Billie Eilish is ushering in a new era of herself. A quick look at her Instagram account, recent album artwork for single “Your Power” or her spread for British Vogue, and the first thing that will inevitably pop out with be her new hair, bright and blonde and bombshelly. Gone are the neon green and black locks of Billie Era No. 2 (Era No. 1 being her early days of success with single “Ocean Eyes,” accompanied by the appropriately light ocean-blue hair). It’s time to say goodbye to the dark nightmare fodder, the sterile, hospital-like, and stark white terror of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?. Now it’s all pastels and creams, and a “classic, old-timey pin-up” look that discards the oversized fashion Billie became so synonymous with. The darkness is there, it’s just mostly metaphorical now, cause it wouldn’t be Billie without some. In a word, it’s a full transformation.
While previous masters of reinvention like Madonna and Miley Cyrus have let their chosen look of the moment dictate their music, lyrics, and even demeanor, Billie manages to keep her creative output so undeniably Billie while displaying the same power of transformation. By no means is that a statement of discredit to said other artists; it is impossible to listen back-to-back to, say, Younger Now and Plastic Hearts, two wildly different albums by Miley Cyrus, and not note the extreme talent that goes into such a shift of persona. The difference with Billie is subtle but significant. She slyly uses her aesthetic transformation to shift the contextual meaning of her music in a way that no mainstream artist has before. It’s not reinvention, it’s reconstruction. That is the genius of the true 21st century talent that is Billie Eilish.
Nowhere is this more evident than on her most recent single, “Your Power.” If there is one thing Billie Eilish has been able to flawlessly represent about the Gen-Z youth culture she grew up in, it is the new depths with which they wield the power of irony. With the deliberate decision to mark her upcoming album Happier Than Ever with the aesthetic of a placid-looking-yet-totally-in-control pin-up girl in the style of icons like Betty Brosmer, she creates a wonderfully modern juxtaposition with the lyrics to “Your Power.” She sings to an unnamed abuser about how they took advantage of their position over someone close to them: “You played the part / But you ruined her in a year though/Don’t act like it was hard.” To place the song, so hauntingly rife with all-too-real references to the kinds of abuse that young women (and boys) have dealt with for an unquantifiable amount of time, on an LP full of pin-up imagery – often associated in its time with the male gaze – is the kind of subversion that makes the message all the more pronounced.
The pin-up fashion itself, is in a word, exquisite. Featuring custom garments, made exclusively for Eilish’s Vogue spread, from an Alexander McQueen corset dress with latex stockings and gloves by Atsuko Kudo (pictured at top), to a Mugler catsuit and corset with Anita Ko jewelry (above), to a custom trench and corseted body by Burberry with Mugler stocking boots and tulle gloves by Thomasine (below). Every piece is quintessential pin-up, sultry, and bombshell, all words never before associated with Billie Eilish. As Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful puts it in his own article about Billie’s cover shoot: “It was time, [Billie] said, for something new.” And when he states that “the phrase ‘voice of a generation’ gets thrown around a lot these days, but it would be hard to argue that Billie Eilish isn’t literally that,” it is in turn hard to argue against that statement when taking even a cursory look at her full spread and message.
It is one thing, certainly done before, to reclaim the sexiness and body positivity of the pin-up. But Billie takes it a step further by donning the apparel so synonymous with the classic misogynist retort of “she shouldn’t have dressed like that if she wasn’t asking for it” and dangling it in the abuser’s face, making it perfectly clear that she’s wearing this for herself and herself alone. It’s what makes her happy. As she says herself to Vogue, “Seriously, you’re that weak? Come on! Go masturbate!”
Billie Eilish is not only one of the poster artists taking up the giant mantle of combating abuse, but doing it with such an indescribable combination of wit, awareness, and even flippancy towards men at times that makes her so uniquely in the moment it’s no wonder we all cling to her.
Meanwhile, the stunning music video for “Your Power” keeps alive Billie’s now trademark of shudder-inducing stunts and practical effects. From live spiders in her mouth for “You Should See Me in a Crown” to the black, viscous tears of “When the Party’s Over,” this time around it’s a giant anaconda taking the stage. As the snake slowly but forcefully wraps itself around Eilish on a desolate mountainside, you sense the aloneness and suffocation she feels crooning about the abusers she may have felt the same way about in her past, as well as those she is fed up with seeing out in the world.
But to return generally to Eilish’s transformation in anticipation of Happier Than Ever, it is delightfully jarring and exciting. It would be a little disingenuous to go on about the commercial merits of Billie’s transformation when she herself has been open about that fact that it really came about simply because it’s what made her happy, but nonetheless the shift is compelling. Billie moved from the hip-hop-inspired fashion filled with baggy clothes, as well as the intense darkness laced with hints of the absurd and silly, to a more subdued and body-forward appearance, all without sacrificing what makes her music oh-so unique and powerful. While older singles off the new album “my future” and “Therefore I Am” are arguably of the previous era of Eilish, the same overlap occurred with her debut. And anyways, it is safe to call “Your Power” the true beginning of the new phase, and before the full record releases this July, her execution has been so successful that we can’t wait for what’s to come.