Like Peter Parker before her, Billie Eilish truly understands the sentiment: “with great power comes great responsibility”.
At only 20 years old, Eilish has reached a mind-boggling level of fame at such a velocity that she’d be easily forgiven for getting swept up in it all; decked out with Grammys, VMAs, Guinness World Records, and an Oscar to boot. With her debut, ‘When We All Fall Sleep, Where Do We Go?’, Eilish became a teenager with a generation-defining album that hadn’t been seen since Lorde with 2013’s ‘Pure Heroine’. Yet throughout the opening night of her sold-out six-day residency at London’s O2 Arena, Eilish displays such genuine care for her audience and our tragically neglected planet, that it’s clear she’s still tethered to earth.
From the moment she leaps out from below of the stage, two things are immediately clear: she has the O2 in the palm of her hand and she doesn’t, for one second, underestimate that platform.
Almost five years ago to the day since Eilish’s first-ever headline set at the Courtyard Theatre in London, the ‘Happier Ever After’ World Tour rolls into the capital. Eilish races through a nearly two-hour set with 25 songs and not a single costume change: her jet-black hair in pigtails and, in a nod to the ‘when the party’s over’ video, a signature baggy tee and cycling shorts dipped in ink, dripping from her shins.
She lays out her Three Simple Rules For A Billie Eilish show – don’t be an arsehole, don’t judge anybody in here, and have fun – and leads the crowd in aerobics warmups and guided meditations: “Scoop all the bad stuff out of your brain. We are only thinking good thoughts tonight”. These reflections revitalise the party rather than ever stifling it. Eilish is a riotous live presence, stomping and moshing with the feverish grace and delight of a toddler. Her showwoman pedigree is on show from the off, but it reaches new heights during the eerie banger ‘Oxytocin’ and when she takes to the skies in a rotating crane for ‘OverHeated’ and a medley of early hits, conducting a mexican wave of phone torches.
A sentimental rendition of ‘Getting Older’ begins with a home video of baby Billie singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ – a reminder that the passage of time is crushing even when you’re barely out of childhood. As Eilish sings the hook “things I once enjoyed, just keep me employed now”, she can’t help but grinning as everyone sings along with her and it’s a glimmer of hope that perhaps that feeling isn’t true tonight.
As with her records, the show is a family affair. She introduces her brother and producer, Finneas, as her best friend when they take to stools with a pair of guitars for an intimate acoustic section. Eilish is still at ease on stage – “anyone wanna give me a haircut right now?” – but when the pair launch into ‘Your Power’, it becomes a space for the audience and Eilish’s haunting vocals to breathe. “Protect young girls,” she states plainly at the end, to thunderous approval.
They close the acoustic set with a new song that debuted in Manchester just a few nights before. On ‘TV’, Eilish sings “The internet’s gone wild watching movie stars on trial / While they’re overturning Roe V. Wade,” and it’s hardly the first time Eilish has raised her political voice. During her performance of ‘all the good girls go to hell’, the screens are littered with images of protests for environmental sustainability, Black Lives Matter, trans rights and reproductive rights – and all this takes place in a venue that has gone fully vegan during her residency.
Billie Eilish is already a perfect ideological fit for Worthy Farm thanks to her climate activism and message of acceptance, but this supersonic performance at the O2 only further solidifies that her Glastonbury headline slot in a few weeks’ time is destiny. As the dying notes of Finneas’ guitar solo in ‘Happier Than Ever’ ring out, Eilish turns to each section of the confetti-strewn, adoring crowd and motions to hug them – “Look after our planet; look after our people”. To the scores of teenagers looking up to her as a generational icon, they could do a hell of a lot worse.