When Billie Eilish hits the stage, it’s not the sound of the band that makes you run for the earplugs, but the high pitched screams from the audience. That’s because this 18-year-old phenomenon has accrued a fan base of die hard followers in the District who are happy to annihilate their own vocal chords cheering on their pop idol.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Billie Eilish. As a 34-year-old single male with no kids, I can’t say I’m exactly in her target demographic. Nor can I say that I’d ever heard a Billie Eilish song before her performance at the 9:30 Club last Friday. But as the lights dimmed, the recording iPhones went up, and the screams of hundreds of teenagers filled the room, I realized I was in the presence of something rather ginormous. The stage set consisted of a single gigantic electronic spider, complete with compound eyes of LED lights and eight fluorescent legs that straddled over Billie’s two accompanying musicians. A figure draped in a blanket rose from the back and stood atop the spider head. At the crucial moment, the blanket flew off revealing Billie, the music started, and the deafening screams never stopped.
Billie projects a tough girl image, rocking the kind of ugly blue sweatshirt one would throw on for a cigarette run to 7-11. She speaks in a aggressive tone, often admonishing her audience to “turn off their phones” or “calm down.” The fans were more than up for a scolding from their favorite singer. Yet in their uncontrollable fever they rarely heeded the singer’s requests. I don’t think Billie minded. It was all part of the fun.
Billie’s music can be described as a hodgepodge of top 40 and YouTube singer-songwriter type stuff with an ever-present trap hi hat and bass. I’d call it “pretty standard” in a Dr. Evil voice if I didn’t think the reference was older than most of the concert’s attendees. But far be it from me to be the old guy at the teeny bopper show making fun of the kids. I have to say, I was mightily impressed with how well the audience knew every word of every song. At times, it was difficult to hear Billie’s signing over the mystic voices yet swelling the chorus of “When the Party’s Over.” I was glad to see a fair number of queers and goths enjoying the show. Billie definitely has an Avril Lavigne vibe, and lord knows I’ve been moved to drunken tears belting “Complicated” during last call at many a karaoke bar.
I wouldn’t say I left the Billie Eilish show a die hard fan. It’s hard to convert a cynical, millennial music nerd to the hottest new iGen sensation. But it seems that with a loyal fanbase, confident stage presence, and a voice that, when you could hear it, was quite beautiful, Billie’s rise shows no sign of stopping.