In a recent interview with the British rapper Stormzy, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Billie Eillish incensed a corner of the internet with her takes on celebrity activism. The online response are centered around a single sentence in the interview, published by i-D Vice yesterday:
“artists should be allowed to just make art.”
It’s tricky to pin down who exactly is leading the outcry, however. On the internet, no one knows your a dog, and exactly who is a fan or a misogynistic troll isn’t easily delineated.
The uproar comes soon after the artist’s sophomore LP, Happier Than Ever, was released in July. In the album, Eilish confronts the specter of being a role model, sex object, and child all at once. It’s a prescient rejoinder to the exact situation the artist currently finds herself in.
“We need to stop babying her and call her out when she does this shit,” reads one Tweet under the viral hashtag, “ This interview of her is her weird attempt to gaslight us.”
The use of gaslight, commonly understood as an abusive tactic in interpersonal relationships, reaffirms how the intense backlash against the young women is drawn out of the very parasocial behaviors she sings about in the sparsely orchestrated, whispery quiet of the appropriately titled “Not My Responsibility.”
Happier Than Ever and much of the songwriters’ mystique seemingly emerges from her hesitant relationship to celebrity. “Why do people need to have an opinion about everything I do or say or wear or look like and fucking feel,” she states, “I just want to make music. I’m just a random girl who likes to sing. It’s not that deep.”
What cuts through the interview is an individual deeply conflicted by the onus of celebrity in a world that needs to see change greater than her platform could will.
Of course, this does all kind of sound like celebrities complaining about their celebrity, which is a recipe for internet outrage. But the quotes pulled from Eillish’s interview seem to recontextualize the women’s own self-awareness.
The interview seems to contradict the artist’s past statements on social issues, and many have pointed out that Eilish has previously spoken up on her responsibility to advocate for justice. But is this hypocrisy, insincerity, or something else?
Eilish’s previous views, expressed in a clip from a Vanity Fair interview earlier this year, aren’t totally absent in the i-D interview, however. “I feel for the people who have such strong determination to change the world but aren’t afforded the same privileges as me,” the full quote reads, “But then of course artists should be allowed to just make art.”
Billie’s disregard for the entertainment industry, her unconventional approach born out of apathy rather than a desire to revolutionize an industry she didn’t see herself a part of remains constant. She seems more like a girl who recognizes that celebrities become a symbol for change precisely because of their power lack of agency and the way celebrity distracts from systemic change.
Earlier in the interview, she said so herself: “It’s tough because it’s a little unfair that everyone in the limelight is expected to be an activist and to change the world because we can’t! We can say stuff and people can listen and we have a platform but we can only do so much. That’s conflicting.”