• Emily Coogan

Why the Billie Eilish documentary is essential viewing, even if you’re not a stan

The World’s A Little Blurry has premiered on Apple TV, presenting an intimate glimpse into the life of pop culture icon, Billie Eilish.

One of the most influential musicians of the moment, viewers get a compelling look into the way Eilish, the every-teenager, navigates an online presence, driving tests, disappointing boyfriends, and imposter syndrome.

Assembled entirely from raw footage and home videos, the documentary provides context not only to better understand Eilish, but also to understand teenage superstardom in a way that the public has not been privy to before. It is a lesson in youth success as compared to youth fame, and how the public distinguishes the two. Age proves to be a leading factor in discussions about success, innately adding to or detracting from the significance of a person’s achievements.

So, why doesn’t the idea of fame and all its perils garner the same attention to age?

The crux of the documentary is the artist’s meteoric rise from her bedroom to backstage at Coachella, all before she was 18 years old. Age has become inseparable from Eilish’s public character. Following the release of her most recent album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, she became the youngest artist to win all four major Grammy Awards, the youngest artist to perform the James Bond theme song, and, closer to home, the youngest artist to top Triple J’s Hottest 100. We refuse to detach age from Eilish’s brilliance, yet her teenage status slips the mind when it comes to wanton scrutiny and criticism.

Living on a global stage during some of the most pivotal years personally, but also the most inconstant years in culture, Eilish is shown watching her own social media, acutely aware of the fact that a large base of fans and followers increases the likelihood of being negatively criticised. Her older brother, fellow songwriter and producer, Finneas O’Connell, contemplates that awareness, saying, “She is so woke about her persona on the internet that I think she’s terrified of, like, anything that she makes being hated. I think her equation is the more popular something is, the more hate it’s going to get.” Whether we can thank tall poppy syndrome or human nature more generally, we love to laud others for their triumphs only marginally more than we like to belittle them. Celebrities both young and old are subject to immense scrutiny in this sense, and those who came into fame at a young age are not afforded the safeguards that their adult counterparts have had time and experience to develop.

Age is not considered when mounting fame and recognition is piled onto young stars like Eilish, even when it is a primary characteristic of their esteem. The documentary has been released at an interesting juncture in pop culture, whereby the young stars of yesteryear (think Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato) have exposed the ways in which they were at the mercy of the media, and how youth fame is so frequently exploited in their respective industries. Especially without an adequate support network, young celebrities are left vulnerable to the pitfalls of notability.

After watching the interactions between Eilish and her own family, it’s evident that they are the mainstay of her career. Regardless, the trials of astronomical success and global recognition are a major concern for Eilish’s parents, Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connell, as they juggle their parental and professional duties.

By portraying Eilish’s rise in such a familiar and accessible way, viewers are made to feel empathy for her as a person, rather than exalting her. Stans and passive consumers of music alike are positioned to reject the traditional and almost instinctive flattening of celebrities by the public. The documentary worked to remove the wall between teenager and celebrity, and to challenge the distorted and superficial lens through which we view fame.

Not just another celebrity documentary, The World’s A Little Blurry accesses a level of intimacy necessary to understand celebrity in the era of social media and the internet. The film is a must-watch for a congenial look into both adolescence, success, and the implications of young fame.