Books

Billie Eilish
In Her Own Words

Pop fans may crave new music, but pop “stans” – the armies of obsessive, starry-eyed teenagers and misguided adults who dedicate their lives to worshipping pop idols and cyberbullying anyone who dares to badmouth them – crave access. Where a layperson may feel fatigued by the omnipresence of someone like, say, Miley Cyrus, a stan reads between the lines, understanding that presenting the illusion of unfiltered access via social media allows a star to evade the mechanisms that might have previously provided insight into the truth of one’s life. A stan’s life is devoted to poring over outfit and emoji choices until they get a once-in-a-lifetime peek behind the curtain.

The most canny pop artists have turned this desire for access into a primary income stream. Prime among them is Gen Z pop star Billie Eilish, an ultra-private, borderline enigmatic pop star who metamorphoses thirsty tweets into swollen cheques with uncanny grace, privacy being an absolutely boffo business move. Want to know how Eilish really felt after becoming a pop sensation in 2019 with the hit “bad guy”? Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry can provide the answer, in exchange for an $8-a-month Apple TV membership. Want to know how Eilish feels about body image? Pick up the latest Vogue, featuring a shoot styled and co-ordinated by the star herself. Want to hear about her rise to fame firsthand? Pick up a copy of In Her Own Words by Billie Eilish and make sure to also download the Billie Eilish: In Her Own Words audiobook, featuring additional exclusive content.

In Her Own Words is revealing in the same way someone’s Instagram is revealing: the experience of reading it is not unlike scrolling through the profile of someone you vaguely know. Of the much-vaunted “words” of the book’s title, there are about 450; many are single-word image captions, such as “Hehehe” used to sum up four iPhone photos of Eilish’s parents in front of billboards with their daughter’s face on them. Many of the images are hazy, largely interchangeable concert photos. Glimpses into Eilish’s childhood years are vastly outnumbered by photos of her flanked by artists and rappers familiar to anyone even mildly interested in celebrity culture.

In a short introduction, Eilish says the book is supposed to be a salve to show teens that everybody goes through puberty differently. It’s true: at 15, Eilish was dressed in head-to-toe Gucci. In the images of her 17th birthday, she is given a car so expensive I can’t even identify its logo. At the back of the book, in a haphazard scrawl, Eilish has written a message: “Thank you for caring.” It’s sweet – but I think she meant “buying”.

Shaad D’Souza

Hachette, 336pp, $45

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 31, 2021 as "In Her Own Words, Billie Eilish".

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Reviewer: Shaad D'Souza