy Perry — who offers her support when the two meet at Coachella, “If you ever wanna talk, ’cause it’s a weird ride” — and Justin Bieber, who makes a point to reach out and share encouragement and love with Billie, who idolized him as a young teen.
“Not many people experience the things that these guys do,” Cutler observed. “That [Katy and Justin] both make it their business to say to Billie as she walks into that room, that very rarified territory, ‘Know that I’m here for you,’ I find that awesome.”
Pain and Harm
Some of Billie’s greatest struggles, however, have been with her since before the fame. In one of the doc’s many interviews, the teen admits to “being really bad at taking care of my mental health.”
She struggles with the loneliness of touring life, the need to put others happiness before her own, and feelings of depression and anxiety that can impact all teenagers, not just those on the worldwide stage.
“It’s a hard time for teenagers, I think,” mom Maggie observes. “People are like, ‘Oh, Billie Eilish’s music is depressing.’ It’s like, no, kids are depressed… There’s a lot to be depressed about right now.”
“If you’re a teenager, you’re dealing with parents probably who lived through the recession like us, who’ve been scared that they’re gonna lose their homes or have financial hardship,” she explains. “You’re living in a culture with an opioid epidemic and a drug epidemic. You’re facing, possibly, the destruction of the planet. You’re in a political climate that is terrifying, racist, hateful. It is a horrible time to be a teenager.”
There’s also the physical pain of performing onstage, night after night, which creeps in as Billie continues on her European tour. Exhaustion exacerbates the tics caused by her Tourette syndrome, and struggles with shin splints and an ankle injury bring back bad memories of her lost passion for dancing.
“Everything I’ve ever loved, I’ve had to quit,” she shares. “I used to dance, like, 12 hours a week, and then I got injured. I tore my growth plate in my hip. The bone separated from the muscle. It was the most depressing year of my life. I just laid in bed, I couldn’t move. Since then, I have not danced.”
There are darker memories, too. As Billie approaches her 18th birthday, she admits she wasn’t sure it was a milestone she’d live to see. She shares old journals and painful poems scrawled on her bedroom wall that chronicle her history with self-harm.
“I was, like, 14 or 15, I had razors hidden in places, I had Band-Aids hidden in little corners of my room and I always had Band-Aids on my wrists,” Billie recalls. “I was literally locking myself in the bathroom and making myself bleed, ’cause I thought that I deserved it.”
For the singer, music has become the creative catharsis that helps her speak to the pain — and it’s turned out to be one of the things that her fans appreciate most.
“People are always like, ‘It’s so dark. Have happy music.’ But like, I’m never feeling happy,” she admits. “So why would I write about things I don’t know about? I feel the dark things. I feel them very strongly. Why would I not talk about them?”
Some of the most unexpectedly candid moments in the doc center on Billie’s roller-coaster relationship with “Q,” aka Brandon Adams, aka rapper 7:AMP. While the pair share “I love yous” and frequently talk on the phone, the relationship is strained by Billie’s career demands and Q’s inconsistent behavior. (After Billie gets him tickets to her first Coachella weekend in April 2019, he blows her off after her big set.)
Ultimately, as the doc carries on, the pair split. “I just wasn’t happy,” Billie says, sharing that while she still loves Q, they didn’t want the same things and she was tired of trying to “fix” him. “I don’t think you should be in a relationship super excited about things that the other person couldn’t care less about…. There was just a lack of effort, I think. I was like, ‘Dude, you don’t even have enough love to love yourself, you can’t love me. And you don’t.'”
“I do love him though, which is what made it harder,” she continues. “‘Cause I’m not over him. I didn’t find someone else, I didn’t stop having love for him. I just spent time away from him for a little bit and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m missing so much because I’m worried about you all the time.'”
In the years since, Eilish has said in interviews that she is now happily single, but for Cutler, the spotlight on the young singer’s personal journey was just another facet of her life at that time, which was meaningful to showcase in the film.
“It was important to show all aspects of what she experienced as a young woman coming of age in this moment,” he reflected. “Q was a big part of that. It was important to include, because it’s who she is.”
“This is the story of this particular young woman, who’s on a number of different journeys,” he added of the doc. “She’s on a journey with her art. She’s on a journey with her business. She’s on a journey with her mental health. She’s on a journey with her heart. She’s on a journey with her physical health. And she’s on a journey with her family.”
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurryis streaming now on Apple TV+. See more on the doc in the video below.
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