Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

Mass-marketed angst

Media | How brooding Billie Eilish became a pop sensation
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 1/31/20, 03:38 pm

With long, lime green nails that match her punk rock hair and an extensive Gucci wardrobe, 18-year-old singer Billie Eilish has some of the makings of a pop starlet. But as a homeschooled family kid who wears baggy clothes to avoid being sexualized, she doesn’t quite fit the mold.

Eilish is the hottest act in pop music right now. She took home five Grammy Awards last weekend and became the youngest and the first female artist to win all four major awards for best new artist, song, record, and album in the same year. Before her first studio album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart last year, her singles and EP had garnered her millions of followers on Instagram and Spotify.

She has a fan base of adoring adolescent girls to rival that of Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers. The Australian website Student Edge asked its members why they liked Eilish so much. They wrote things like, “She’s not afraid to tackle the topics and thoughts we all have but are too scared to say,” and, “I can relate to her because she is part of my generation and she knows my struggles.”

Eilish’s music, which she co-writes with her big brother, Finneas O’Connell, fuses the jazz vocals of Amy Winehouse with the low tones and steady rhythm of electronic dance music. Her voice soars, but she tends to mumble her lyrics. She sings about depression, self-harm, anger, and sex—all while sounding like a modern Norah Jones. Maybe that’s another reason teens love her: They can listen to her songs on repeat without alarming unsuspecting parents.

Despite her exploration of unhealthy behavior, Eilish is fervently anti-drugs. She wrote the song “Xanny” about being the perpetual designated driver and not needing Xanax, an oft-abused benzodiazepine, to have a good time.

For all of her emphasis on being a nonconformist, Eilish fits a comfortable niche in the music mass market: edgy but not scary. As soon as she does something really weird, like putting a tarantula in her mouth for the music video “You Should See Me in a Crown,” she commits an act of unimpeachable wholesomeness, like gushing about how much she loves her mom, who accompanies her on tour much of the time. Eilish’s current hit “Bad Guy” tells about a couple vying for physical and emotional dominance over each other. But in interviews, Eilish has insisted it’s all a joke to make fun of people who try to act tough.

Her sound, too, is perfectly engineered for the passive listening behaviors of young people with earbuds permanently fixed to their heads. The songs are short and catchy but not overly distracting. Industry insiders call the style “streambait” because it performs so well on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. In a 2018 article for The Baffler, writer Liz Pelly interviewed a music producer who said, “I’ve definitely been in circumstances where people are saying, ‘Let’s make one of those sad girl Spotify songs.’”

The knowledge that something purporting to be so unique and special could be a result of calculated and clever marketing would surely drive Eilish’s angst-ridden fans further into depression. The antidote, according to author and theologian John Piper, is for teens to search for meaning beyond themselves.

“The word ‘teenager’ did not exist before World War II,” Piper wrote in an open letter to teens in 2015. “Between children and adults, there was no such category of human being. You were a child. Then you were a young adult.”

Piper called on teens to view themselves as important contributors to the work of the kingdom of God—soldiers in a war against the slavery of sin. “Dream of being a kind of teenager that the world cannot explain,” he wrote. “Maybe someday, if there are enough of you, they will invent a new name. And ‘teenager' will be a footnote in the history books.”

Super Bowl shutout

A pro-life group is encouraging viewers to turn off the commercials during this Sunday’s Super Bowl and listen instead to the stories of abortion survivors. Faces of Choice tried since July to purchase from Fox ad time during the big game to air a 30-second spot. The commercial the organization produced (see video above) features abortion survivors saying, “Can you look me in the eye and tell me I shouldn’t exist?”

A representative from Fox told The Washington Times that the network ran out of ad space early and couldn’t accommodate the spot. But Lyric Gillett, director of Faces of Choice, said the network strung her along without a clear answer for months.

“It’s just been a very frustrating experience,” Gillett told the Times.

Fox won’t air the Faces of Choice ad during the Super Bowl, but it will have a commercial with two drag queens promoting Sabra hummus, along with campaign ads for President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg. —L.L.

Associated Press/Photo by Paul Sancya (file) Associated Press/Photo by Paul Sancya (file) Larry Nassar


USA Gymnastics has offered sexual abuse survivors a collective $215 million settlement as part of the organization’s bankruptcy plan. Hundreds of athletes have sued the organization for not protecting them from abuse by Larry Nassar, a former sports doctor. Nassar is serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography.

John Manly, an attorney representing 200 Nassar survivors, rejected the plan, saying it does not address the physical and emotional needs of the victims and does not “include the critical structural changes necessary to ensure the safety of girls moving forward.” A USA Gymnastics official said more settlement money could become available through continuing discussions with the organization’s insurance carrier.

Michigan State University, where Nassar worked for decades, agreed in May 2018 to pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who said he assaulted them. —L.L.

Associated Press/Photo by Brennan Linsley (file) Associated Press/Photo by Brennan Linsley (file) Jack Phillips working at his bakery in Lakewood, Colo.

The icing on the cake

Christian baker Jack Phillips has signed a book deal to recount his experience defending his religious right not to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Phillips’ favor in 2018 but did not resolve the larger issue of whether professionals can decline to participate in same-sex weddings because of their religious beliefs about marriage.

Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, described the memoir as “a firsthand account of his experience on the front lines” of a cultural battle. It is scheduled for release this summer. —L.L.

On hold

The Boston Symphony Orchestra canceled its upcoming tour of Asia because of the coronavirus outbreak. The orchestra had planned a four-city tour starting Thursday in Seoul, South Korea, and going onto Taipei, Taiwan; Hong Kong; and Shanghai. Chinese officials have canceled sports and cultural events throughout the country due to the epidemic, which had infected nearly 10,000 people by Friday. The orchestra said it was considering scheduling concerts and special events in Boston during the time it was supposed to be on tour. —L.L.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • Kingdomnetworker
    Posted: Sat, 02/01/2020 09:52 am

    Let us not be fooled. Fox News is a secular news organization promoting many ungodly values. They don't want to be vilified by various powerful social and political movements. However, they are much less rabidly anti-Christian than much of the news media.  May we trust God to help to get out this message.

  • Matt1344
    Posted: Tue, 02/04/2020 01:40 pm

    Fox had no Super Bowl ad time available in July for a pro-lfe group but did for Bloomberg who announced his candidacy on November 24?