Most celebrities come of age before choosing to release a biographical documentary, but then again, most people are not Billie Eilish. Before she turned nineteen last December, the young chart-topper had already released the album which would help her win five Grammy awards. Her unique and rapid rise to stardom is now the subject of Apple TV+’s latest feature, Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry.
In the intimate two-and-a-half-hour documentary, director R.J. Cutler (If I Stay, The September Issue) follows Billie and her brother Finneas, who co-writes and produces his sister’s music, as they record Eilish’s debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The film opens with thirteen-year-old Billie listening to her introductory record, “Ocean Eyes,” being played on the radio for the first time. The scene takes place in her childhood home in Highland Park, Los Angeles, with her parents and brother present to celebrate the achievement. This touching moment sets the tone for the rest of the documentary. As the sister and brother duo work tirelessly to complete the former’s album, the entire Eilish clan quite literally bands together to tackle any obstacle thrown their way. The family is constantly at Billie’s side making sure she stays safe around avaricious label executives and offering comfort after her Coachella performance does not go as planned. It reminds the world of what it has known all along: that Billie Eilish is just a teenager.
In fact, the precocious pop star is not much different than any other self-conscious adolescent. Early in the film, she flips through her diary and cautiously reveals its content. The pages are covered in everything from original song lyrics to macabre drawings, to poems about self-harm. At one point, she explains how her thoughts can get immensely dark. “To be honest with you, I didn’t think I would make it to this age,” she shares candidly.
While some might argue that the artist’s music is too somber, others might say it is the very reason for her success. Billie’s audience is mostly composed of young people who also deal with anxiety, heartbreak, and general growing pains. Exploring her own unhappiness is something the singer has never shied away from because she knows how well her fans can relate to them.
One of the documentary’s greatest strengths is its ability to convey the strong bond that exists between Billie’s fans and her music. As Cutler’s cameras follow the siblings on tour, close-up shots of teenagers with tears rolling down their cheeks, passionately belting memorized lyrics, are wedged in between dreamy performance sequences. The concertgoers are about Billie’s age, bear a substantial resemblance to her, identify with her persona, and respond to the issues she is addressing – they could very well be her.
The film may cover her illustrious sweep at the 2019 Grammy awards and offer a behind the scenes look at the elaboration of the new James Bond theme, but one of the doc’s most memorable moments takes place at a concert at the Rooftop at Pier 17 in New York City, back in 2019. The headliner had just secretly broken up with her boyfriend, nicknamed “Q,” and is visibly upset. She is able to power through most of her set, but eventually breaks down in tears during “i love you,” an emotional love ballad. As always, Finneas is at her side whispering comforting words while the adoring crowd cheers her on. Despite their encouragements, Billie is clearly shaken up and is unable to keep going.
Rather than creating an awkward moment of silence, the incident only creates more empathy for a sensitive teen who was thrown into the spotlight at an impressionable age. The venue doesn’t stay quiet for long as the sea of fans immediately begins carrying the tune for her. The slight scuffle is only a part of the journey.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry is now streaming on Apple TV+ and can be seen in select theaters.