A fascination always emerges upon the rise of a new idol. This fascination however tends to turn almost obsessive, particularly if the subject experiences fame in the midst of their teenage years. And as the universe would have it, Billie Eilish emerged onto our stratosphere as the star of the new age. The World’s a Little Blurry follows Eilish along a supersonic journey to stardom after the accidental viral hit of ‘ocean eyes’.
Directed by RJ Cutler, the documentary submerges deep under, allowing sight of the (almost) full iceberg of Billie Eilish. The documentary begins with a friendly reminder that Eilish was only 13-years-old when ‘ocean eyes’ became a hit. The track’s innocent beginnings came from Billie simply needing a backing track for dance class, thus enlisting her brother, Finneas for help. But as the story goes, instead she found virality. Upon ‘ocean eyes’ first radio play, Billie and Finneas are shown celebrating in their small childhood house. What is almost comedic about this scene is that their dad, Patrick O’ Connell can be seen in the background nonchalantly folding laundry amidst the euphoria.
This is a constant theme in the film as Eilish’s family clearly emerge, even if accidentally, as stars themselves in the film. As Billie says simply, “Our family is just one big f****** song.” And what a catchy song it is, with a majority of the documentary being intimately filmed in the O’Connell family home, which is charmingly cluttered with family memorabilia. It is clear that the house holds a monumental amount of sentiment for Billie, who still lives at home at the height of her fame. It’s not hard to see why as her parents, Maggie Baird and Patrick O’ Connell, show an utmost dedication to their children. This dedication is almost heartbreaking at certain points in the film. When a member of Billie’s team questions if it’s a good idea to discuss her position against taking drugs in ‘xanny’, Maggie quickly jumps to Billie’s defense. She shuts down the question, asking why it is that a teenager has to fear future hate from the internet, for mere expression of her feelings. A stark reminder that growing up in the public eye also means changing in the public eye. Particularly, at a time when no other teen-idol has experienced this level of microscopic examination.
Of course, special mention is due for the creative dynamic between Billie and her brother, Finneas. He operates as the oil in her engine, an unwavering support behind all of her discography. Although it seems almost unfathomable, Billie is particularly insecure about whether she actually possesses any musical talent. Finneas however is quick in snapping her out of it (quite literally at times), without an ounce of insincerity. When the 2020 Grammy nominations are released, Billie completely ignores her own mentions and instead congratulates Finneas on his. He, however, is quick to remind her that it is her success and hard work too.
Music critics have often tried to make sense of Eilish’s success by over simplifying it as ‘just being lucky’. However, Billie’s unwavering dedication to authenticity shines as one of the greatest factors in her success. Her hatred of trying to write a “popular” song is only one ironic example. But perhaps a greater example rings in archival footage of her early shows. The audience clearly and loudly know all the words, smashing the myth that family-friendly lyrics will do better in a commercial environment. Eilish’s lyrics are dark, yet honest in their discussion of mental health. Generation Z grew up in a completely digitized environment, one which has allowed them to smell a fake from a mile away. And if this documentary represents anything, it is how smart teenagers are/have always been. Teenagers must stop being overlooked for their impact on taste-making. Cutler’s portrayal of Eilish’s fans gives them an equal power to her, as ones ahead of the curve. They are never once diminished as “insane” or “naïve” – a trend often seen in music documentaries.
The World’s a Little Blurry is strong in its portrayal of Billie, and doesn’t shy away from the inevtiable struggles of becoming an idol. And surprise, surprise, idols grow up and fall in love. The documentary reveals a previously unseen side of her, where it reflects on a rather toxic relationship she was in with a musician she affectionately referred to as, “Q”. Following her massive career milestone of performing at Coachella, Eilish sits in her trailer afterwards hoping Q will come and see her. But after he fails to do so, she spends the rest of the night mourning his lack of effort. A night meant for celebration is instead filled with loneliness. This scene is frustrating as you’re left questioning how someone of her status could be left in this position, but it’s a reminder that Billie Eilish is simply just a teenager. One of whom will need to come to realizations herself, not from her family or team, in order to grow.
Speaking of idols, a highlight of the documentary occurs when Eilish meets her long-time idol, Justin Bieber. He is mentioned multiple times throughout the film, with Maggie expressing at one point that she worried Billie would need therapy for how in love she was with Bieber. And of course, there’s the infamous video of a 12-year-old Billie wondering about the major moral dilemma of getting a boyfriend… Because well, she would always love Justin more. When they finally meet at Coachella, she quite literally runs away from his hug as he approaches her. But finally, as she gives in to the hug, it’s clear that she’s crying into his arms. Honestly, this scene deserves to be projected onto every single screen for an hour each day. In order to lift up morale, not Billie propaganda, of course. The interaction between Billie and Justin is highly reminiscent of meet and greet excerpts in artist documentaries. What is so poignant about it is the unique manner in which she now holds the same position in her fans’ lives as Justin once did for her. There’s perhaps nothing more poetic than an idol truly understanding how it feels to be a fan.
In speaking to The Independent about the documentary, director RJ Cutler says, “She belongs to the world now and that’s a lot to carry.” But perhaps what The World’s a Little Blurry further forces us to examine as an audience is our privilege in having Billie Eilish in our lives. The intimate look at Eilish’s rise to stardom reveals an undertone that as a public, we must offer more care to our teenage stars. Because like it or not, they’re human too and will constantly keep evolving. Billie Eilish has proven to be as in charge of her career’s direction as anyone else, but the film illustrates that she cares about how we feel in where it’s going. The sacrifice which teenage idols like Eilish make in order to give us music demands a sacrifice from us. And the sacrifice is simple – they just deserve a humane amount of patience and kindness. Just like we all do.
The World’s a Little Blurry is out now and available to stream on Apple TV.