Billie Eilish (19) is still one of the most talked about teens on the planet. Eilish - epitomising Gen Z’s history-making identity - has broken many awards records (at 18 she was the youngest artist in Grammy history to win in all four top categories, she is the first artist born in the 21st century to have an American number one and her debut is Spotify’s eighth most-streamed album ever)... but it is not just about her sound - her digital presence that is really influencing culturally and keeping youth talking. Over the past week or so, her new British Vogue shoot ‘broke the internet’:
-Billie’s Instagram post of her British Vogue cover surpasses 1 million likes in 6 minutes (breaking the world record for fastest ever IG post to hit 1 million likes).
-Four of Billie’s posts from her Vogue cover shoot earned a spot among Instagram’s top 20 most-liked posts of all time (she has 7 in the chart).
-British Vogue’s Instagram post of the cover becomes the most-liked cover in the magazine’s history.
Billie’s first blonde selfie also became the third most liked photo in the history of Instagram.
...Why? This week’s 52INSIGHTS delves into why Billie Eilish is breaking the internet.
EMPOWERING MULTIDIMENSIONAL IDENTITIES
“My thing is that I can do whatever I want… 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, f**k it – if you feel like you look good, you look good.” Billie Eilish
Widely regarded as a voice of her generation - Eilish is an ‘avatar of internet mega fame’, an icon of body positivity and a champion of living life on your own terms.
When Billie Eilish exploded into the music scene in 2016 her sound was completely unique and made her stand out from the crowd - quickly gaining global success and an army of fans around the world. She appeared so different to the mass produced, preened, formulaic pop stars - wearing oversized baggy clothes, masks and colourful dyed hair. Young people responded to the fact that she wasn't branding her sexuality - she was propelled into global fame and success by her talent alone. Eilish still lived at home with her parents, produced her songs with her brother in his bedroom - she didn't wasn’t a homogeneous version of something we've already seen.
“Billie represents something completely new… She is a continuously evolving artist with a new vision and interpretation of herself in terms of femininity. Billie is exactly where she means to be without prejudice. That’s why working with her is so stimulating – she forces me to think differently.” Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele
These beginnings - from ‘gothy teenager’ to ‘era redefining pop star’ mean that her progress remains personal to her fans and she continues to keep it very raw and real - “Unlike previous generations of teen pop stars deprived of control over their identity, she sanitises nothing, singing of dying friends, suicidal ideation and the climate crisis.” Vogue
Eilish is refreshing for her young fans and peers because she sees the world through a similar lens to them and isn’t afraid of being multidimensional or expressing how she feels; “I think change is one of the best gifts in the world… you shouldn’t try to be a person that your old self would like, and you shouldn’t try to be a person that your future self is going to be. You should be exactly who you feel like you are and want to be in that moment, otherwise you’re going to go insane.” she says.
THE POWER OF AESTHETICS & TRANSFORMATION
“BREAKING NEWS: Billie Eilish is officially the owner of instagram after showing the internet her new blonde hair.” @blondeeilish
Eilish’s aesthetic has gone from baggy shorts, tshirts and dyed green hair to ‘new Billie’ - blonde ‘old Hollywood’ bombshell donning corsets, gloves and tights (fans joke about ‘old Billie’ being the age of an embryo).
The NY Times observes Eilish’s display of confidence in this transformation: “Billie Eilish wants you to know she is in charge, brash and self-assured enough to scrap the raffish image that helped garner her a world of fans in favor of something a little more … adult.” For some, this transformation - from something quite androgynous to something explicitly more sexual - was a shock, not everyone is happy about defying gender stereotypes. It’s been fascinating to see how Eilish’s transformation revealed clearly and quickly how style can change how people talk about a person and interpret their identity - showing the enduring power of fashion and aesthetic. For Eilish it seems that this is an empowering and creative way of expressing her own agency.
Donna Parsons, PR & Advocacy Account Director, Thinkhouse, notes how her unapologetic aesthetic changes have been controversial on the internet: “No one maintains the style they choose at 15 and keeps it forever - but for some reason people seemed to think that Billie Eilish would. When her Vogue cover came out sharing a radically different Billie some people seemed outraged, disappointed and almost hurt that this girl who had seemingly eschewed sexuality was now embracing it (albeit just in one photoshoot). When other people radically change themselves they're generally lauded - say Caitlyn Jenner or Madonna. We live in a society where being attractive and sexy is valued and an important currency and then we blast women for embracing that. Fundamentally any 19 year old will experiment with style and how they look and that shouldn't mean they are selling out or changing their fundamental values.”
It’s worth noting the purchasing power a strong aesthetic can inspire too - according to global fashion shopping platform Lyst, searches for corsets (which previously enjoyed a boost around Christmas thanks to Netflix’s Bridgerton) spiked 74% in the two days after Billie’s cover was unveiled.
Icons like Billie Eilish are brilliant sources of insight into how youth today see themselves in the world. More and more, we see how Gen Z’s creative ability is helping them disrupt and impact culture around them. Gen Z have an extremely sophisticated understanding of visual representation, language and codes. For this generation, enduring values and beliefs coexist with an ever evolving creative identity - this can mean redefining or reclaiming old symbols and signifiers, so don’t be too quick to judge or assume.
As well as the reclaiming of traditionally feminine aesthetic as something more empowering - the roaring 20s / old Hollywood aesthetic is definitely having a moment. From Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” to the new corset boom, its colourways and quirks are something to consider drawing inspiration from as pandemic restrictions ease.
"Her fans are like no other fans I've dealt with. Any time she mentions me on Instagram or she tags me, my Instagram goes f*cking...