Featured Image: Kenneth Cappello
You must have been living under a rock for the past few years if you haven’t heard of Billie Eilish: the childhood pop prodigy who already has a number one album and a bond theme tune under her belt at the mere age of 18. She not only stands out for her early success and dark, electronic music style, but she is instantly recognisable due to her iconic public image. Jumping up and down with boundless energy, Billie Eilish wears the same luridly coloured, baggy clothes at every concert. Initially, she claimed she chose this style to “look memorable” and be “intimidating”. However, since then, she has revealed the truth. Eilish wears these clothes to avoid being body shamed and sexualised.
Despite her efforts, she is constantly attacked on social media, where she is accused of “not being a woman” or praised for “not being a slut” due to her dress choices. In a video first played on her Where Do We Go world tour, and has since been released on YouTube- she decided to reveal her body and be proud of it, declaring “Your opinions are not my responsibility”. Her bold attitude towards those who have based her value purely on her appearance is honourable, but should not be necessary. Eilish’s video just highlights the ongoing sexism that is present in the music industry.
The reaction to the video was perhaps the most alarming. In Instagram clips of its premiere in Miami, Eilish’s powerful monologue can barely be heard over the screaming of fans. When she declares, “If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I’m a slut.”, it’s not the message her fans are hearing; the crowd erupts in a frenzy as she takes off her shirt. Some even believed she had been coerced into undressing – did they even listen to her speech? Indeed, The Sun’s headline was “Billie Eilish Strips Down to her Bra” whilst The Daily Mail exclaimed, “Billie Eilish Shows Some Skin in a Rare Public Display”. This blatant sexualisation of an 18-year-old girl is just another example of the never-ending scrutiny that female artists receive in the media.
Her music is rarely the topic of this examination. Either she is accused of being “unwomanly” and “too miserable”, or she is praised in a way that shames other women. Vogue Magazine writes “her total lack of sexualisation” makes her a “Gen-Z Role Model”. Whilst this may seem kind, it has an underlying message that women who display their bodies are indecent, that they must be trying to attract men rather than being proud of their appearance. People are quick to point out that her brother, Finneas O’Connor, writes and produces many of her songs- despite never raising an eyebrow at the team of staff that every male pop star has at their disposal. In short, she suffers the same problem as every female artist: she is judged not for her talent or her voice but for her looks.
This need to satisfy fans through appearance has led to serious mental health issues. Several artists such as Kesha have been diagnosed with eating disorders because of comments made about their body on the internet or by their managers. Singers are frequently recounting the constant pressure to “look sexy” in music videos. People argue that women dressing revealingly on film is empowering – but then why don’t men wear less as well? Whilst the camera zooms in on women clad in bralettes and stilettos, men dance fully clothed in suits and ties. This extra expectation of women in music is unjustified, especially when young girls use female pop stars as their role models. Ultimately, teaching them that their only value is to appeal to men.
At least in these videos, women seem to have control over their sexuality. The most alarming examples of this are in videos from male musicians which feature female backup dancers. Instead of using dance as an art form to express feelings evoked by the music, creative directors include semi-naked women performing sexual dances- whilst rarely focusing on their faces. The sexualisation of music videos is constantly escalating and most dangerously exemplified in the video for Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’. He lost his career for featuring several entirely naked models, whilst he caressed their hair creepily, completely dressed. Disturbingly, the video remains online.
However, artists are beginning to speak out. As well as Eilish, there is Lizzo, who uses her fashion sense and public voice to inspire body positivity in young women- whatever their shape and size. Christina Aguilera shared her frustration through the intro to her 2002 album, Stripped, in which she makes similar statements to Eilish: “Sorry I break the mould. Sorry I don’t do what I’m told”. In the video, she even removes her top over the sound of brooding synthesisers and cuttings from news clips. We can only hope that as more musicians share their story, the world will wake up to the shocking amounts of sexism that remain in this industry.
We can only hope for every woman who is still fighting this unrelenting battle.
Billie Eilish’s debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO, is available on all streaming platforms.