Thursday, December 8

Billie Eilish review – still an icon of disaffected, hyper-creative youth | billie eilish


In the audience of the Manchester Arena there’s a girl holding up a homemade sign: “Billie,” it reads. “We will never outgrow you.”

It’s an oddly touching and apposite message. The last time Billie Eilish played a solo show in Britain was in 2018. Her debut album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? had just been released, and the venues she was booked into were clearly too small to cope with her burgeoning success among a largely female, early teens audience. But four years is a long time in teenage pop – the things you like at 14 aren’t usually the things you like at 18 – and a lot has happened to Eilish in the interim. She canceled a world tour as a result of Covid and released a new album, noticeably light on the kind of electro-goth bangers that helped propel its predecessor to multi-platinum success but heavy on wistfully opaque songs that suggested becoming a global teen idol when you were still a teenager yourself wasn’t much fun. She appeared on the cover of Vogue looking less like the sulky, skatewear-clad figure her audience de ella was used to than the kind of blond vamp Raymond Chandler dreamed up in order to give Philip Marlowe a rough time. One regularly expressed theory was that Eilish had, perhaps deliberately, lost the room: teen audiences had moved on to other teenaged stars, such as Olivia Rodrigo.

Scream queen…Billie Eilish. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images for Live Nation UK

This theory doesn’t gain much credence tonight. The audience are a little older than the 13 and 14-year-olds crammed into the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2018, but the noise they make when Eilish appears – back in a baggy T-shirt and shorts, her hair dyed black and in bunches – sounds pretty much the same: a vast chorus of screams, followed by word-perfect en masse accompaniment to every word Eilish sings, followed by more screaming.

If you wanted to get some kind of decibel reader out, you could probably detect a slight drop in volume when she essays some of Happier Than Ever’s more opaque tracks – Billie Bossa Nova or a reading of Your Power that’s stripped back even further than the largely acoustic studio version, the better to reveal the lushness of its melody – but it’s not by much. There’s something a little odd about hearing thousands of voices bellowing along to songs that seem to be about being jaded by the kind of celebrity that involves thousands of voices bellowing along to your every word – “things I once enjoyed,” she sings on Getting Older , “just keep me employed” – but Eilish does seem to be enjoying herself here. Bathed in red light, she unselfconsciously throws herself into an unfettered, unchoreographed dance during You Should See Me In a Crown and All the Good Girls Go to Hell. Her de ella between-song pronunciations of love for her fans de ella sound entirely heartfelt rather than learned by rote, a rarer occurrence at pop shows than you might think.

Potentiated by being weaved around her early big hits, her more recent songs frequently sound richer live than on record: the choral intro to Goldwing feels like it’s digging deep into California’s pop past, recalling the Beach Boys at their gentlest; the piano part that underpins Everything I Wanted sounds both impossibly lovely and not unlike the one that powered the Smiths’ Asleep.

Enjoying herself … Billie Eilish.
Happier than ever? …Billie Eilish. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images for Live Nation UK

The best of the lot might be the song she premieres during the show’s acoustic section. Called TV, and written recently enough to include references both to the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp defamation case and the efforts to overturn Roe v Wade, it’s sombre and incredibly striking: at its conclusion, Eilish sings the charged phrase “maybe I’m the problem” over and over again, until the audience join in en masse with that as well. You’re struck by the sense that, even in an altered pop landscape – one where Eilish seems more of an influence than an outlier, where teenage artists speaking directly to a teenage audience feel far more commonplace than they did four years ago – she still cuts a unique figure.

Billie Eilish plays AO Arena, Manchester, 8 June, then tours UK until 26 June.


www.theguardian.com

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