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THE WEIGHT OF BILLIE’S CROWN
A TEMPLATE FOR THE NEW-SCHOOL POP STAR


Game, set, match. The biz’s next superstar has conquered Instagram, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and iTunes. As her debut album drops, Billie Eilish has already taken the throne as the next major pop star. But with all the industry support and press she’s garnered along the way, the importance of her crown lies in the trailblazing route she created by ignoring the cliché break-your-pop-act checklist.

For starters, the teen phenom creates exclusively with her brother/co-writer/producer Finneas O’Connell. Even on WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, Eilish and O’Connell opted to keep it all in the family. Notably missing from the debut album are go-to super-producers like Benny Blanco, Frank Dukes, Louis Bell or Max Martin—typically a prerequisite for breaking pop artists.

Unlike current pop idols including Ariana Grande, Drake, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, Billie didn’t rise to fame from traditional media. In true Gen-Z fashion, the Darkroom/Interscope icon developed her brand through YouTube and Instagram, catching fire with millions of fans who watched their underground hero blossom into full-blown celebrity, with a key assist from Interscope SVP/Head of Creative Content Michelle An, Billie’s primary collaborator on her visuals.

“It took us a second to understand how to turn Billie’s creativity into something tangible,” Darkroom head Justin Lubliner acknowledges. “Michelle An and Chelsea Dodson stepped in and proved to be remarkably efficient and easygoing. They sit with Billie sometimes more than any of us, just extracting information from her head and getting it perfectly on the screen. I’ve been on phone calls where Billie will just start talking and talking about her ideas—it'll be completely open-ended—and Michelle will help Billie organize it and literally put it into an amazing music video. Anything from the visuals to the photoshoots and so on, Michelle and Chelsea have done such a wonderful job at helping make sure Billie's vision is realized.”

“Billie is so sure of herself visually—it’s amazing to be a part of it,” says An. “And when you consider her age, it’s an even more staggering sense of artistry. I think of my job as being the person who facilitates what springs from her wildly creative mind, and puts the mechanics and framework into place to help her bring it to life. It’s honestly been one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve worked on since I’ve been at Interscope, and to see it connect the way it has feels like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

"Billie always had a vision, and it was up to us to follow it and let her create and release music at her own pace…to water the soil." —John Janick 

The word “visuals” gets thrown around often, and to simply refer to Billie’s content as such is an understatement. Her ability to captivate an audience through photos and video is unparalleled—an essential part of the package that makes her a transcendent artist. Consecutive haunting music videos paired with Billie’s Instagram brand of baggy, overstated high fashion provide imagery for her lo-fi lifestyle. Today’s youth aren’t interested in bubblegum—they’re motivated by artists with whom they can identify, and Billie has struck a nerve with young females to such a degree that she’s initiated a pop-cultural phenomenon seemingly without precedent. She’s the first bedroom-pop superstar.

Projections for Billie’s debut studio album are well above 200k, and some prognosticators give her a chance to break the 300k barrier—but this release will be a milestone regardless of the number. The only other female artists to debut within that range in the last year are Cardi B and Ariana, two artists currently dominating radio airplay. Eilish, by contrast, has received minimal radio exposure—“you should see me in a crown,” her highest-charting radio single, peaked in the Top 10 at Alternative, but she’s holding her own against heavy streamers.

Fashion Week photo op with Odell Beckham Jr. and Khalid

For all the songs she’s had “blow up” on SoundCloud, Spotify or Apple Music, none have yet truly crossed over to terrestrial radio in terms of audience. But modern-day discovery has been brilliantly orchestrated by all concerned—Apple Music even devoted a big Christmas spot to Billie, with an animated short film telling the story of “come out and play” throughout the holiday season. It now appears that not having radio has only increased her brand throughout her artistic evolution. Instead of attempting a big score with an introductory single, this remarkably patient rollout has strikingly mirrored old-school artist development, as Billie has consistently and cumulatively put creative points on the board through music, video and fashion since signing with Interscope three years ago.

Nick Groff from Geffen first spotted her,” Interscope chief John Janick recalls. “Nick and Justin brought it to me, and it was instantaneous when I met her. I knew right then how big she could be—all of us did. She sounded like nothing else out there. The fact that Billie and Finn created all these songs in their house made it even that much more compelling. Everything about her seemed so in line with what we try to do here every day—give artists who are left of center the opportunity and support to move culture toward them. I also knew we couldn’t rush it. Billie always had a vision, and it was up to us to follow it and let her create and release music at her own pace…to water the soil. And with Justin as our JV partner, we all just started killing for every opportunity to expose her brilliance over the past three years, which has gotten us to the incredible place we all are at today.”

Janick adds that EVP/head of pop-rock A&R Sam Riback deserves credit for helping A&R the project and confirms how important he believes this signing is.

“Billie and Finn’s creative flow and songwriting is unique,” Riback explains, “and my approach has been to be there for them in the least intrusive manner—to be a sounding board for ideas, to weigh in as needed. They have such a special musical process; you don’t want to be the person who walks into the room and disrupts that. The real trick of A&R is knowing when to guide as opposed to lead. In Billie and Finn’s case, it’s about acting as a guide in a way that helps them get to where they want to be.”

Eilish’s path to superstardom is now culminating with the release of her debut studio LP. With Apple and Spotify both having championed Billie throughout her career, she’s capable of charting as high as the biggest pop stars in the world.

The next-gen pop artist’s connection to her fan base is bigger than a song, video or meme. And as her celebrity continues to grow, Billie will set her own rules en route to becoming massive.

Eilish may well turn out to be Janick’s most important signing since he arrived at Interscope in 2012. Other labels are watching closely as she redefines the model and sets the template for a new way of creating pop stars.

 

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