Austin City Limits Music Fest 2019 bands, find yourself a fan that looks at you the way 12-year-old kids look at Billie Eilish.
Why do the kids love her so? She’s effortlessly cool even as a roaring sea of fans melt down in ecstasy in front of her Saturday evening. While she’s in the crowd, someone swipes one of the diamond-covered rings from her fingers. Even then, Eilish keeps her cool. “That’s OK,” she said. “You can keep it. But take care of it.”
The 17-year-old pop icon’s vocals were met with such an intense scream-along from the crowd, it threatened to swallow her sound up whole. Kids popped atop shoulders playing smartphone documentarian. Hands and phones were in the air far and wide. (Eilish’s set may have been the most well-documented show of ACL Fest 2019.) Eilish feels alien and familiar—part goth, part raver and part alien, with a fashion sense that seems pulled from the 1990s and the 2090s. With radiant lemon-lime hair, long Ninja Turtles ooze-green nails and Gucci-print basketball jersey and shorts, Eilish’s style at ACL Fest matches her sound: It’s all her own.
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After the end of her weekend two performance, I pushed through the ecstatic masses to get the most important take on the show—from Billie’s fans. (Our impression from weekend one stands. Billie owns.)
First up: Presley Harris, a 10-year-old with vibrant pink hair, green nails that match Billie’s and cheeks wet with happy tears. Presley has been coming to ACL every year since before she was born. Her mother, Meleah, came when she was nine months pregnant, bringing Presley along for the ride.
Grinning and practically vibrating with excitement, Presley explained why she loves Eilish so much. “Her songs make you feel not alone,” she said. “She’s so talented… I just want her to keep doing what she’s doing forever.” And she’s not alone in her love for Eilish. “My friends wanted me to record the whole thing.”
Some decry Eilish as a “bad role model,” a label lobbed at nearly every popular female musician from Beyonce to Madonna and back to Loretta Lynn and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But Meleah said listening to Billie’s music with her daughter allows for dialogue around things that kids are actually thinking about and dealing with today. “It’s opened up conversations about serious things,” she said. “We talk a lot about it.”
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And lest older “that’s not music” grumps be skeptical of the taste of a child, Presley reports Saturday’s Billie show was only her second favorite ACL Fest set of all time. The top? “Paul McCartney,” she exclaimed. “I mean, Sir Paul McCartney.”
Keira Hilton and Sydney LaRosa are fifth-graders who’ve loved Billie since Sydney discovered “Ocean Eyes” and couldn’t stop listening to it. Sydney’s fandom spread to Keira and eventually to their parents. “When I heard she was playing, I was like, ‘We have to go to ACL,’” Sydney said.
Both girls agreed the show exceeded their high expectations. Explaining why Billie’s music resonates so much with her and her friends, Keira said, “She can relate to people. And she doesn’t use auto-tune. Also, she doesn’t put on a half-an-inch of makeup.”
“She’s inspiring to other people,” Sydney adds. “And she’s about positive body image.”
When I ask what they thought about a fan stealing one of Eilish’s rings, Keira said that “wasn’t cool,” but added she’s heard Billie’s worth something like $5 million. “And she’s not even an adult!”