The real reason why Billie Eilish's music is so controversial

Everybody has something to say about moody teen sensation Billie Eilish. While The New Yorker declared her the "changing face of pop" and praised her edgy style and lyricism, The Telegraph felt she encouraged the rise of so-called "misery pop." So, who is Billie Eilish, and why has she become the poster child for Gen Z angst? Bursting onto the music scene in 2016, the then-13-year-old posted the song "Ocean Eyes" to her Soundcloud for her dance teacher. According to Vogue, her co-producer brother, Finneas O'Connell, called her one day to say, "Dude! Our song got 1,000 plays." From there, Eilish's rise to fame simply seemed to snowball.

While becoming an anti-pop queen, Eilish has stood out from her contemporaries with sinister music videos and bleak lyrics. However, her sudden celebrity meant she had newfound responsibility and was eventually met with criticism for various reasons. "When you're looked up to as a role model, you can't let that change the way that you live," the singer-songwriter told Entertainment Weekly in 2019, adding, "You have to be exactly what people love you for." At the end of the day, it's Eilish who's had the last laugh. It seems that the edgier she's gotten, the more her fan base has grown. Let's dig further and find out the real reason why Billie Eilish's music is so controversial.

She's been accused of queerbaiting

When Billie Eilish released "wish you were gay" in 2019, a number of her LGBTQ+ fans were ecstatic and wondered if the singer had just come out. Then listeners took the time to pay attention to the lyrics, which told a different story. With lines like, "To spare my pride/To give your lack of interest an explanation/Don't say I'm not your type/Just say that I'm not your preferred sexual orientation," it became all too clear that the blue-haired crooner wasn't coming out at all.

Naturally, the internet and the press had something to say about the track. "Using homosexuality to be provocative is cringey at best, antagonistic queer-bait at its worst," Pride noted, adding, "It feels a slap in the face to a marginalized community starving from the sparse array of queer pop music." Uh-oh. 

Aware of the backlash, Eilish told PopBuzz, "First off I want to be so clear that it's so not supposed to be an insult. I feel like it's been a little bit misinterpreted. I tried so hard to not make it in any way offensive." She explained, "The whole idea of the song is, it's kind of a joke. It's kind of like 'I'm an a** and you don't love me.' And you don't love me because you don't love me and that's the only reason and I wish you didn't love me because you didn't love girls."

She wants to scare you

Among all the Selena Gomezes, Ariana Grandes, and Taylor Swifts of the world, Billie Eilish may feel like a refreshing anti-pop sensation. Her music videos are deliciously intense: "when the party's over" has her crying black blood, "bad guy" sees her smearing blood on her mouth, and "you should see me in a crown" is an arachnophobic nightmare, with tarantulas crawling out of Eilish's mouth.

Why such intensity? Apart from the fact that her fans have totally lapped it up, the crooner told NPR in 2019, "I just love the idea of glorifying people's biggest fears. You know, people are freaked out by needles, people are freaked out by things under the bed … I just really wanted something that's going to kind of make you jump a little bit." Basically, if you're running out of horror flicks to watch, maybe throw on a couple of Eilish's videos.

The best part about all her creepy visuals? Most of them are real! "Everything is really important that it's all real to me," she continued. "Like, the black tears for 'when the party's over' video, that's all real. The tarantula coming out of my mouth is real. When my eyes are black and very frightened, those are real contacts. I just hate doing everything CGI." …We kind of wish she hadn't told us about those real eight-legged critters.

She doesn't shy away from highlighting teen drug use

Much of the controversy behind Eilish's music surrounds its lyrical content — especially because it highlights a blunt look at the experiences of Gen Z kids. In "xanny," for example, she sings about the rise of substance abuse. But while the title might lead one to think she's endorsing the use of the drug, the track actually touches on the opposite. In her A Snippet into Billie's Mind YouTube series, Eilish discussed the creation of the album and the experiences behind it, recalling that she'd been at a party with her friends the night before writing "xanny." 

"They were Juuling, throwing up, drinking. Kept throwing up … What was really weird to me is that nobody cared," she explained, adding, "[The first girl that got drunk] was throwing up everywhere, and nobody was fazed." In addition to finding inspiration in the teenage apathy surrounding her, the teen songstress once got real about what she's seen other people do in their spare time, telling SSENSE, "Drugs. I don't, but everyone else does. JUULs — that's what they do. I don't do anything like that, which is weird because everyone in the freaking world does except me." While talking about the accessibility of drugs, Eilish added, "It's insane how much access there is. I don't even want it and it's there all the time for me."

Are her lyrical themes purely fictional?

It's no secret the themes in Eilish's lyrics tend to be immensely dark. With references to serial killers, monsters, depression, and even domination, fans and critics alike have openly wondered whether the tunes might be a cry for help. The track "bellyache," for example, sees the blue-eyed crooner take on the persona of someone who just murdered their friends and put their bodies in the back of a car. What could it possibly mean? During an interview with NME in 2017, she explained, "That song is about killing people and being bipolar, but if you think about it, there's a lot of different meanings in that song." 

Hmm, the musician certainly wasn't too clear on that one. However, when asked more broadly about her approach to writing lyrics, Eilish was willing to give more of an in-depth response. "Lyrics are so important but they're really underrated," she told BBC News. "So many lyrics right now are just the same thing — 'Oh, I love you but I'm sad because you don't love me and … blah.' You can say that in a more interesting way." Referring to her lyrics as "fiction," Eilish apparently loves the idea of being able to transport herself and "jump into another world."

She welcomes judgment from her listeners

Considering she's one of the "most talked-about teens on the planet" and boasts over 26 million followers on Instagram as of 2019, it's safe to say Eilish is constantly in the public eye. While chatting with A Beautiful Perspective in 2017, the singer-songwriter opened up about what it feels like to receive feedback whenever she releases new music. "Luckily, I love being judged, so any judgment of any kind I'm really pumped about," Eilish said. She added, "I don't really know what it is, but I like getting in people's heads whether it be a good or bad thought. I don't care if you think I look bad or you don't like me. You're still thinking about me."

That being said, the teen is still human and isn't completely immune to online haters all the time. "I used to read every single comment and every picture I was tagged in and respond to every single DM, but now I barely go on Instagram because I can't handle that s**t," she told NME. "F**k that s**t. I just don't wanna see all the horrible things people say … It takes not looking at my phone to stop myself from engaging. I had to delete Twitter in March because of it. Nobody is going to win."

She's gotten real about her night terrors

When Billie Eilish released her "bury a friend" music video in 2019, some fans were left scratching their heads at the visuals of the singer creepily dwelling under someone's bed, presumably haunting them. So, what was Eilish possibly getting at? "'bury a friend' is literally from the perspective of the monster under my bed," she explained in a press release (via Rolling Stone). "If you put yourself in that mindset, what is this creature doing or feeling? I also confess that I'm this monster because I'm my own worst enemy."

Hmm, so what exactly did she mean? Eilish later dished in an interview with Zane Lowe on Beats 1, "For me, every song in the album there's sleep paralysis. There's night terrors, nightmares, lucid dreams … I've always had really, really bad night terrors, and I've had sleep paralysis five times." She continued, "It affected me in my life. It affected the way that I viewed things, and how I was talking to people, and how I was thinking. I just was different, and it was because of my dreams. It was changing me as a person." Considering sleep paralysis is downright terrifying, we're glad to see there's someone in the public eye shedding light on it.

Some people think she glorifies suicide

Although she's spoken out about her macabre material being fictional, that still hasn't stopped naysayers from deeming Eilish as someone who glorifies suicide. From her dark lyrics to her cover on The Fader, which saw the musician with a plastic bag over her head in 2019, concerned critics have continued to speak out. The Telegraph, in particular, once called her songs "misery music" and accused the teen of "romanticizing death." Claiming that her fans use the YouTube comments section of her music videos to "compete over their poor mental health," the article attempted to draw awareness to the negative pull Eilish's songs allegedly have.

What's Eilish's take on all of this? She's remained hopeful that her openness about depression and anxiety will inspire her fans. "Depression has controlled sort of everything in my life … I've kind of always been a melancholy person," she admitted to Zane Lowe on Beats 1. "I feel like there are some people that, neutrally, they're happy … I feel like people are just so weird about it, because people that aren't neutrally unhappy don't understand how it is because they're like, 'Well, why are you unhappy all the time when you have da da da da?'"

She's unapologetically sad

Billie Eilish clearly hasn't shied away from the topic of mental health — in fact, she's truly worn her heart on her sleeve. While coming off as genuine with her emotions, she's spoken out about being sad or depressed on multiple occasions. During two separate interviews with Vanity Fair which were merely a year apart, the singer-songwriter was asked the same set of questions to see if her answers would have changed. Eilish's younger self shared the advice to not be sad since it's "such a waste of time." Hearing this, the one-year-older Eilish chuckled, revealing she hadn't "lived up to that." She went on to say, "It's ruined so many things that could have been amazing because I was sad. Dumb, but, whatever."

With more and more celebs opening up about their own struggles with mental illness, Eilish has stated her belief that it's common among those in the music industry. "We're all sad as hell," she told Vanity Fair. "All these artists, we're sad as s**t, dude. Everybody that I know that's an artist, we are sad motherf**kers. It's the way it is." While speaking with Genius in 2018, Eilish said that her depression is simply "the way [her] brain works." However, we imagine that channeling it positively through her music might be therapeutic.

She doesn't want to blend in

It's pretty evident that Eilish has refused to blend in with her pop star peers. With her seemingly unsettling gaze and perma-sneer, the celeb can sometimes come off as intimidating — until she opens her mouth, that is. "Blending in, I have never understood that at all," she told SSENSE. "Why would you want to be in a room of people that look exactly like you? I don't know. What's the point of dressing like someone else? They're already dressing that way. Do your own stuff. I've always known what I want and who I wanted to be, what I wanted to wear and who I wanted to be seen as."

As for her apparent refusal to smile? Simply put: she just doesn't want to. "I hate smiling. It makes me feel weak and powerless and small," she revealed to Harper's Bazaar in 2017. "I've always been like that; I don't smile in any pictures. If you look at my Instagram, I have a resting b**ch face and I guess I just look sad all the time." Nevertheless, not smiling seems to be something fans have resonated with, and has become a staple Billie Eilish look. You do you, Billie.

That controversial XXXTentacion tribute

While XXXTentacion had a massive fan base of both teens and celebs alike – Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Kendrick Lamar were all loyal supporters — the late rapper was also an alleged abuser of his former pregnant ex-girlfriend. When he was reportedly shot in 2018 (via The Guardian), his fans grieved his untimely passing, leaving a trail of controversy with viewers, who were filled with mixed emotions in supporting an allegedly violent artist.

For her part, Eilish and XXXTentacion had been close friends. After his death, she performed and dedicated a song to him during one of her concerts and shared a tribute post on Instagram, which revealed a conversation the duo had. Naturally, some fans weren't very impressed with her support of the controversial artist. When The New York Times probed the "ocean eyes" crooner about their friendship, Eilish bluntly said, "I want to be able to mourn, I don't want to be shamed for it. I don't think I deserve getting hate for loving someone that passed." Just like that, the singer yet again proved she'll always march to the beat of her own drum.

She has 'near-complete' control over her work

For an artist signed to a big label like Interscope Records, it might be easy to dismiss Billie Eilish as having an entire team dedicated to branding and creating her sound. When Hannah Ewens of The Guardian asked fans waiting outside one of her concerts what they loved about her so much, she kept getting the same response: Eilish is "relatable." 

It makes sense. The singer not only seems to know exactly what her fans want from her, she's also insisted on having "near-complete control" over what she does — good and bad. Eilish went on to tell The New York Times in 2019, "I could easily just be like … you're going to pick out my clothes, someone else will come up with my video treatments, someone else will direct them and I won't have anything to do with them. Someone else write my music … Someone else run my Instagram." The musician added, "Everything could be easier if I wanted it to. But I'm not that kind of person and I'm not that kind of artist. And I'd rather die than be that kind of artist."

Startlingly in tune with what she wants for someone so young, it looks like we'll only be immersing ourselves further into Billie Eilish's world from now on!