teen superstar builds brave new worlds (and has a message for the real one)

“In quarantine, I realised on stage is the only place I feel like myself,” says Billie Eilish, 55 minutes into her first concert since the coronavirus pandemic brought her ‘Where Do We Go?’ world tour to an abrupt halt. Her words might be reaching thousands of her loyal fans right now but, where between-song sharing would usually be met by a wall of noise and cheers, there’s silence.

Our new reality of online concerts is still jarring seven months in – stillness where once euphoric chaos reigned. In this one-off stream, though, Eilish does her best to – if not take us back to before – show us another world. Her virtual gig (which she co-creative directed) isn’t the first time this year artists have adopted boundary-pushing XR (aka extended reality) technology to elevate things from simple studio set-ups but, with insects, bold colours, and inventive scenery, she makes it uniquely hers.

After a pre-show of trivia questions that really test your stan knowledge (how old was Billie when she first dyed her hair?), messages for US fans to get out and vote, and special guest appearances from Lizzo, Steve Carell and more, Eilish’s extravaganza begins. Screens surround the space she, brother Finneas and drummer Andrew Marshall are occupying in front of the cameras, uniformly bathed in red. As the dark, skipping beat of ‘Bury A Friend’ grows, the hue pulsates – red, black, red, black. So far, so something you could imagine happening at an IRL show.

Ummm this show is rad #BillieEilishlivestream pic.twitter.com/FzSB21EDiy

— amycray, who wears a mask (@amycray) October 24, 2020

By the time we’re deep into the second song ‘You Should See Me In A Crown’, though, things have changed. If the spider crawling around in the singer’s mouth in the track’s vertical video gave you the creeps, the gigantic arachnid stomping behind and over her here will make your skin crawl. It’s obviously not real, but its oversized legs arching over the musicians as they play have an unnerving way about them.

Later, ‘ilomilo’ submerges the teen and her band into an underwater world and threatens to put a modern spin on the urban legend of cinema-goers thinking a train was going to come out of the screen at them. All is fine with fish and other sea creatures drifting past as Eilish sings over a twinkling melody, until a pair of luminescent, sharp white jaws appear in the distance and head straight towards the camera. They widen as the digital shark inches closer to the star, snapping shut once she’s in the cavern of its mouth.

Estuvo bueno !! #BillieEilishlivestream pic.twitter.com/xE5m1lh2TC

— Alberto Castillo V. (@pikalbert) October 24, 2020

Not everything is designed to freak you out. For the pretty ‘I Love You’, Eilish and her brother sit on stools, surrounded by stars and the moon, and the small section of the stage they inhabit is transformed into a plinth high above the ground. The artwork for recent single ‘My Future’ is recreated too, transforming from muted colours into lush, bright shades by the end of the song. On ‘Everything I Wanted’, fans watching along from home are beamed onto the screens, allowing the audience and singer to be reunited in some form once again.

Online concerts might be exciting because of the endless possibilities of technology, but their downside is that the simple art of performance is often overlooked in favour of a focus on flashiness. It would be a shame for the conversation around this show to solely be on the visual effects – although it’s hard to feel Eilish’s energy in the same way you would when you’re in the same venue as her, even through the screen you can feel the magnetic pull of her stage presence.

A PRODUÇÃO———#BillieLivestream #BillieEilishlivestream pic.twitter.com/9gBllp7btj

— 𝓡𝓪𝓺𝓾𝓮𝓵 ✨ (@raquelcottaa) October 24, 2020

Her vocals are flawless throughout, whether she’s quietly sneering through the iconic thump of ‘Bad Guy’, or nailing the elegant cries of Bond theme ‘No Time To Die’. It must seem alien to try and conduct a crowd you can’t see, but she does her best in that regard too, instructing everyone to “clap from home” on ‘Bury A Friend’ and waving an arm above her head for ‘Ocean Eyes’.

If there’s a loose, overriding theme of the night, it’s one of owning your power and using your voice. From the pre-show to almost the last sentiments that Eilish shares, urgency is put on the message to vote. Even when it’s subtle, it’s there – like on ‘All The Good Girls Go To Hell’, which is paired with visuals of beached whales, oceans of trash and ravaging wildfires. “Once the waters start to rise/And heaven’s out of sight,” Eilish sings on the chorus, her words acting as a warning of what awaits us if we don’t strive for change. When the song finishes, the screen switches to black, emblazoned with the words: “NO MUSIC ON A DEAD PLANET”.

Before her final chance to feel like herself for now, Eilish has a message: “If we vote the orange man out, maybe we’ll get to see each other again.” It might be frustrating to hear for those who aren’t old enough to vote or have no say in US politics, but she has other words that are relevant to all too: “Don’t take life for granted.” As brilliant as this livestream was, it’d be great if the only screens in our vision are big ones either side of an arena stage. When that day comes, you can count on her to put on a show that’ll remind you how lucky we are to be alive in her time.

Billie Eilish played:

‘Bury A Friend’‘You Should See Me In A Crown’‘My Strange Addiction’‘Ocean Eyes’‘Xanny’‘I Love You’‘ilomilo’‘No Time To Die’‘When The Party’s Over’‘All The Good Girls Go To Hell’‘Everything I Wanted’‘My Future’‘Bad Guy’

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