Los Angeles native Billie Eilish might be the world’s busiest 17-year-old: She’s a moody singer-songwriter with an angelic voice, a newly signed model with a major contract, and an artsy upstart with a reputation for making music videos that go mega-viral. She’s also an influencer in the least cringey sense of the word, with seven million Instagram followers and an obsessively supportive fan base that’s been with her since she burst onto the music scene with the surprise 2016 hit “Ocean Eyes.” And with her first full-length album slated for this spring, there’s a good chance she’ll be a household name in a matter of months—or at least in the households that haven’t already been introduced by the legions of existing Eilish proselytizers.
Despite her prodigy status, Eilish seems intent on redrawing whatever image the “pop star” label usually conjures. She remembers what it was like to adore bigger-than-God pop stars desperately and from afar, but Gen Z doesn’t really work that way anymore. “I grew up being such a fan of so many people, and I never got any sort of connection with them,” Eilish says. As a tween in the mid-aughts, her first true love was, naturally, Justin Bieber. “It wasn’t like I was just a fan, man,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve been in love before, and it was with him.” Bieber was one of the biggest pop stars in the world at the time, and Eilish distinctly remembers crying to her 12-year-old self, thinking he’d never know who she was (a scenario that’s less and less likely the longer she makes music).
And yet, that experience as a fan deeply informs her approach to fame now that she’s the one in the spotlight. It’s why she wants to stay so accessible to her own fan base, no matter how big she gets. “I feel like mainly what I’m trying to do is be the artist that I never got,” she says. Her social-media dominance has helped, of course. “I have certain days when I say, ‘OK, I’m just going to DM a bunch of different fan accounts or kids that I know genuinely care about the art and the idea of it,’” she says. “All of the shit in this whole whatever-I’m-doing—none of it matters except for when I get to share it with those people.”
Just because Eilish is shirking the typical pop-star aloofness, though, doesn’t mean she’s totally dodged the less savory trappings of celebrity. She’s still not used to having to be “on” all the time, she laments, especially when she feels self-conscious or exhausted from her constant tour schedule. “Fame is horrible,” she says dryly. “It’s worth it because it lets me play shows and meet people, but fame itself is fuckin’ dreadful.”
Still, the ability to draw a crowd that can drive her crazy has also gotten her some pretty massive opportunities. Her song “Lovely,” a collaboration with buzzy singer-songwriter Khalid, has millions of views on YouTube, she sat front row at the Calvin Klein show during New York Fashion Week, she’s toured with Florence and the Machine, and next month she’ll wrap up a headlining world tour that’s lasted the better part of a year.
So with all her newfound notoriety, is there anyone she’s dying to work with? “Tyler, the Creator,” she says immediately. “To make anything with him, to work with him on any level, would just be insane.” The same goes for Childish Gambino, she says—another highly visual musicmaker. As for Justin Bieber? “I don’t even want to meet him,” says Eilish. “I don’t want to cry in front of him.”
This story originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Marie Claire.