Billie Eilish

Billboard Woman of the Year Billie Eilish: 'There Isn't Really Anything That's Off Limits'

"I wish there was an off switch,” muses Billie Eilish. “There’s really no way to prepare for this kind of thing. I want to just go to Trader Joe’s for once!” The 17-year-old is quick to clarify that she’s not complaining: Still a newly minted megastar, she’s hyper-aware that her milestone-a-minute past year has been extraordinary by any standard. Her debut album, March’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, established Eilish as one of the most distinctive new voices in pop and topped the Billboard 200. Since then, all of its tracks (except the prelude) have made it onto the Billboard Hot 100, with “Bad Guy” becoming Eilish’s first No. 1 on the chart. She has performed at Coachella; appeared on Saturday Night Live; scored a Justin Bieber appearance on the “Bad Guy” remix; and most recently received six Grammy nominations, setting a record as the youngest artist to get nods in all of the Big Four categories at once.

Come March, Eilish will kick off an arena world tour, which will include sold-out stops at Madison Square Garden in New York and London’s O2 Arena. But for now, she’s planning to stay in Los Angeles through the end of the year -- “the longest I’ve been home in a minute.” She’s not quite chilling yet: Earlier in the day of this interview, she marched in the Youth Climate Strike. She’s looking forward to her 18th birthday and the perks that come with it (voting, driving after 11 p.m.), and still adjusting to the accolades she’s receiving, like Billboard’s Woman of the Year honor. “I’ve never been called a woman before,” she says with a laugh. “You feel like you’ve been doing it forever. And then I remember -- it’s literally just the beginning.”

Heather Hazzan
Eilish photographed on April 18, 2019 at SunLight Studios in Los Angeles. 

You and your brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connell, have been on the road pretty much nonstop this year. How has that informed your creative process?

Last year and the year before, we almost had to make music in our house. I don’t want to speak for Finneas, but for me, I didn’t really know how to make music anywhere else. We would try and work in studios, and it would never work out the way I wanted it to. It would be exhausting and not very fun. We’re at a point now, from touring and working so much, that I’m pretty sure the next album will be made on tour -- around the world.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced this past year?

I can’t complain about my career. The only thing is -- and I know men are going to disagree, because they literally just can’t know -- as a young female artist, you are looked at differently. I remember the first time I had a conversation with Clairo; it was about how we were both hated because we were girls, and we weren’t looked at the same [as young male artists]. We just talked about how hard it is to be a young female and be taken seriously.

Right now, there are so many young females who are actually looked at as cool. I remember a year when I was so anxious about my future. I was worried that because I was a girl, people wouldn’t think I was cool or interesting -- they would think I was just super basic and lame. And a lot of people do think that, which is whatever. But the majority are giving me a really good reaction and validation for what I do.

Heather Hazzan
Eilish photographed on April 18, 2019 at SunLight Studios in Los Angeles. Gucci shirt, Heart of Bone and Dalmata rings.

Speaking of differing expectations for young women: Recently you said you wear baggy clothes so that people won’t talk about your body. That totally blew up online.

I think my message -- and I don’t really know if I have one -- is miscommunicated sometimes. Sometimes I get this response from parents like, “Thank you for dressing the way you do so my daughter doesn’t dress like a slut,” and I’m like, “Whoa! That is the opposite of what I’m trying to do.” If anything, I’m trying to make it easier for your daughter to wear what she wants.

You’ve met so many artists, but I know you still want to meet Rihanna. What is it you admire most about her?

People [who are] like her and like Childish Gambino, Tyler [the Creator] and Kanye -- [there’s] not just one thing that they’re known for. They take what they have and actually turn it into more. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I really want to design shoes, and I really want to fucking design a car. I direct my own videos and edit them myself most of the time, so hopefully more of that. I think Rihanna is fucking murdering it. Everyone who is like, “Stop with the [Fenty] brand and put out more music,” I think, “Shut the fuck up.” She is doing exactly what she needs to do, and that’s fire. Yeah, we want new Rihanna music, but we also want Rihanna. Only props to her.

Do you feel like there’s anything you can’t do at this point?

I’m lucky enough to be in a generation that’s able to break every rule -- and that’s crazy. When I think about artists who grew up in a time where you could only have one genre and one look, and couldn’t change that ever ... that must have been torturous. Especially to people who wanted to change. It’s really cool that I get to do this in a time when it’s more freeing. To be honest, there isn’t really anything that’s off-limits.

Heather Hazzan
Billie Eilish photographed on April 18, 2019.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of Billboard.

2019 Billboard Women in Music