Billie Eilish Reveals Her Deepest, Darkest Hopes and Fears in ‘The World’s A Little Blurry’
The teen popstar takes us into her fascinating world in the new Apple TV+ documentary—one that serves as a companion piece of sorts to “Framing Britney Spears.”
Billie Eilish hates writing songs. She likes singing, she likes having songs to sing, but she really can’t stand writing songs. This is one of many surprising things we learn about the preternaturally talented popstar in her new Apple TV+ documentary, Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry. Not only does she hate writing songs, but she hates writing songs with her older brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connell.
“It really tortures me,” she says in the kitchen of her childhood home, where the family is holding an impromptu meeting to address Eilish’s reluctance to write the hit song her label wants of her. “Especially with you, because you’re so good at it,” she adds to O’Connell.
It’s not something one would expect to hear from the co-writer of some of the most emotionally expansive and resonant pop songs released in recent years. Her Grammy Award-winning 2019 album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, is populated with lyrics that integrate winking turns of phrase with vulnerable confessions ripped straight from the pages of Eilish’s diary. Together, Eilish and O’Connell are a creative dream team.
Directed by R.J. Cutler, The World’s A Little Blurry follows the making and release of Eilish’s critically acclaimed debut album, as well as her life on tour. The film is a revelatory and at times heartbreaking look into the teenager’s rise to superstardom.
With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours and an intermission, it combines electrifying concert footage, sobering clips of Eilish reading journal entries from the lowest points of her depression, and home-video-style interludes of her close-knit family. In particular, the scenes of Eilish and O’Connell harmonizing in O’Connell’s bedroom, where (amazingly) the entire album was recorded, are endlessly watchable.
In a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Eilish described the filmmaking process as “a bit invasive” and watching the film, it is easy to see why she felt that way. Though the 19-year-old has a proven track record of openness, often discussing her battle with depression and anxiety in interviews, The World’s A Little Blurry probes new depths.
Cutler is not afraid to shy away from darkness, including scenes of the singer flipping through nightmarish illustrations in her journal and describing her struggle with self-harming as a 15-year-old. The walls of her bedroom are scrawled with gutting, one-sentence self-indictments like, “I am ashamed of who I loved” and “No matter what happens, I’ll always be broken.”
There are also the constant reminders of how young Eilish is and how much is expected of her in spite of this. She was only 13 years old when a video of her singing the ethereal ballad “Ocean Eyes” launched her career, and she is 17 in most of Cutler’s footage. Like any teen would be, she is gleeful when she passes her driving test (though unlike most teens, she drives her dream car—a matte black Dodge Challenger). She is obsessed with The Office, she bickers with her brother, and she is reduced to sobs when she meets Justin Bieber.
In fact, Bieber is something of a secondary character in the film, frequently appearing in childhood reminiscences as a bubbly Eilish rambles on about her lifelong love for the singer (she knows the exact minute and location, down to the hospital floor, of his birth) and eventually offering Eilish advice via Instagram DM from one child star to another. He is a parallel to Eilish, someone who also had to cope with the effects of stratospheric fame at a young age.
In a speech that could very well be about Bieber himself, Eilish’s mom, Maggie Baird, airs her concerns about the impact of her daughter’s career. When a friend worries aloud about Eilish including a song about her sobriety (“xanny”) on the album, lest she be called a hypocrite if she later changes her mind, Baird bristles.
“What, do you have to plan right now that every person who does what you do has to grow up and fuck up that way?” she asks, rhetorically. “Why are your parents with you all the time? I mean, you’ve got a whole army of people trying to help you not decide to destroy your life like people in your shoes have done before.”
Despite Baird’s protective—if occasionally misguided—instincts, stray comments from Eilish betray the inevitable truth: no one, regardless of their confidence or support system, is fully equipped to handle the scrutiny that comes with that level of fame, let alone a teenager publicly coping with depression. “My favorite thing during a festival show is looking at the crowd and they’re not looking at me,” she says during a meeting to plan the visuals for her 2019 Coachella set. Later in the film, the then-17-year-old frustratedly remarks that she is not allowed to have one bad day after a fan accused her of being rude at a meet-and-greet.
Still, The World’s A Little Blurry always circles back to the narrative that, regardless of her youth, Eilish is a self-assured, hard-working artist pursuing her dreams. The confidence with which she asserts what she wants is often striking. She has a very specific vision of what her career should look and sound like, and she is quick to correct O’Connell when she feels that the word “won’t” would be stronger in a song lyric than “can’t.” She takes us through the conception of the “When the Party’s Over” music video, explaining with the help of drawings in her journal that she wants black liquid to pour from her eyes, and later diligently blocking the shots in her backyard with her mom standing in for her.
When the video shoot wraps, she seems dissatisfied with having yielded control to the director. “For the next, rest of the videos, I’m directing them all myself,” she insists. Sure enough, at the end of the film, a newly-18-year-old Eilish is directing O’Connell in the video for “Everything I Wanted.”
This new film comes at a time when the subject of control as it pertains to young female celebrities is on everyone’s minds. The recent release of The New York Times’ explosive documentary Framing Britney Spears, has sparked a long-overdue conversation about the way the media treats its popstars, simultaneously relying on them and tearing them down at every turn. At just 19, Eilish has already been subjected to the same creepy objectification that Spears endured two decades ago, this time prompted by an inexplicable fascination with her affinity for baggy clothing.
Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry is a compelling accidental follow-up to Framing Britney Spears. For some, it may be impossible to watch without thinking about how much and how little has changed in 20 years. In manner, music, and style, Spears and Eilish may not seem to have much in common, but they both know what it’s like to bear the weight of the world’s expectations.