Over the past year, 15-year-old Los Angeleno Billie Eilish has been busy establishing herself as a completely unique voice in pop. Equal parts ethereal (her delicate soprano stuns on her first single, "Ocean Eyes") and edgy (in the trap-infused "Bellyache," she takes on the persona of a murderous psychopath), her music has earned endorsements via social media from the likes of Lorde and Charli XCX. Next up? A music video for the track "watch," premiering at the top of the page, from her debut don't smile at me EP (August 11, Interscope). The song itself—written by the singer's brother, Finneas O'Connell, with whom she performs and collaborates—is a missive on leaving a toxic relationship behind: "I'll sit and watch your car burn / With the fire that you started in me," Eilish croons in its sweeping chorus. In the video, the though, singer flips the script, ruminating on the ways a bad relationship can make you feel worse about yourself, too—and how to leave that part of yourself behind (hint: it gets fairly literal). But we'll let her tell you about it.
Noisey: Hi Billie! You helped come up with the concept for this video. What was your vision?
Billie Eilish: I knew I wanted a black room with four orange Dodge Challengers—that's my dream car, and especially orange, which is such a good color, god—and a bunch of girls on top of them. I think in so many music videos, there are girls on top of cars but [they're] like, naked—like strippers on top of cars. And I wanted to take that and change it… I wanted [the girls] to be like, thoughts—the inner [versions of] me, my thought process. They were all dressed like me, which was kind of the idea—in sporty, huge, huge boys-wear.
And then [there would be] a ladder in the middle, and I walk in from where the camera was with ropes tied to my wrists and tied to my ankles… I wanted all the girls to get off the cars, and I wanted the music to stop, and then I wanted them to run over to me and pour gasoline all over me and tie the ropes all to the ladder. I wanted [the silence] to hold for way too long so it was really uncomfortable. And then somebody lights a match, and then they set me on fire. That was my [original] idea—but it was too short!
So how did it continue to evolve?
Our director, Megan [Park], had some ideas, and she came up with the wax [bed]room idea… I'm sitting [in a bedroom], but it looks like the room is melting. The idea is that, at the end of the video, you see that room is right across from the ladder where I'm burning. And I get up and I walk over to the other "ladder" me—[who represents] the old me, who's hurt and heartbroken by this boy, and can't do anything without thinking about this person, and is so distracted. And the new me is kind of over it. You know? Like, "I don't want this me anymore. Go away." So I go up to the old me like, "Screw you, I'm going to light you on fire now."
When I first heard the song "Watch," I didn't think it was primarily about someone's relationship with themselves—how did that second layer come about?
My brother [Finneas O'Connell] wrote this song, and I didn't think of it as about yourself [at first]. But when this video came into my mind, [I realized] anything that has to do with anyone else has to do with you first. Anything that somebody else makes you feel is you making yourself feel that way—but they're triggering it. Everything comes from you.
Like, in a relationship, you're not just in a relationship with that person—you're in a relationship with that person being in a relationship with you. And you have to have a relationship with yourself to understand how they're perceiving you… you have to be aware of what you do and what you say. And if you're self-aware enough—like, this person is treating me really badly, and I feel like nothing, and I feel like waste and not worth anything, then it's time to leave that relationship! So that's kind of what the song is about … the old me is so hurt by this and I hate that you've made me hurt [like] this. Do you ever feel a certain way about somebody and you hate it? Because you don't like them, and you don't like the fact that they make you feel a certain way … like, I don't want to feel this at all, I did not ask for this, you should not have control over the way I feel, you freaking loser!
You just got back from your first-ever—and sold-out—shows in Australia and New Zealand. How was that experience?
I played this crazy show in New Zealand, the second night. The crowd was crazy, oh my god. It was so cool. I posted a couple videos of my Instagram of the [crowd], because they all stood outside in the windows—all the walls to the building were just clear windows—and they all looked like they were going to tear everything down and come see me. But [after my show] I opened up the doors and I ran into [the crowd of] them, because I can't help myself.
You ran out into the crowd at the show?
I can't help myself. The security rules are really strict there, which is really good, but they didn't say I could do that—nobody said I could do that! They were like, "Okay, well, maybe we'll have a couple people come backstage to meet you." So I kept denying [that I would run out], but Finneas and I snuck away, and I was like, "I'm going!" And I ran towards the door and opened it into them and I just slammed into all of them and gave them all hugs. And I was swarmed. It's crazy! It's so fun. I love them.
My whole life, I've been a fan. I've been there. To be on the other side of that is unbelievable… [my fans will] say things like, "You changed my life." and then they'll explain why… it made me beam of joy. I know what it's like to feel like that… I still am [like that]! I still go to concerts. I really like to mosh, and I really like to be right at the front, so I'll literally hop over the fence between general admission and VIP, even if I'm not VIP.
When you were younger, was there a particular artist you loved in that way?
If I [had gone] to a Justin Bieber concert when I was 12, I would have gone crazy, I literally had a fan account for him—which is weird because I have fan accounts for me, now, and they find stuff of me that I don't even know how it exists. But the thing is, I know their techniques! I know how they're finding them! But I love it. It's impressive.
You're continuing your tour through the fall, and you're Apple Music's latest UpNext artist. What else is coming up for you?
I have a couple songs coming out that are features [on other artists' tracks]. A lot of them are rap features. I'm really excited to get into that world, because I want to be more in that world with my music. I don't want to rap, because I can't rap—that would be horrible if I tried! But hip-hop is kind of my thing, and I want to show that side of me more. I still want to have my sound, and not just make plastic hip-hop, but I want to change it. I want to make [my music] what you've never heard before.
Listen to Billie Eilish's Don't Smile at Me EP on Spotify and Apple Music.
Avery Stone is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.