There’s no simpler way to put it than Billie Eilish is the future.
The 16-year-old pop star kicked off her sold-out tour at the El Rey on Wednesday night, the first of two shows this week at the Miracle Mile venue. The house was packed with shouting teens (and their dads, in a lot of cases). Thankfully, this room was much bigger than her last LA show at The Echo, making the piercing screams not as painful for the ears of the rest of us.
Eilish is the latest teen idol, but with a huge twist. She is unapologetically herself and has massive swagger. I trace some of that swagger to the fact that Eilish was homeschooled her whole life and may have been able to avoid the trappings of being a teenager, where you feel you must conform in order to fit in.
The singer’s wardrobe choices prove she’s never worried about fitting in. At her show at The Echo, she wore a loud orange vest and at the El Rey on Wednesday it was an all-green camouflage outfit with a green bucket hat to match. She’s the kind of role model I’d want my young niece to look up to, seemingly unafraid of what other people think.
The show started with two guys in white labcoats and bandanas firing red guns full of counterfeit billion dollar bills with Billie’s face on it. Then the singer took the stage and went right into one of her hits, “bellyache”. The song is very indicative of what makes her brand of pop special — it bridges the catchy hook-writing of mainstream pop with electronic beats and drops in a way that I expect to bridge the gap from alt-pop to pop.
“Thank you, babies,” Eilish says after finishing the second song “idon’twannabeyouanymore” — showing zero fucks given that she’s as young or younger than most of the people in the crowd she just called “babies”.
Eilish showed she’s also not a studio pop star, flexing her vocal talents on songs like “Six Feet Under” and “Ocean Eyes”. Midway through the show, Eilish demanded the crowd to put their phones away in order to watch her brother and collaborator Finneas O’Connell perform a song of his own. She later did a ukulele cover of “Hotline Bling” before going into her own ukuelele jam “party favor”.
Except for a new song, Eilish had pretty much the entire crowd singing along with her and you could tell she was overjoyed by this fact.
There is also genuine appreciation from Eilish for her fans. She told them she loved them multiple times, saying they’re the reason she’s still here. But towards the very end of the show you could sense a frustration. A fan asked Eilish to dedicate the song “my boy” to some guy who did her wrong named Spencer and Eilish obliged, saying “Fuck you, Spencer,” before laughing and kicking off the song.
But after returning to the stage for the encore, fans kept shouting shit at Eilish in an exhausting way. Eilish wanted the crowd to jump along to her final track “COPYCAT” and the kids in the front kept yelling demands at her and Eilish wasn’t having it.
“All the things you want me to do, I’m not gonna do,” Eilish said. “But I love you a lot! Okay, I feel bad now,” Eilish said.
Eilish is clearly mature beyond her years but the only concern I have for her is how she will cope with her rising stardom. She seems really connected to her fans, and the fans obviously feel the same way about her music. But the expectations of superfans can sometimes be way too much. You can’t be everything to everyone and as she moves into bigger venues and her stature grows, it’s going to be impossible to maintain — and at the end of the day, she has to take care of herself first.
There’s no doubt that she has the talent to rise to the very top. She’s well on her way there now and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s playing venues five times this size by the end of 2018, the same way Halsey went from headlining two nights at the Fonda Theatre to two nights at the Shrine in just eight months.
After the show, my friend and I waited for our Ubers and counted dads walking out of the venue with their teenage daughters. We got to 16 dads before the Uber pulled up — I expect that number to be doubled Friday night.
Photos by Tim Aarons