I’d say Billie Eilish’s Vogue cover of June 2021 will go down in history as one of the most controversial and powerful Vogue covers of British Vogue. And a lot of people hated it. Some people thought she was selling out by over-sexualising herself. Some people thought she was being hypocritical, after years of wearing clothes that borderline drowned her little frame, then coming out in lingerie and corsets that showed off her assets, and then some.
Perhaps people were so upset because she made such a statement about not being sexualised. In a Calvin Klein ad when she was 16, she explains why she prefers baggy clothes to cover herself:
“Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath. Nobody can be like, ‘she’s slim-thick,’ ‘she’s not slim-thick,’ ‘she’s got a flat ass,’ ‘she’s got a fat ass.’ No one can say any of that because they don’t know.”
Personally, if I had an audience of over 88 million people, and I was under 18, I wouldn’t particularly like to be sexualised either.
Then came 2021. The year of her launch of her sophomore album, ‘Happier Than Ever,’ and her Vogue cover with a whole new look. But rather than her changing her aesthetic to match her new album, as style chameleons like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift do, it felt more like a coming of age.
Finally, she was over 18 – 19 actually – and a fully grown woman. A woman that had grown out of her protective shell and thought ‘Fuck ‘em. I’m going to own my growth, my body, my sexuality, and everyone else can go to hell.’ Now, I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s what I imagine her saying, in her own goofy, LA manner.
So she shed her XXL Gucci t-shirts, and emerged from her Louis Vuitton oversized hoodie in a Burberry corset body and Mugler suspender tights as the most modern Hollywood glamourous distressed pin-up woman you ever did see.
Out with the old, and in with the new image.
And why shouldn’t she show off her body? Doesn’t she get to change her mind?
Don’t we all grow year on year when we’re young? God, I know I went through some phases coming into my sexuality. Just because she’s in the public eye – why can’t she do the same? Lady Gaga changes her persona every album she releases, and people love her for it. Why is Billie being vilified when she does the same? Why is Billie being vilified for simply…growing up?
Perhaps she finally feels comfortable with showing off her body – because it’s no longer creepy (although judging somebody’s photos over their body is always creepy, I don’t care who you are, or what you do) – and maybe because she feels she owns it.
Her sophomore album ‘Happier Than Ever’ released this Friday – and every artist knows the follow-up album is always the hardest. Was the first album a fluke? Do I try to recreate the first album? Will it feel like a second-rate copy of my previous success? Do I take the unbeaten path and trust my creative instinct, only for it to not connect with my audience? God knows there’s pressure.
But, as I’m sure you’ve all listened to it by now – she owned it. Just like she owned her Vogue cover, just like she owned her body image, just like she owned the criticism that came with it.
One of her songs, ‘Not My Responsibility,’ touches on feeling the overwhelming weight of criticism:
Some people hate what I wear
Some people praise it
Some people use it to shame others
Some people use it to shame me
But I feel you watching
And nothing I do goes unseen
So while I feel your stares, your disapproval or your sigh of relief
If I lived by them, I’d never be able to move
Would you like me to be smaller, weaker, softer, taller?
Would you like me to be quiet?
Do my shoulders provoke you? Does my chest?
Am I my stomach? My hips?
The body I was born with
Is it not what you wanted?
If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman
If I shed the layers, I’m a slut
Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it
And judge me for it
‘OverHeated’ was another song, written about the first picture of Billie that showed her true body – a paparazzi picture taken without her consent. “Do you really think this is the right thing to do?” she croons, “Is it news? News to who? That I really just look like the rest of you?”
Over the past year, and following up to most recently with the launch of her new album, Billie is really celebrating her candour. She’s not afraid to be honest, to be open, to be vulnerable, to speak her mind.
I love her for sticking to her guns over her opinion. It’s her body, her opinion of her body, and she gets to do what she wants with it.
But let not the shock of her image overshadow the sheer mastery she showed with her second album. Songs like ‘Oxytocin,’ ‘Happier Than Ever,’ and ‘Male Fantasy’ deal with her recent breakup, something she kept largely from the media, but opened up about in her album. Billie absolutely nails – and has always nailed, may I add – the great juxtaposition of being vulnerable in her lyrics paired with a hard and strong beat. Songs that make you feel like you can own the world if you tried, while still showing the fleshy, soft parts underneath. A sheep in wolf’s clothing, if you will.
As much as it is about Billie, and Billie’s growth into being a fully-fledged woman, you can’t discount the contribution and collaboration of her brother Finneas. While Billie brings the vocals and the feeling, Finneas brings it into an all-rounded, multi-layered song that feels older and wiser than her years. There is definitely more vulnerability in this album, and although it does retain some tough beats and unforgiving lyrics (“You ain’t nothing but a lost cause,”) you can really sense the growth from the hard, spiky image from her previous album, ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’. A new image, new style, a new beat for her as she continues in her life and her creative agency.
If there’s one thing you do this weekend, and if you haven’t done it already, is listen to Billie’s new album. Similarly to her previous songs, you just know you’re going to be hearing them on the radio for the next year. Her songs have incredible longevity, and are capable at sitting high on the charts for long periods of time. Her debut album sat in the Top 10 for 50 weeks at a time – almost a year. The more you listen to her album, the more it blooms for you, and luckily for you, Billie’s created several new playlists on Spotify of different ways to listen to the album. So, if you want to deep dive into the lyrics, check out her Lyric Mode playlist over on her Spotify profile. You won’t be disappointed.