Billie Eilish is one of the music industry’s most powerful forces with her smouldering image, silky smooth vocals and commercial and critical success. What makes her one of the most interesting mainstream acts is that she is such a young teenager experiencing the dizzying heights of one of the world’s most cutthroat industries. Cutler‘s documentary aims to give fans and curious audiences an intimate look at her success, while detailing her origin, the blow up of ‘Ocean Eyes’ and the creation of her widely celebrated album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go – but doesn’t give much of a peek beyond the carefully curated Eilish story.
The documentary does have fascinating moments. Eilish speaks candidly and in a refreshing manner about mental health, struggling with criticism, injuries as well as the challenges of being incredibly famous at a really young age. These discussions endear her to viewers and paints an incredible picture of the gulf between Eilish the person and Eilish the star. There’s even moments of precociousness where Eilish meets her childhood heroes such as Justin Bieber and discusses her childhood fascination with the star.
Where this documentary begins to ring hollow is in its attempt to paint Eilish success as a happy accident. As exposed by YouTube channels such as HelloYassine and Progress, as well as music journalist David Turner, Billie Eilish’s success may be the result of careful, long-planned marketing, designed to present audiences a teenage overnight sensation. This is something the documentary eschews in favour of showing record execs popping in to see the creation of ‘Ocean Eyes’, apparently unaware that they are watching one the biggest breakout artists of our time.
It is interesting to place Eilish within the context of the bedroom pop explosion of 2010s, where she is accompanied by New Zealand contemporaries such as Lorde. Teenage angst driven bedroom pop emerged as a response and rejection to the hyper polished and hyper manufactured dream pop artists of the 2000s, which included figures like Katy Perry. The documentary continues to feed the narrative that stardom like Eilish’s is only a SoundCloud drop away. It promises that anyway making music made in their bedroom is capable of reaching the heights of stardom. Eilish was the benefactor of pre-record deal support from Apple music owned Platoon who also packaged and prepared stars like British talent Jorja Smith. The exclusion of Platoon’s presence from the documentary is very, very convenient. It’s important to understand that Billie Eilish is as much a creation of marketing as your favourite Top40 generic popstar. This realisation leads you to question the intimacy and organic growth journey that this documentary attempts to show.