Instead of focusing on Billie’s body, we should be admiring her political influence

Welcome to Subtweets. Each week, Jenessa Williams unpacks the topics setting the Twittersphere alight. This week, it's Billie Eilish and the power of a Pop Political Endorsement.

At a time where we’re all stuck at home perpetually scrolling Twitter for some kind of enlightenment, it doesn’t take much for a popstar to temporarily ‘fracture’ the internet. Billie Eilish knows this more than most. A decidedly leftfield, unique artist, her self-representation and generational influence is constantly scrutinised online, fans and anti-fans alike passing comment on what they believe she represents. Everything from her outfit choices to her state of mind is picked apart in ways that reveal our curious, dangerous fascination with the autonomy of teenagers, assuming that they are far too naive to exhibit a true sense of self. Her latest internet-baiting crime, you may ask? Leaving her house while wearing a tank top.

Throughout Eilish’s career, an inordinate degree of attention has been placed upon the exact topic she wishes to avoid  – conversations about the perceived size, shape and sexualization of her body. Her now trademark baggy attire was a conscious bid for ambiguity, but at a result, paparazzi are only more determined to go after what they can’t have – a rare shot of Billie in something more form-fitting. The resulting shots spread across the internet like wildfire and will be served no further attention here than to say that they depict a completely regular teenager, with a completely regular body, that is absolutely the business of nobody other than herself.

However, it is that sense of regularity that may have Billie trending for all the right reasons. While half the internet were busying themselves with analysing the proportions of a teenager’s breasts (yes, 100% creepy), the rest were admiring how on her own social platforms, Eilish was advocating for a cause that we should all be much more focused upon – the upcoming US election. As a first-time voter, Billie stands with over 43 million Americans aged 15-24, a great proportion of whom will be enacting their civil right for the first time in 2020.

Billie may be young, but she has certainly laid her groundwork. Last June she teamed up with the impartial voter registration agent HeadCount and was scheduled to bring them on tour with her during 2020, with booths to register and staff on hand to answer logistical voting questions. She regularly advocates for Climate Change action, and empowers her fans to speak up against various socio-political injustices through both social media and public appearances. In August of this year, she performed ‘My Future’ at the Democratic National Convention, and just last week, reminded fans again to make sure to register their vote. For someone who openly admits that politics isn’t really her preferred topic, she is constantly using her voice in useful, non-aggressive ways, and persevering despite an astonishing amount of youth-shaming, misogyny and ‘devil worship/mentally ill’ indictments being thrown her way for the mere refusal to not be condemned to ‘her lane.’

In some ways, the dismissal of a youth voice doing the work of a thousand adults recalls a similar story here in the UK – the example of Marcus Rashford, a 22-year-old footballer berated by sneering Conservatives for the ‘virtue signalling’ after pointing out that allowing poverty-stricken schoolkids to starve is an abhorrent way to run a country. Routinely, like Eilish, he is reminded that he is a mere ‘entertainer’ and that the ‘real’ work should be left to the ‘real adults’.

But it’s more than likely that those bullying right-wing boomers are actually deeply afraid of what will happen if the influential youth mobilise their clout in core demographics. Despite being more engaged in political issues than ever, the 18-24 voting demographic has been steadily decreasing over the past few elections in the US, with Republican parties doing very little to bring them back. Billie’s advocacy won’t guarantee a new landslide, but her effort does recall the influences of Taylor Swift, whose Democratic endorsement in 2018 via Instagram was thought to cause 169,000 new registrations inside of 48 hours, or Ariana Grande, who crashed Floridian servers earlier this month when she reminded her local fans that it was their last day to register. While middle-aged Republicans are tying themselves in knots trying to draft the perfect witty tweet to point-and-laugh at a teenagers’ choice of attire, the young, pre-dominantly left-leaning registrations and votes are creeping in, filling right-wing floorboards like something out of a subverted ‘When We All Fall Asleep…’ nightmare.  

I’m not yet allowing myself to dare to dream that November will herald a loss for Trump, nor am I ecstatic about the appointment of Biden. American’s Gen Z seems to broadly agree with me, but this is not a vote that seeks complete satisfaction. It’s a vote for difference, for anything other than the utter evil America has been presented with for the last four years that has seeped into the wider world. It’s a vote for some semblance of hope. To borrow Billie’s words from the convention, “The only way to be certain of the future is to make it ourselves.” If Billie Eilish wants to ‘leave her lane’, then I’m in the front seat next to her with the snacks and the speedometer – tank tops fully allowed. 

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