2018 was a huge year for L.A. songstress Billie Eilish. True, she had already released singles such as “Ocean Eyes” (at the age of 13) and “Bellyache” and the EP Don't Smile at Me during the two years prior, but this was the year that tipped Eilish over the edge. All of her hard work bore sweet fruit and, as we prepare to enter 2019 and Eilish readies her debut album, she's well placed to continue her impressive rise.
She deserves it, too; Eilish is a gifted songwriter capable of penning poignant lyrics that seem well beyond her 16 years. She's able to articulate feeling, vibes, events, but never comes over as corny. She resists the temptation to overstretch, unlike many other young singer-songwriters.
And she works her ass off. Eilish knows full well that the modern music industry is brutal, and nothing gets handed out for free. She expects nothing and strives for everything. That mature humility is refreshing and rare.
“I think everything that has happened since I dropped 'Ocean Eyes' three years ago has been insane,” Eilish says. “I mean, I stopped expecting things. I don't even know if that's correct, I think it's more like I never expect things like this to happen. I never have, since I was young. I don't expect to get anything better than I already have — I've never been that kind of person. A lot of people are like, 'I know I'm gonna make it, I know I'm gonna get this,' and I'm just fucking, 'No.' I've never been that way in my life. I just take what I have and I try to be happy with it, if not work for something that I want more. I never say, 'It'll come.' Hell no, you've got to work for that shit.”
With that serious work ethic in mind, Eilish is putting in the hours as she prepares her debut album for release next year. It is, she says, nearly there.
“We've got to finish a couple of songs but it's pretty much almost there,” Eilish says. “I was really stressing about it, and worrying about time frames and actually finishing it, and then I just wrote everything down that I've done and everything that I need to finish and, actually, it's looking so close. Closer than I knew. I think I just got in my head about it. We're just finishing it off, and I'm really excited.”
It must be tantalizingly close for Eilish, whose career seems to have gone spookily to plan so far. The single and EP releases have whetted the public's appetite for this full-length debut. Meanwhile, she's grown up from her early to mid teens. Humans change a lot in those three short years, and she's no exception. Naturally, her songwriting has evolved.
“I've grown in the only ways that I can, and all the ways that I can,” she says. “It's weird because I put 'Ocean Eyes' out when I was 13. I feel like, having put out something at 13 like that, I've obviously changed since then because I'm a human being, but a lot of people are like, 'Oh no, she's changing for fame.' What the fuck? No, I'm changing because I was 13 and now I'm 16. What am I supposed to do? Stay exactly the fucking same? That's just the type of thing that I don't understand.
“Also, it's not even about the age. I feel like you should always change and you should always be up for change. For me at least, I cannot breathe if I don't constantly change something. I have a short — I get bored too quick so I've got to do something new all the time.”
Earlier this week, Eilish released the song “Come Out and Play,” part of Apple's “Share Your Gifts” holiday ad campaign. The artist says she was touched by the initial mock-up ad that her team received from Apple, and she was happy to get involved.
“It's so cute — it makes you get shivers,” she says. “So many people I know said that the ad made them cry. The concept is 'share your gift,' and I really love that. You're given a gift that is only yours, and you can keep it to yourself and never tell or show anyone, but sometimes you have to force yourself to show people what you can do and get it out. Even if nobody cares, get it out anyway. I feel like you should always share your gift. That's literally all it is. It was different because all of my music is fucking sad and full of self-hatred, so to write a song that's more like, 'Don't hide, fucking let it out, who cares who sees, who cares who doesn't,' was hard.”
It doesn't show. And she might have half a tongue in her cheek when she says all of her music is sad, because her lyrics are actually often life-affirming. Caustic and cynical, sure. She's 16. But they're not without hope. That idea is reflected in the fact that she's inspired by just about anything going on around her.
“I feel like if you let yourself, you can get inspired by anything,” Eilish says. “The way someone walks could make you think of a song. Anything that you let inspire you, can. A lot of things get on my nerves, a lot of things make me happy, and a lot of things make me want to fucking scream.”
On Sunday, Dec. 9, Eilish will perform alongside the likes of Mike Shinoda, Death Cab For Cutie and headliner Florence + the Machine at the second night of the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2018 concerts. It's her first time at this event, and she's looking forward to playing to a largely alt-rock crowd.
“I think it's interesting because it's a whole different audience, so it's just different in general,” she says. “It's cool to mix shit up. I'm definitely going to try to make the crowd go crazy. I don't know what the hell to expect from this type of crowd.”
Next year, the album release should keep Eilish busy. Lots of touring, video releases — basically promoting the hell out of the record.
“A lot of just Billie's brain somehow pushed out into the world in some format,” Eilish says.
Billie Eilish plays the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2018 with Florence + the Machine, Death Cab For Cutie, Bastille, Mike Shinoda, Young the Giant, CHVRCHES, Mike Posner and Lovelytheband at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Forum.