If you're under 25, you may not know Billie Eilish, the 19-year-old musical phenom who swept the Grammys in 2020, winning five statues including Best New Artist and Song of the Year. She caught the eye of young listeners in 2015 when her single "Ocean Eyes" (recorded when she was just 13, and written and produced by her then-16-year-old brother Finneas) was posted to SoundCloud and has, as of publication, over 46 million plays. This in turn got her a record deal, and her debut album found both critical and commercial acclaim. In the age of social media, her influence goes far beyond the songs she sings and has much to do with her persona, her DGAF attitude and, at the same time, her high emotional intelligence for someone so young.
We've seen a number of documentaries on young musicians, who, at the time, were arguably still in the infancy of their careers with plenty more that will need to be said and documented in the years to come. "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry" is certainly no different. In fact, though we want to know more about Billie and her upbringing, about her childhood in the modest house in Los Angeles in which she still resides and makes most of her music, the film is too full with her current life to peel back that curtain now. This is an intimate look at a star as she rises, creates, finds fame and struggles, like anyone and particularly a Gen Z-er, to connect on a human level given the massive pressure on her to perform.
There aren't testimonials from Billie or anyone closest to her. Filmmaker R.J. Cutler doesn't even provide graphics with names or titles for those who flit in and out of the film, like Billie's then-boyfriend "Q" and her various handlers on tour. We aren't given Billie's history or much of her childhood except, ironically, her intense love for Justin Bieber who is seven years her senior (if that puts into perspective just how young she is). Bieber's own documentary "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" was also shot when he was 16, but that is where any comparison between the two ends.
Much has changed in ten years. Youth culture has been rocked by social media. Authenticity is suddenly back in vogue which is perhaps why Billie Eilish has found such a following. For one, her fans can reach her online. Her popularity and name recognition are a product of the internet's viral culture which can propel someone with talent and spark instantly to fame. Midway on her meteoric rise is where we pick up Billie's story, following her as she collaborates with her brother. He does the majority of writing and producing; she sings and provides the emotional resonance to the songs and their lyrics. Real name Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell, the teenager has a vision for her music, and her overall aesthetic. She pushes her ideas with a firm confidence and subtle enthusiasm. She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it.
This is perhaps the greatest takeaway from the film as well as its main appeal: Billie's age aside, she has the prowess of an experienced, time-worn artist and the charisma that could battle with superstars. The documentary, whether you appreciate its format or if you yearn for more context and talking heads providing armchair insight, feels true to Eilish. It is raw, unassuming and endlessly fascinating. We watch Billie and Finneas in the same small bedroom, spitting jokes or fighting over song notes. We watch as the family travels the world for Billie to perform to adoring crowds who envelop her often in hugs that would be cross a line for other musicians, but Billie embraces them back. She is the people's singer, and her work ethic belongs to a Victorian-era mouse spreading the plague: she is infectious and effective.
Unlike Bieber's doc, this one isn't framed around a concert. It doesn't have nifty tie-ins between a song's message and the performer's life. Billie's fan demographic is similar to Bieber's in 2011. However, it's now cool to be vulnerable, and vulnerable she certainly is. She isn't scared to allow her tics, a product of her Tourettes diagnosis, to find screen time. She doesn't shy away from admitting when she is anxious or depressed. This work of observational cinema serves as a fascinating peek into Billie's world. However blurry it may be, we still yearn for more.
"Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry" is available on Apple TV+.