Grand Central Publishing
A couple of years ago my then-9-year old niece wanted to listen to her music in the car. Only fair. We’d had mine. And the 11-year-old nephew’s – and the 7-year-old son’s, it was her turn. And she wanted to listen to Billie Eilish. And this was of interest to me – because I never had until this point. I don’t go out of my way to listen to the pop stars of today, or the pop stars of a couple of years ago, because they’re almost never for me. If I like any of their music, it’s a fluke. And by that, I mean it’s a fluke on my part, they’re not there for me, and if I do dig it in any way that’s a bonus. They’re making music for people younger than me – just as when I was digging in on the first albums by Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys (and whatever else) my folks were fine with it, but it didn’t grab them by the tires, or make their wheels spin in any way like Elvis Presley and The Beatles did. Which in turn wasn’t for their folks…and on it goes, just as on it went.
But I do like the chance to bump into the music of a young pop star by mistake. I enjoyed seeing BENEE play live when she/they (my understanding was it was a band-name, at least back them) was just getting going. I thought the music was quite good, could see why people were into it – but it wasn’t designed with me in mind; wasn’t supposed to be for me. And I haven’t listened to any of it since. I’m real happy for anyone that likes BENEE by the way – good on ya!
But Billie Eilish was something I couldn’t understand. Because I didn’t think she could sing. This soft, weak voice that was all breathy but said nothing. (To be fair, I don’t think Lorde can sing either – and plenty of people proved me wrong by buying into her vocal fry and by telling me I was a jerk for not liking her. So. There).
I shelved the experience of listening to Billie Eilish. I could put a sound to the name. And I could put that sound in the bin too. Or leave it for the 11-year-old niece and whoever else.
That was the most I thought about Billie Eilish – until some people started raving about a new documentary on Apple+ called The World’s A Little Blurry. I’ll watch a music doco about any artist, genre or subject. It’s hooked me by the two words I mentioned near the start of that sentence: Music Doco. I’m in. So, I watched it and didn’t think much more of Eilish and even less of the documentary. At nearly two and a half hours this was taking the piss and serious reviewers that raved about it were crawling up to their 11-year-old nieces, or whoever. That was my take. And I felt no need to write a review. Once again, the doco wasn’t really for me – and certainly wasn’t after I saw it. Just dull. No spark.
Next up, I hear that Billie Eilish is releasing an autobiography. So, I’m kinda thinking that she won’t have that much of a story to tell – what with only being 19. Sure, she’s been in the public eye since she was 13 or 14 – but still. And then also, because you are allowed two contrasting thoughts sometimes, at least my fingers are crossed that we’re still allowed that, I think that she could be an interesting voice to hear from. I have a child growing up obsessed with making home movies and wanting to be famous, and influenced by YouTubers and all of that scares the shit out of me – so why not read about it from someone that’s not only been through it but someone that actually suffers the curse of real fame. True fame. An actual famous person. It’s only my word against yours after all as to whether she’s talented – and it plays no part in the discussion over whether she’s famous. For that, we’re dealing in facts. Well, fact. Singular. She is.
But. The “autobiography” arrives in the post. And it’s a photo album. I post online that I’ll be reading it – because I’m addicted to Goodreads and to updating my reading progress. And one wag replies within minutes, asking if I’m already finished. He wasn’t far off.
The 336 pages of the book takes us, visually, through her 19 years. Even starting with a picture of her mother’s pregnant belly. We get baby photos and all stages of growing up. It’s like a 21st video montage in long-form visual diary.
But it’s almost an insult to call the sporadic accompanying text captions. The words are barely there at all. And when they are we don’t really need them.
“Yellow phase”, it says. In the middle of a double-page spread of Eilish wearing…er, you guessed it.
“Me. Bored as hell”, reads the caption to one photo.
“First trip to Hawaii”. This one on a photo that shows no scenery, just another close-up of Billie and it should probably just say “Me. Bored as hell”.
On one of the 12 pages where the caption actually spills out into a sentence or two she tells us about how insane it was to be at the Oscars with all the “iconic and inspiring people”. She was nervous, understandably. And adds that she feels like it was her worst performance to this day. She illuminates: “LMAO”.
I should hope I have illuminated too. Chiefly, how little skin I have in this game. None. Zero. Not even some.
So I’m not cross with Eilish – she has delivered what she felt like. She signed a contract and handed in the homework. Apparently it took forever just sorting through all the photos. It doesn’t look like there was much curation going on. Just a bored photo of a kid, a bored photo of a tween, a bored photo of a teen. A bored photo of someone that is apparently “LMAO”-ing. But, you know, mostly on the inside.
And then a few more photos in each category to complete the project.
No, my anger, if we even want to call it that – I reckon at best it’s bemusement coupled with a desire to fulfil the duty of newsletter writing – is at the publishers that pitch this shit as Autobiography.
Audacity is what it is.
And to double-down on that, the marketing material arriving with the book tells me that “published simultaneously with the book is a standalone audiobook – Billie Eilish: In Her Own Words – of exclusive, unique content in which Billie reflects on her life. Including never-before-told stories and recollections from her personal life and career…”
IE: the stuff you want when you buy something pitched as a fucking autobiography. But, no, why buy one book when some suits are much happier if you buy two.
The fans dumb, desperate or just committed enough to buy into this are being ripped off. It’s disgusting.
Why punish the fans? The fans are the thing that made Billie Eilish. The fans are the thing that makes any pop star. Talent. Timing. Technique. Charisma. Charm. Throw whatever words you want at it – none of that matters if there are no fans. And fans of pop music are primed for exploitation.
I’m sure there’s several twitterstorms that have been and gone and I’m fortunately nowhere near the Eilish of that particular hurricane. But I just thought this was a fucking shitty thing to do.