The documentary of a modern popstar for the people, totally in control
It’s hard to be unaware of Billie Eilish, as her music, style, and personality currently dominate the musical landscape. In the past few weeks, she added two Grammys to her collection, dropped a pic of her sleek new ‘do that immediately became one of Instagram’s top posts of all time, and offered a peek into her life via the Apple+ release The World’s A Little Blurry. The doc, funded and produced by her label, follows teen sensation Eilish from the inception of her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? through its release and world tour, and culminates with her historical 2020 sweep at the Grammys.
At a glance, Eilish seems to be a wildcard choice for pop prominence, but she does, in fact, check the standard boxes we expect from our young divas. Her catchy hooks, looks, and personality all mainline directly into the zeitgeist, and her casual, hip lifestyle is appropriately aspirational. The World’s A Little Blurry showcases a young woman in tight possession of her own agency, from her collection of sketches that morph into songs and videos, to distinctive wardrobe choices, and the underlying messages in her music. Though she records from her older brother Finneas’s bedroom, and the two ostensibly collaborate, Billie firmly holds the reigns of her career.
The documentary artfully juxtaposes a woman on the verge of superstardom with the smaller existence she’s rapidly outgrowing. Between sold-out shows and radio interviews, Eilish washes her own laundry, becomes a licensed driver, and struggles with an unreliable suitor. Whereas predecessors like Britney Spears navigated the treacherous side of fame without a North Star, Eilish’s entire family pivots around her myriad needs. And, as an oblivious teen, she fails to recognize the lengths those around her go to ensconce her in their care. When a Tourette’s attack renders Eilish helpless, her mother swoops in to guide her through it. As the label pressures Finneas to produce a hit, he protectively hides the news from his sister, lest she experience a moment of distress. When a moody Eilish bails on a meet and greet, her team quickly apologizes for failing her, and rush in to soothe her tender feels.
Like Madonna in Truth or Dare, Eilish allows us to view both her favorable and unflattering moments, creating an experience that feels unguarded and raw, even though on some level we know she scrupulously curated every millisecond of the production. And it totally works. The World’s A Little Blurry unveils an endearingly tender-hearted young woman eager to please her fans, who feels like a nobody, and battles deep sadness and loneliness which no number of Spotify plays can chase away. It also showcases the powerhouse talent of an artist who tirelessly plans video shoots, crafts songs, and pushes through physical injuries sustained by her ceaseless need to produce top-shelf entertainment.
Katy Perry shows up before Eilish’s set at Coachella to offer support and career advice. Eilish takes it in stride, then dorks out hard when she realizes the superfan at Katy’s side is Orlando Bloom. Justin Bieber introduces himself to Eilish and champions her success, and no one ever even hints that he’s lame. It turns out Eilish understands the fierce ardor of the audience, as she once was a red-hot Belieber. Her need to accessibly rule her fandom means she largely invests in building Billie, the brand. As a result, Eilish the young woman struggles to define herself, and probably isn’t generally the most fun person in the room.
With a run time of almost 2.5 hours, The World’s A Little Blurry veers into the indulgent, though no particular moment stands out as immediately extraneous. Every moment is artfully curated to bring us closer to the real Billie. Though no one can ever fully reveal themselves to a camera crew and audience, Eilish wholeheartedly tries, and largely succeeds. Rather than tantalizing from afar, she graciously moves among us, performative, yet real, a modern pop princess of and for the people.