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Billie Eilish Says Growing Up in the Public Eye Has Been a ‘Bruising Experience’

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In five years Billie Eilish has exploded from a bedroom singer/songwriter into an Oscar-winning global pop superstar who can sell out arenas around the world. But in her telling to the BBC World Service for its “100 Women” year-end feature, the 20-year-old star laughed when read descriptions of her such as “icon” and “weird but important feminist.”

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Asked how she would describe herself, Eilish said, “I have no idea. I don’t know. I feel like I might have known how to answer a couple of years ago. I don’t know anymore. Because I don’t look at myself in that way. I don’t look at myself like I’m something to explain. I just exist. I’m just a person. I’m just existing and doing my part in life.”

The rollercoaster of fame is weird. Like how a 14-year-old can go from uploading a song (“Ocean Eyes”) that she recorded with her brother Finneas in their childhood home that catapults her to global fame on a level with people who were formerly her pop icons. For instance, the piece notes that in the Apple TV+ documentary The World’s a Little Blurry there’s a moment when Katy Perry pulls Billie aside right before the singer is about to take the Coachella stage in 2019 and tells Billie she can call if she ever needs any help understanding the bizarre world of pop stardom.

Perry warned her then that things were only going to get more hectic. And while Eilish has not taken Perry up on her offer yet, it still lingers in her mind. “I should call her up. At the time I just didn’t believe her. I didn’t think it would keep going… it’s really hard to see your future like that… It was already so crazy. I couldn’t image it being crazier,” Eilish said. How crazy? Describing fame to someone who hasn’t experienced it is like “trying to explain a color that doesn’t exist” said the singer who has synethesia, which allows her to “see” her music.

And while the accolades, awards and attention have rained down like a glittering meteor shower, Eilish said that growing up in the public eye has been a “very bruising experience” that makes it very hard to develop and change in the way her age-appropriate peers might be. With no playbook, Eilish said she didn’t know what to do, which led to her just “grasping at straws,” even during a record-setting past few years where accolades piled up and she felt tinges of “severe imposter syndrome.”

During some times over the last year or two, Eilish said she was in a “downward spiral of imposter syndrome,” grasping at whatever she could to right herself as the self-proclaimed “internet kid” went from a commenter to the person people were commenting on. “When you see yourself and your name everywhere it’s really hard to know who the hell you are,” she said.

Eilish recalled crying in her bed while dreaming about the kind of show she wished she could present to her fans and then feeling “hopeless because I was like, ‘I’m a girl and so I’m never going to be able to have a show like that. I’m never going to be able to just be, you know, free up there and wild and … not have this and this going on and perform in this way and be more physical and be more about the performance and less about the little things.”

Now, though, Eilish said she’s inspired by all the women at the top of the charts and as headliners of festivals, a situation that wasn’t the case just a few years ago. “There was a specific period of time where I was just like in this pit of just like hopelessness about myself, because I didn’t have much to look up to in terms of girls like me being look at taken seriously in that regard,” she said, noting that the advances have left her feeling “hopeful” as she’s witnessed “a lot of progress” for women in the music industry. “Everything — completely male-dominated. I mean not even a question. Everything is still that way, but it’s better.”

And, rather than feel the pressure to be a role model for her many young female fans, Eilish said she feels none, and that’s a good thing. Rather, she’s “so stoked” about it and doesn’t get hung up about other people calling her a role model. “I just feel like I’m truly in love with them,” she said of her fans. “I feel like I’m in a relationship with them. So any friendship or relationship of whatever. They’re like, one of the first things I say I’m like, just so you know, you’re getting me, but you’re also getting them.”

And yes, she says that to any prospective boyfriends, letting them know that her fans come first.

Check out the interview below.

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