The Ones: Billie Eilish
The singer shares her story and says that “being an artist is the same thing as being a fan.”
Words: Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins
“The Ones” celebrates a new generation of defiant, talented individuals. Click here for more stories about the cast.
Despite being born and raised in Los Angeles, the silver-haired, blue-eyed singer, Billie Eilish, is feeling the vibe at Harlem’s Rucker Park.
New York’s Rucker is known as much for its hard rock attitude as it is for being an intersection of basketball and street style. It’s a respected battleground for the world’s top ballers and a destination for some of New York’s most storied rappers, fashion icons and locals. Much like the rest of Harlem, Rucker has a palpable edge that you feel the moment you walk in. Not everyone belongs here.
At 16 years old, here on this legendary court, Billie has an impressive sense of belonging. She’s the first to acknowledge it, in addition to the fact that she’s been singing “since she was born.” She also explains that Eilish is one of her middle names; believe it or not, Pirate is another. Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell makes music with her older brother, Finneas, who wrote and produced her first major hit, “Ocean Eyes.” The song was originally made for her dance class, and after it went viral online, Billie found herself in meetings about turning singing into her full-time job.
Billie walks with purpose wearing the Air Jordan 1 Explorer XX, her baggy clothes swaying as she walks. And as we’re introduced, her piercing blue eyes do not waver. When we begin to chat, it becomes clear that through a mix of nature and nurture, she knows herself and is leading the way for wherever she decides to go next.
How were you able to learn music from an early age?
My mom taught me how to write music, and my dad taught me how to play the piano and stuff. I basically taught myself everything else from YouTube. You can learn anything from YouTube. You feel me?
Even though you come from a creative, musical family, how did you figure out your own path?
I wasn’t forced into anything, because I was home-schooled. It gave me more freedom to figure out what I wanted. I got to try out other ways of being. That’s the reason I’m here now, because I had the time to be like, “Wow, music is actually what I want to do.”
Growing up, what were your observations of the music space?
I grew up as a fan. Everyone is a fan of someone else. A lot of people don’t realize that being an artist is the same thing as being a fan. What’s the point of making music that you’re not a fan of?
Billie has spent a lot of time figuring out what she likes, whether it’s dancing as part of a dance company, singing choir, recording and editing music videos on her laptop or routinely visiting the “soda pop” shop in her neighborhood. Having never spent a day in a traditional school setting, she had valuable time to investigate her interests, hone her craft and calcify her sense of self.
Now that you’ve got songs out, and now that people recognize you, how are things different?
I’d be happy either way. I like the art that I’m making. I like what I’m doing, and if I don’t, there’s no point really. None of the hype really matters.
How does style work its way into your art?
Obviously, I make music, but without clothes, fashion and style, I’m not at all who I want to be. If I’m not wearing something that I’m comfortable in, then mentally, I’m not comfortable either. I want people to look at me when I walk into a room, you know? Even if they’re judging me or think that I look horribly ratchet, I’m like, “Ok, good.”
Which explains the unexpected wardrobe swap just prior to our meetup. At some point, Billie realized that she wanted to change her outfit. Though it could have seemed nebulous at first, it was purposeful. She returned with another ‘fit that she customized on the spot. Somehow, she made a necklace out of something that likely wasn’t a necklace before she got her hands on it. She quickly reveals that her ability to remix her attire comes from a childhood of copping what was affordable and reclaiming thrifted items.
When did you first encounter a pair of Jordans?
I remember going to a thrift shop with my mom once. When we walked in, I ran across the floor to a bunch of shoes, where I found some Jordan 4s. I picked them up and asked my mom to buy them for me. They were super old and beat up.
So you know your sneakers, but you didn’t see MJ play at all.
I was literally zero years old, because I was born in 2001. It wasn’t part of my generation, but that doesn’t really matter, because I respect it.
One thing I love about Jordans is that there are so many of them. It’s like one, two, three, four, five, six, and it just goes on and on. It’s still going. I like that it doesn’t really have an end. If some person doesn’t like one, they can like another one. You can like all of them, you can hate all of them, but I love all of them, really. Each shoe is a personality in itself.
The Air Jordan 1 Explorer XX is now available in women’s sizes 5 to 12 from select retailers.