Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry (2021)
Director: R.J. Cutler
In November 2015, at the age of thirteen, Billie Eilish posted the track “Ocean Eyes” to SoundCloud. The release of this dreamy ballad was the start of something bigger than any of us could imagine: over the space of six years, Billie Eilish has become one of the top ten most-streamed artists on Spotify and one of the most famous and talked about people in the world. Her debut record, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” gleaned the singer five Grammy wins, two American Music Awards, one Brit Award, several MTV awards and 77 million Instagram followers. Along the way, Eilish also broke several world-records, becoming the first female artist to have fourteen simultaneously charting Hot 100 songs and the youngest female ever to earn a number-one album in the UK. She was also the first female artist to win the four main Grammy categories: Record of The Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist.
It’s a lot – especially for a teenager. This rapid-paced rise to success alongside the effects of such an enormous lifestyle upheaval is – to those of us on the outside of celebrity – completely unimaginable. However, filmed over two years during Eilish’s climb to megastardom, comes R.J. Cutler’s documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry – a film which allows us a glimpse at the strange inner workings of celebrity and how a young girl, with her regular teenage problems and musical family in tow, attempts to navigate it.
Completely transfixing from the get-go, the documentary opens with Eilish singing “Bored” to a live audience, demonstrating her unique pipes and spellbinding stage presence. When the song ends, she jumps down into the crowd to check on an injured fan and professes, with unshakeable emotion in her voice: ‘You guys need to be okay because y’all are the reason that I’m okay.’ This overpowering connection Billie has to her fans and her work becomes the recurring theme across the following two hours and twenty minutes of Cutler’s film. He constructs a portrait of an astounding young woman with unparalleled drive, a visionary mind and a very big heart by intertwining his footage with home-video, television footage, interviews, and Eilish’s own music videos.
On the surface, Eilish’s life looks like a playground: we follow her through the process of making a record with her brother in their childhood bedroom, on headlining tours across the world, as she meets famous fans and inspirations, buys her dream car, makes and directs her own music videos, plays Coachella (one of the biggest festivals in the world), wins award after award, and becomes a truly loved artist and sensation. Yet there’s also something sinister running underneath Eilish’s story that is difficult to place a finger on. Perhaps it’s the intense pressure we see her put herself under to deliver the perfect performance every time she gets on stage, or it could be her alienation from any usual kind of adolescent activity, or maybe it’s the way she’s passed around from person to person for selfie after selfie after selfie, but there’s a strong feeling that Eilish’s inconceivable life isn’t everything she wanted.
The Eilish siblings make for an eager and ambitious pairing. Together, in their childhood home, they construct worlds and speak a musical language entirely of their own creation. Clearly in awe of one another and totally reliant on each other’s talents, the film uncovers how Billie and her older brother Finneas pieced together the album we now know so well. They laugh, bicker and butt heads, slowly crafting music on their own terms, removed from outside pressures and influences as Mum and Dad filter in and out to offer words of encouragement. Early on in the film, Billie produces a small notebook of her ideas, inspirations and drawings. ‘I want to do something where I drink black liquid’, she says, flicking through the pages, presenting her loose ideas for album and music video concepts. Her vision and confidence as an artist is astounding – knowing, as we do now, that she will accomplish and create everything she naively scribbled into the book.
The unity of the Eilish family is paramount, and this endeavour into superstardom is something they are navigating as a collective. Yet, while committed to protecting one another from the industry, that doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes make mistakes. During a particularly stressful moment of the film, Billie’s Mum encourages her to shake hands with and pose for photos with nameless corporate types when she clearly doesn’t feel like being shoved around from group to group like a Disney theme-park character. They argue, and Billie eventually does what’s expected of her, but the moment reveals how little room for error there is in her life. Billie Eilish is a teenager with a career that doesn’t allow her one moment to throw a strop or storm off to her room. There’s also a boyfriend named Q wandering around the film’s outskirts, who is just always that little bit too far out of Billie’s reach. We watch her experience heartbreak and romantic frustration for the first time, yet instead of crying alone with a pint of ice cream like any average person would want to, she takes the stage at Coachella to perform in front of thousands.
The most beautiful moment comes when Billie meets her most cherished childhood love, Justin Bieber. Not only is the moment important for Billie as a long-time super fan and Belieber, but there’s also a deep, tangible understanding which flashes like lightning between the pair. They lock eyes, observe the parallel paths they appear to share and the profound magnitude of the moment. As she sobs into his arms, we see the connection between two people thrust into the spotlight as kids, watched and judged by millions. When Justin squeezes Billie’s shoulders and strokes her hair in comfort, it’s an acknowledgement; it’s recognition. Their hug is a wordless conversation; it’s as if they are each finally meeting the only other person in the world who can truly understand them. Later, when Billie returns home, she listens to Justin’s old songs: ’I will catch you if you fall,’ he sings. Though written years before Billie sold a single album or recorded a single song, Justin’s words sound like a firm and unbreakable promise aimed directly at her.
This interaction with Bieber also paints a clearer picture of what’s going on inside Billie’s head. Although she’s a distinguished and prosperous artist who talks openly and intelligently about mental health and self-harm, her experiences with fame speak to the dark landscape teenagers now live with. The internet especially is a toxic presence within the film, and it’s clear Eilish worries that, like Bieber, she will become its next victim. ‘I’d rather not do the show at all than give you a crappy version’, she says to the audience after falling and hurting her ankle moments after taking the stage, afraid that their perception of her could change at any moment. It’s as if she won’t allow herself to be excited, proud or happy in the moment because the internet is waiting for her slightest mistake or misstep to snatch it all away.
With Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, Cutler constructs a complex and passionate soul. Eilish isn’t afraid to talk about her body confidence, her struggles with Tourette’s syndrome, and she’s even brave enough to share her first heartbreak with the entire world. She’s an unstoppable force who refuses to fit into the pre-existing moulds for women in the industry. We watch in awe as she overcomes every hit, learns how to look after herself and grow into an even more accomplished woman than she already is. The film is a mesmerising treat that will make a fan out of any viewer, allowing them to glimpse behind the scenes and get to know Eilish on a real and personal level.
Billie Eilish is a revolutionary talent, an inspiration and… a bad guy. Duh.