Billie Eilish's "Bellyache" Is Totally Psycho and Perfectly Pop
With millions of plays under her belt, she's still only 15 years old. We talk to the LA singer about horror flicks and her latest tune with murderous tendencies.
In the north-east of Los Angeles away from the buzz of Hollywood, the nightlife of downtown and the arts community of Silver Lake lies the residential hub of Highland Park. It might not be the place where you'd think you'd find a bright new pop star hope, but that's where 15-year-old Billie Ellish is building her foundations. At the age of eight, she started writing songs, collaborating with her older brother Finneas—also a nascent songwriter—while also performing in the Los Angeles Children's Chorus and practicing dance. By the way, Finneas (O'Connell) doubles up as an actor. You may recognize him from the last series of Glee (he played Alistair), or 2011 flick Bad Teacher in which he throws a basketball at Cameron Diaz. Clearly, there are many strings to these siblings' creative bow.
Last year, Eilish released the stunning lullaby-ish "Ocean Eyes" to a flurry of interest, drawing comparisons with Lana Del Rey and Lorde. Now, however, she's back with her first release of 2017 and she's very much treading her own path. Premiering below is "Bellyache," an acoustic-led, Latin-influenced macabre tale that begins "Sitting all alone, mouth full of gum, in the driveway…" as Eilish takes on the persona of a psychopath who's killed her friends and dumped their bodies in the backseat of her car. "Where's my mind?" she repeats before the chorus kicks in with skittering R&B beats. We caught up with Billie about her dark fantasies and what she really gets up to with her friends while they're still alive…
Noisey: Hi Billie. What have you been up to this fine day?
Billie Eilish: I had physical therapy, then came home and had a meeting about the "Bellyache" video which is going to be dope as hell. Then I went to choir.
Can you tell us about the video concept for "Bellyache"?
It's pretty secret right now but it's cool!
OK fine. Well, tell us more about the song. It's fictional, right?
It's obviously fictional. When me and my brother are writing we find it fun to put yourself into character or become someone else, to write about something we've never done before. 'Bellyache' is about the concept of guilt, when you do things in the moment because you feel so strongly about them. In the end you're left with the decision you made. That line—"I thought that I'd feel better, but now I gotta bellyache"—is about how you kinda know that you're the worst but you don't care. It's about a psychopath who regrets being a psychopath but doesn't really care.
So you get to live out your darkest fantasies with songwriting?
Exactly. The dream.
Do you ever use your favorite fictional characters in songwriting?
Not really. I'll make up a character. If I see somebody once and they give me a certain vibe, I'll make a character out of that person I met the one time.
Are you a fan of horror?
I love horror so much! My family hates horror movies but I don't get scared of stuff at all. I've watched American Horror Story three times. The Babadook is probably my favorite horror movie. "Bellyache" maybe reminds me of the movie Split, which I actually haven't seen yet.
What was the first horror movie you ever saw?
Oh my god! My neighbor used to make short independent horror movies. I was six when he'd ask me to be in them and I'd get so excited. I used to watch them over and over because I thought they were so cool.
You and your brother have a very unique songwriting partnership. Do you still tear each other's hair out?
We still do that! He's my best friend. I don't know if I'm his. We're close and hang out all the time because we live three feet apart. I think he's hilarious and he thinks I'm hilarious—I think! We're open with each other. I can tell him anything I'm feeling.
What's a typical day like for you right now?
It really depends on what I have that day. It used to be dance all day every day but I don't dance any more. I have a million injuries and I miss it a lot but it's given me more time to focus on music. Right now, I wake up at about noon. Haha!
It's because I go to sleep at four so I wake up at 12. Lately, I've been writing a ton and teaching myself production. I'll just sit at my computer and learn how production works. I have this notebook where I write down how I feel— it doesn't have to form a song or a poem. Sometimes I'll make it rhyme, sometimes it'll be one word. Sometimes I'll make drawings of clothes I wanna make. I'm super into fashion. II'm basically writing, then hanging out with friends, then I come home and me and Finneas will work together and I'll go to some concert or a party. That's how it goes."
Is it more important for you to learn production as a young female in the industry?
I do it for the control factor. Right now I know nothing about production. I know exactly what I want always, but I don't know what it's called or how to get it and that's really difficult for me. So I'm trying to just learn the basics.
You mentioned drawing clothes. How would you describe your fashion sense?
I always try to be uncomfortable. I'll wear something that I know people will look at and either hate or love or be like, What is that?" I don't dress casual any more, it has to be crazy out there. I like being judged so I don't care if people hate it – it makes me even happier if they hate it because then I'm in your head and you're thinking about it and that's on you, bro. I like colors and layers. Sometimes I'll wear four coats. I've worn pants on my arms; I wore camel pants on my arms as a shirt once. That's pretty out of the comfort zone.
Where do you hang out with your friends?
I used to hang out in Silver Lake because all my friends lived there. We'd just walk around on Sunset Boulevard, some of them would skate and go to weird places. But I'm not friends with those people any more so mainly I'm just in my neighborhood or in Pasadena. We find weird spots that nobody's gone to. I like to adventure, drive around, find a creepy alley and just chill."
Are you driving yet?
Not yet—in a few months!
What have you got coming in the next few months?
A lot more stuff! There are only a few songs out and it's really annoying. I'm gonna buy fabric and actually sew clothes for my clothing ideas – I'm not gonna wait for somebody else to do that. Also, videos. I'm a really visual person. I feel like everything is about videos. Bad videos make me wanna die.
What's your favourite music video ever?
Either "I Fucking Hate You" by Tyler The Creator, "Sober" by Childish Gambino, or 'Sweatpants' by Childish Gambino, or "Tamale" by Tyler The Creator. There's a bazillion others but those are my top ones.
You're a massive Tyler fan. What would you say if you met him?
Oh boy, I'd wanna tell him that he has nice lips.
Finally, what is your cure for a bad bellyache?
I used to get a lot of bellyaches. I usually take a bath or go to the bathroom for a really long time. Also, you know, have some water and some Advil.
Eve Barlow is a Scottish writer based in LA. Her favorite horror movies are Scream and Scream 2. Follow her on Twitter.