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Cover Story

Billie Eilish Would Like to Reintroduce Herself

To make her best album yet, the superstar had to revisit her past self and rethink everything

B ILLIE EILISH IS AT the bottom of a pool, held down by a large black weight attached to her shoulders. She is not, to put it mildly, enjoying herself. “I was basically waterboarding myself for six hours straight,” the 22-year-old superstar tells me later. “If I’m not suffering somehow, I don’t feel good about what I’m doing.”

Eilish is wearing baggy black pants beneath a pair of shorts, a button-down shirt over a thermal long-sleeve, a striped tie, arm warmers, a variety of silver rings, and a goth-studded bracelet, plus that anchor on her shoulders. She’s been submerging herself over and over for two minutes at a time, holding her breath for the duration, while the photographer William Drumm snaps her sinking beneath a white wooden door. Her eyes are completely open during those 120 seconds, with no goggles or nose plugs to help.

We’re at a soundstage in Santa Clarita, California, on a chilly, rainy February afternoon. Eilish is surrounded by a team of nearly 40 people. There’s a stylist, her management, and caterers standing next to a table filled with snacks and ginger shots. There are men aiding her with an oxygen mask she uses between plunges, with one of them shouting “Three breaths away!” to count down to the moment she goes under. Maggie Baird, Eilish’s mom, nervously sits at the edge of the pool, watching her daughter put her body through the kind of pain experienced divers would struggle with.

The point of all of this suffering? Eilish is shooting the cover for her third album, Hit Me Hard and Soft (out May 17). “If there’s one thing about me, it is I will put myself through hell and back for the shot,” she tells me. “I’ve always been like that, and I will continue to be like that. A lot of my artwork is painful physically in a lot of ways, and I love it. Oh, my God, I live for it.”

Less than 48 hours ago, Eilish won Song of the Year at the Grammys for “What Was I Made For?,” her delicate, devastating hit from the Barbie soundtrack. After the Grammys, she stayed up until 7:30 the next morning, crashed until one, ate some avocado toast, then dyed her hair completely black, saying goodbye to her red roots, in preparation for today’s shoot.

It’s been a weird stretch of time for Eilish. “What Was I Made For?” was way bigger than she anticipated; the past few months have been a blur of awards shows, and she’s ready to disappear for a while, till the album hits, at least. “Bro, nobody can get enough of me,” she tells me. “Every second of every day is Barbie, Barbie, Barbie, Barbie, Barbie, which is great, but as soon as the Oscars are over and I lose, I’m going the fuck away. I’m literally gone.”

But she doesn’t lose: On March 10, she finds herself onstage at the Dolby Theater, accepting the award for Best Original Song — the same award she won in 2022 for “No Time to Die,” from the last James Bond movie — and becoming the youngest double-Oscar winner in history. “I had a nightmare about this last night,” she told the crowd. “I just didn’t think this would happen. I wasn’t expecting this. I feel so incredibly lucky and honored.”

Unimaginably surreal moments like this have been happening to Eilish for a while now. At 17, she became a global sensation with When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, the now-classic 2019 debut that exposed her fragile psyche and rawest feelings of insecurity. Eilish swept us into her dark universe, a realm where her gleaming blue eyes sobbed black ink, spiders scurried out of her mouth, and she grew ginormous, feathery wings so she could fall from heaven.

Hit Me Hard and Soft dunks us headfirst back into that universe, from the deepest wallows of depression to the exhaustion that comes with the world speculating about her every move. There are no arachnids where they shouldn’t be, but getting in touch with her darker side has Eilish finally feeling like herself again. “I feel like this album is me,” she says. “It’s not a character. It feels like the When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? version of me. It feels like my youth and who I was as a kid.”

Although 2019 felt like a whirlwind of madness at the time, she has found herself missing it. “It was the best time of my life,” she says. “This whole process has felt like I’m coming back to the girl that I was. I’ve been grieving her. I’ve been looking for her in everything, and it’s almost like she got drowned by the world and the media. I don’t remember when she went away.”

That was most likely in 2020, at the dawn of Covid. “I was with myself so much that I couldn’t see myself objectively anymore,” she says. “And then I dyed my hair blond and I immediately was like, ‘Oh, I have no idea who I am.’” She recorded her second album, Happier Than Ever, in those confused months of lockdown. Its introspective, jazz-leaning songs got rave reviews, as did her glamorous dresses and new hairdo. But it lacked the incandescent brilliance of When We All Fall Asleep, and Finneas, her brother and closest collaborator, remembers the era as difficult and confusing. “In a weird way, that was a little like being in a tornado cellar, reading a cute little story,” he says. “It was a coping mechanism of an album.”

Eilish doesn’t regret that era; she knows she had to try something outside of her comfort zone in order to come back to her younger self. “In some ways, growing on [Hit Me Hard and Soft] meant revisiting a lot of things,” Finneas says. “I feel like this album has some real ghosts in it, and I say that with love. There’s ideas on this album that are five years old, and there’s a past to it, which I really like. When Billie talks about the era of When We All Fall Asleep, it was this theatricality and this darkness. What’s the thing that no one is as good at as Billie is? This album was an exploration of what we do best.”

Immersing herself back into that darkness, combined with experimenting with new sounds — from a string quartet to glittery dance-floor trance — makes Hit Me Hard and Soft Eilish’s best album yet. She dabbled in belting on the title track to Happier Than Ever, but she brings it full-throttle here on several songs, finally putting all those lame “She’s just whispering” critiques to rest.

“She understands storytelling at such a young age,” says Donald Glover, who cast Eilish in his unnerving series Swarm, marking the musician’s acting debut. “And she’s authentic to her experience. I feel she’s living her life for herself.”

And now, after six hours in the water, the album has a cover. After the shoot wraps, Eilish proceeds to spend 20 straight minutes blowing her nose in her trailer. “It was just white snot blowing out, as if my insides were made of white goo,” she tells me later. She heads to her parents’ house and lies on their couch, finding she can barely walk. The weight has left bruises; her throat hurts; she finds it difficult to speak. She tries to ease her sinus pain with a nasal rinse. She washes her hair twice. She does a face mask and washes her ears in three cycles — first with hydrogen peroxide, then alcohol, followed by warm water. Then she eats some spicy food.

Vintage The Jesus and Mary Chain shirt. Shoes: Custom made by Osiris
Glasses by Chrome Hearts. Jacket and Shirt by Olly Shinder. Shorts by Pro Club. Shoes- Custom made by Osiris

“Everyone was like, ‘You should go home and take a nice bath,’” Eilish recalls. “I was like, ‘I’ve been in water for fucking six hours!’” She takes one anyway, but not before noticing something weird in her parents’ backyard. “I saw these string lights, and each light had a circular orb around each light, a full aura. I felt like I was high and drunk, and I hadn’t slept in days. I was like, ‘Mom, what do those look like to you? Are you seeing that?’ She was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’”

She goes to bed and passes out cold for nine hours — so unusually long for her that Maggie almost goes into her room to make sure she’s OK. “I’ve never suffered that much post-shoot,” Eilish recalls. “I’ve never been in so much pain in my life. All for the shot. That’s what they say about childbirth. It was like 12 hours of horrible, agonizing pain for a lifetime of a great album cover. You know what I’m saying?”

AS A CHILD, Eilish’s biggest fear was water. She has traumatic memories — the swimming instructor whose method was to put her under and wait for her to “figure it out,” or the time she got sucked into the surf of the ocean and a lifeguard had to rescue her. She always found the courage to dive in, but for years, the very idea of swimming made her heart beat faster. And don’t even get her started on whales.

“Oh, my God,” she says. “How can anybody just accept that a whale exists, y’all? Those things are enormous. The noises they make. That shit is terrifying to me. Ew! Terrifying.”

It’s two days after the album-cover shoot, and the rain has barely let up in L.A. Eilish and I are at Finneas’ home studio in Los Feliz, sitting in peach desk chairs at a console that’s lit up a crystal blue. She seizes the keyboard to her brother’s desktop. “I never learned to type because I wasn’t that generation, and now I regret it,” she says. “To be fair, my parents never taught me.” In an effort to show me videos of the animals that influenced the album, she opens YouTube. “Wow!” she shouts. “Finneas doesn’t have fucking Premium out here?”

Eilish isn’t able to find the video she’s looking for, but her own descriptions are vivid enough: She imagined luminous, glowing sea creatures, and butterflies of such a deep blue that they appear black. One color, fueled by her synesthesia, lingered in her mind throughout the making of the album: blue.

“Dude, what’s so interesting to me is that blue has always been my least-favorite color. Which is so stupid because my hair was blue for years,” she says. “But I didn’t mean for it to be — that was an accident. Somebody put too much toner in my white hair and suddenly it was lavendery-blue, and then I kept getting it blue, and then I was known as this blue-haired girl, and I fucking hated it. I went months and months trying to get the color out, and then I had this teal hair. But over the last couple of years, I’ve just been like, ‘Wait, blue is so who I am at my core.’”

The title Hit Me Hard and Soft derives from a conversation she had with Finneas, when she mistakenly thought the name of a synth in Logic Pro was called Hit Me Hard and Soft. “I thought it was such a perfect encapsulation of what this album does,” she explains. “It’s an impossible request: You can’t be hit hard and soft. You can’t do anything hard and soft at the same time. I’m a pretty extremist person, and I really like when things are really intense physically, but I also love when things are very tender and sweet. I want two things at once. So I thought that was a really good way to describe me, and I love that it’s not possible.”

Shirt and Pants by Olly Shinder.

For now, her black hair is loosely tied back, revealing diamond-studded dollar-sign earrings. She’s dressed entirely in black, including a T-shirt with a quote often attributed to Kurt Cobain: “No One Dies a Virgin, Life Fucks Us All.” When Eilish swivels the chair around, the top of her new back tattoo — black chaotic lines that run down her spine — peeks from under her shirt. Later, she tells me she actually kind of enjoyed getting it. “That shit saved me in a way,” she says. “I was shirtless the entire day, because it was my spine, and so I had no shirt and no bra on all day, and it forced me to get comfortable.”

To the left of Eilish sits a Petrof piano. On top sits a cue card, saved from a 2021 SNL appearance, that reads “Hi, I’m Billie Eilish and I’ll be the host and musical guest this week on Saturday Night Live.” Finneas’ setup also includes stacks of synthesizers, from a Sequential Prophet XL to a vintage Memorymoog, and a shelf of guitars both electric and acoustic. A Columbia gramophone in seemingly perfect condition sits near a velvet, terra-cotta-colored couch; by the door rests a limited-edition Xbox made in collaboration with Gucci. Beyond that is the bathroom, its walls covered in the platinum records he made with his sister.

Finneas says he had to name the studio for “antiquated” copyright purposes, so he settled on the Astronave, which means “spacecraft” in Spanish. He’s worried it sounds “goofy and pretentious,” but I assure him it’s charming. It’s fitting for the subtle touch of whimsy in the room, like the plastic banana and orange shakers, and an incense burner in the shape of a fried egg (the stick goes right through the yolk, obviously). Below a copy of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is Doug Bierend’s In Search of Mycotopia: Citizen Science, Fungi Fanatics, and the Untapped Potential of Mushrooms.

Finneas moved out of his parents’ Highland Park home — made famous in R.J. Cutler’s documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, which chronicled Eilish’s rise to fame — and built the Astronave in 2019. You would think living apart from his sibling would hurt the creative process, but Finneas says the distance actually improved their dynamic.

“At home, I always had this feeling of ‘Should we be working?’” he says. “‘Should I tell her to come into my room and write a song, and so should I therefore not be playing a video game or FaceTiming my girlfriend? ’ So the delineation is nice. ‘Come on over. Working or not, you’re here and you know that that’s why you came. And if we’re not working, it’s because we’re uninspired and we’re going to go play pickleball or whatever.’”

Glasses by Chrome Hearts. Shirt by Ashley Williams x 54thegate. Shorts by Olly Shinder. Boots: Vintage K2.
Glasses by Oakley. Vintage The Jesus and Mary Chain shirt. Shoes: Custom made by Osiris.

Eilish’s gray rescue pit bull, Shark, hovers behind her, shaking his tail rapidly. He turns four tomorrow, and Eilish plans to celebrate with a birthday hike. But for now he’s hanging here, waiting to be picked up by Eilish’s assistant. “I know you had the most boring day of your life,” she tells him.

Shark is unable to be at Eilish’s home right now because of an accident that occurred this morning. Eilish made a smoothie, but the mug shattered across the floor, with shards scattering through three different rooms. She was particularly proud of this smoothie — strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, and nondairy yogurt — which was going to accompany her two Beyond Meat Italian sausages. (Eilish was raised vegetarian and is a longtime vegan.)

(The mug that broke, by the way, was a gift from her friend Hailey Bieber. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Billie’s soul has been here a lot of times,” Bieber tells me. “That’s really how I feel about her. She has established herself as a once-in-a-generation artist, and that is something that’s so special and so rare. I can’t imagine that I’m not going to be rocking out to Billie still when I’m in my fifties and sixties. That’s my girl.”)

Shark makes a cameo on the record — you can hear him breathing and jangling his collar on one of the tracks — but he’s not the only guest: Hit Me Hard and Soft features five people beyond the O’Connell siblings. They recruited their live drummer, Andrew Marshall, to record a layer of drums, and the Attacca Quartet, whom Finneas met while working on the score for Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming Apple TV+ series, Disclaimer, is also featured. The quartet’s strings are the through line of Hit Me Hard and Soft, an intense yet delicate — you might say hard and soft — element that ties the 10 tracks together, with a string motif that bookends the album and also pops up in the middle.

Finneas joins us, taking a seat on the couch next to a Takashi Murakami rainbow pillow. They’re about to play me the album, and they casually let me know I’m one of the first people to hear it — no one besides the Interscope team and two of Eilish’s friends have experienced it. The deadline for mixing and mastering is a week away, so they plan on taking notes. “While you’re hopefully enjoying it, we’ll be sitting here grimacing, writing down what we think could be better about it,” jokes Finneas.

Eilish and Finneas call Hit Me Hard and Soft “an album-ass album.” It’s not a concept record, but it is a self-consciously cohesive set of songs, inspired by auteurist works from the past 15 years or so, like Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die, Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin, Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart, and Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory. “I love being dropped into a universe on a person’s album,” Finneas says, “when you find a whole body of work that you love to listen to, top to bottom. I’m so much happier than when I hear a great song, when you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I get to cook my whole dinner listening to this album.’”

I mention that album listening as an art form isn’t really a thing these days — most kids experience songs one at a time. Or, as Finneas points out, not even a whole track: “We’re not even at ‘song’ anymore,” he says. “We’re at the line from the second verse that blew up on TikTok. We’re mostly watching content in vertical that was made an hour ago — some person telling you their thoughts about something from an hour ago.” But he feels like old-school music listening is going to have a comeback, in the same way that cinema did last year with Barbenheimer. “Everything’s a counter-movement to the movement,” he says. “I think that’s going to lead back to immersing yourself in an album. I really do.”

This is also why Eilish isn’t releasing a single from Hit Me Hard and Soft. “I don’t like singles from albums,” she admits. “Every single time an artist I love puts out a single without the context of the album, I’m just already prone to hating on it. I really don’t like when things are out of context. This album is like a family: I don’t want one little kid to be in the middle of the room alone.”

Face guard: Custom made by Stefan Cooke.

As soon as they hit play, I realize Eilish is right. The opening track, the title of which I’ve agreed not to reveal, plays like a sister song to “What Was I Made For?” Eilish has talked about how she and Finneas experienced serious writer’s block before coming up with the Barbie track, but what she hadn’t revealed was that this album opener was born first — the catalyst to writing the hit. It carries the same sparse fragility as “What Was I Made For?,” featuring Eilish’s whispered vocals over a gorgeous melody. But the lyrics are even more devastating, as Eilish tackles the misconception that losing weight signifies happiness.

Directly after that is “Lunch,” a complete 180 in both sound and subject content. It’s a sexy, bass-heavy banger where Eilish is crushing on a girl so hard she likens sex with her to devouring a meal. Finneas remembers playing this moment for Interscope and witnessing the team shift in their seats. “What’s funny about starting the album with [the opener] is that it is a total false promise,” he says. “If you’re remembering ‘What Was I Made For?’ and then you hear [it], you go, ‘Oh, OK. I understand this world.’ Then the drums come in [on “Lunch”], and it really is the kill-the-main-character-type beat. It’s like Drew Barrymore being in the first five minutes of Scream and then they kill her. You’re like, ‘They can’t kill Drew. Oh, my God, they killed Drew!’”

A COUPLE OF WEEKS LATER, Eilish and I take Shark on a mile-long walk. At one point, we encounter an elderly woman retrieving her mail. She glances at Eilish’s outfit — black skeleton sweatpants, a Biggie Smalls shirt, and a pair of black skate shoes that are a collaboration between Osiris and Fuck the Population. “I like your Halloween outfit!” she tells Eilish. The pop star thanks her, uncontrollably laughing as we pass. “Damn,” Eilish says. “She got my ass!”

Even with a security team and her pit bull, Eilish has had frightening experiences, like stalkers who showed up to her home unannounced. Shark might be medicated with anti-anxiety meds like trazodone and Reconcile, but he knows his duty around Eilish: “Just because he’s anxious doesn’t mean he couldn’t rip your face off if you come into my house,” she says. It’s the ugly part of fame — the downside that normal, nonfamous people rarely think about. I tell Eilish how sorry I feel for her, that these events sound like the plot of a horror film.

“Thank you, dude,” she says, chuckling. “It’s not in the job description, for sure. I had really scary things happen in my personal life and my safety was compromised a couple of times, and that’s a big part of my life. That is something I just have to live with. But I don’t know, it really made me resentful of my life, when you can’t even be in your own house.”

Face guard: Custom made by Stefan Cooke.
Glasses by Chrome Hearts. Shirt and Pants by Olly Shinder. Shoes: Custom made by Osiris.

Eilish is trying to go out in public more. It’s part of her effort to get her old self back — the When We All Fall Asleep-era Billie she’s been chasing, whom she affectionately calls “2019 me.” It also stems from last summer, when she suffered a bout of depression she describes as “realer than it’s ever been.” Later, she shows me a page in her journal, where she wrote two lines in all-caps: “I know I’m lucky/But I’m so unhappy.”

“It was just realer than it’s ever been before,” she says. “My whole life, I’ve never been a happy person, really. I’ve been a joyous person, but not a happy person. I experience joy and laughter and I can find fun in things, but I’m a depressed person. I’ve suffered with a lot of depression my whole life. When things happen in my soul, or whatever, the thing I’ve always held on to is ‘Well, it’ll pass. It’ll come in waves and it’ll get worse and it’ll get better.’ And that’s always brought me comfort. And this time, I literally was like, ‘I don’t care. I don’t even want it to get better.’”

Eilish credits Maggie; her father, Patrick; Finneas; and Zoe Donahoe, her best friend since childhood, with keeping her afloat during this time. She realized one thing for certain: She had to get out of the house more. “I hit a turning point,” she says. “I had this moment of like, ‘Oh, my God, I haven’t had fun in seven years.’ Truly. I had this illusion that I had, because who experiences going to the Grammys at basically 17 and winning five? But in life, I realized I had really not experienced that much. I didn’t go outside for five years. How was I supposed to have any experiences?”

She decided to start small: the grocery store. A year ago, she walked into Lassens, a natural-grocery chain in Los Angeles she hadn’t been to since she was a child. She went to Erewhon, the celebrity grocery store, in Silver Lake. She saw Turnstile in concert. She went to Target, CVS, some thrift stores. She went to parties. She went with Donahoe to get ice cream, walking inside the shop instead of hanging back in the car like she normally does. And just the other night, she went to a book reading with Mustafa the Poet (she was late and didn’t arrive until the end, but we’ll count it).

“I’m afraid,” she says. “For a fucking good reason. I’m afraid of people, I’m afraid of the world. It’s just scary for somebody like me, and even if it’s not scary, it means being on and being vulnerable and being seen and being filmed and whatever. But with that all in mind, I have been choosing to do the thing that scares me more. I am biting the bullet and existing in the world for once.”

“We have talked about that a little bit, and I love that for her,” says her friend Hailey Bieber. “When I look at someone like her or Justin, that’s one thing that I don’t necessarily relate to, because I was able to have a completely normal young-person experience. There’s a lot of normal things they’re never going to be able to experience. But I feel like everyone, especially young women, should have the opportunity to experience life and its ups and downs without constantly feeling like you’re doing it in front of the world and somebody always has something to say about it. That’s the only thing that sucks for Billie. But I give her a lot of credit for putting herself out there and for wanting to experience everything the way that she’s meant to as a 22-year-old woman.”

Eilish and Finneas were both struck by something John Mayer told them back in 2019, when her newfound fame was overwhelming: “I remember him saying, ‘It feels like it’s going to feel like that forever, but it will go away, and in a way you want to take it in, because it will cool off, and people won’t act like she’s Bigfoot when they see her,’ ” Eilish says. “That really stuck with me, because I was like, ‘No, it is going to feel like this forever, and everywhere I go, people are going to look at me like they just saw a ghost.’”

Eilish says Mayer’s prophecy hasn’t totally come true yet, but she’s hoping the shock of seeing her in public will subside the more she goes out. “If I do it right, I can exist,” she says. Finneas uses Trader Joe’s as an example: “If you go four times, somebody in the store is going to go, ‘Oh, my God, I recognize that person.’ And they’re going to say that to their friend, and their friend’s going to be like, ‘Yeah, they’re here all the time.’ You normalize yourself, which is the right way to do it.”

“I don’t think people understand, and there is no way for people to understand,” says Eilish’s friend Zoë Kravitz. “The feeling of, everyone’s staring at you and then you have to do this thing where you either acknowledge it and wave like you’re the president, or you have to pretend you don’t know everyone’s staring at you, is energetically draining. A lot of artists go through the space where you’re just like, ‘I just would rather stay inside. I look like shit today, so I don’t want to go out and go on a walk, even though it’s pretty outside.’ Those little moments get taken away from you.”

Glasses by Oakley. Vintage The Jesus and Mary Chain shirt. Shoes: Custom made by Osiris.

There had been another factor keeping her inside: By not going out, she remained an enigma. “That used to be a thing I would strive for,” she says. “I used to be so obsessed with this mysteriousness, and I think that’s 100 percent why I didn’t make any friends, because I didn’t want anyone to know me, because I wanted everyone to think of me as this mysterious, cool person. I loved the idea of people feeling that way, but then I thought, ‘Oh, here I am sitting alone in my room, loving the feeling that everybody thinks I’m really cool, but I’m not actually getting anything out of that. I’m not enjoying anything in my life at all.’”

She had what she describes as an existential crisis at her 20th-birthday party. “I looked around the room and every single person was an employee of mine,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I literally don’t have friends. I don’t have people that see me as an equal. I don’t have people that aren’t afraid of me.’” She couldn’t relate to songs that referenced friendship — the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Lily Allen’s “Smile” — and she says listening to them made her feel sick to her stomach.

Around this time, Kravitz would often ask Eilish to hang out, but Eilish would never follow through. Eventually, the actress called Eilish out on it. “I remember her being like, ‘Why won’t you hang out with me?’” Eilish recalls. “And I was like, ‘Because when you get to know me, you’re going to know me, and that’s so terrifying to me, because then I’m not just, like, this person you think is cool. And what if you don’t like me?’ I was obsessed with the idea of being an anomaly, being this Billie Eilish character. Anyway, I have since thrown away that idea, and been hanging out with people. If they get to know me, that’s OK. That’s good.”

“We’re both Sags, so I totally understand the flightiness because I can be kind of similar,” Kravitz says. “I think I probably just told her to shut up and get over it. And we’ve been really good friends ever since. It’s actually the opposite of what she said: The more I get to know her, she gets better and better.” 

OF ALL THE “NORMAL THINGS” Eilish has been up to lately, one stands out: her recent trip to Chipotle, which she documented on Instagram in a selfie taken with two employees. “Wasn’t that so cute?” she says. “I walked in and they’re like, ‘Why are you in here?’ And I was like, ‘Because I like it and I want food.’ And they were like, ‘But you could eat any food. You could have the best food ever. Don’t you have somebody [who cooks]?’ I’m like, ‘(A) No, I don’t. I’m not bougie like that. And also, fucking Chipotle is fire.’”

It’s important for Eilish to not appear bougie. She hates the idea that someone as wealthy as her should have a personal chef. “Can’t we make a grilled cheese or something by ourselves?” she jokes. She owns an electric Porsche, but does not have a driver. She doesn’t vacation very often (“Vacation is a scam,” she says). And she certainly doesn’t have a private jet. So what’s the one bougie thing Billie Eilish does have? She pauses, taking a minute to think. “The bougiest thing I have … um …” Her lips form into a smile. “Money.”

Eilish has always been an active person. She loves to work out — sometimes obsessively — and she recently got back into dancing, which was her primary creative outlet before she injured her hip at 13.

I ask her what she likes to do to decompress. “Sex,” she says. “I basically talk about sex any time I possibly can. That’s literally my favorite topic. My experience as a woman has been that it’s seen in such a weird way. People are so uncomfortable talking about it, and weirded out when women are very comfortable in their sexuality and communicative in it. I think it’s such a frowned-upon thing to talk about, and I think that should change. You asked me what I do to decompress? That shit can really, really save you sometimes, just saying. Can’t recommend it more, to be real.”

Eilish would also like a word about masturbation, which she says is equally taboo for women. Self-pleasure, she says, has made her more confident. “TMI, but self-pleasure is an enormous, enormous part of my life, and a huge, huge help for me,” she says. “People should be jerking it, man. I can’t stress it enough, as somebody with extreme body issues and dysmorphia that I’ve had my entire life.”

Eilish likes to masturbate in front of a mirror. “Partly because it’s hot, but it also makes me have such a raw, deep connection to myself and my body, and have a love for my body that I have not really ever had,” she says. “I got to say, looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking ‘I look really good right now’ is so helpful. You can manufacture the situation you’re in to make sure you look good. You can make the light super dim, you can be in a specific outfit or in a specific position that’s more flattering. I have learned that looking at myself and watching myself feel pleasure has been an extreme help in loving myself and accepting myself, and feeling empowered and comfortable.”

Eilish has been wanting to discuss this with me, and now that she’s gotten it all out, she exhales and inches back farther on the couch. “I should have a Ph.D. in masturbation,” she says.

Eilish and I spend a lot of time talking about the new era she is about to kick off, and how she’ll promote Hit Me Hard and Soft while prioritizing her mental health, privacy, and well-being. With all of that in mind, I wonder if she’s ready for journalists to pepper her with questions about the album’s subject matter, particularly the sexual nature of “Lunch.” “That song was actually part of what helped me become who I am, to be real,” Eilish says. “I wrote some of it before even doing anything with a girl, and then wrote the rest after. I’ve been in love with girls for my whole life, but I just didn’t understand — until, last year, I realized I wanted my face in a vagina. I was never planning on talking about my sexuality ever, in a million years. It’s really frustrating to me that it came up.”

Eilish is referring to her interview with Variety last fall, in which she mentioned she was attracted to women. The quote — “I’m attracted to them for real” — became a national headline. The following month, Eilish attended Variety’s Hitmakers event in L.A. While on the red carpet, she was asked if she intentionally came out in the story. “No, I didn’t,” she told them. “But I kind of thought, ‘Wasn’t it obvious?’” Eilish then posted about it on Instagram, with a caption that read, “Thanks Variety for my award and for also outing me on a red carpet at 11 a.m. instead of talking about anything else that matters. I like boys and girls leave me alone about it please literally who cares.”

Looking back, Eilish admits she overreacted with the Instagram post. “Who fucking cares?” she says. “The whole world suddenly decided who I was, and I didn’t get to say anything or control any of it. Nobody should be pressured into being one thing or the other, and I think that there’s a lot of wanting labels all over the place. Dude, I’ve known people that don’t know their sexuality, or feel comfortable with it, until they’re in their forties, fifties, sixties. It takes a while to find yourself, and I think it’s really unfair, the way that the internet bullies you into talking about who you are and what you are.”

As for that red-carpet quote that made all the headlines, Eilish says she tried to think of a response that would be entertaining for her fans and the internet. “I went into Billie Eilish interview mode, [like], ‘Oh, I don’t care. Yeah, I’ll say whatever. Wasn’t it obvious?’” she says. “And then afterwards I was like, ‘Wait. It wasn’t obvious to me.’”

Thinking about it now, she draws a bigger lesson from that moment. “I know everybody’s been thinking this about me for years and years, but I’m only figuring out myself now,” she says. “And honestly, what I said was funny, because I really was just saying what they’ve all been saying.” She adds that she liked the journalist she was talking to and didn’t want to be rude. But she still felt exploited. “Bro, I have asthma out here,” she says. “I fucking can’t take a breath.”

If Eilish had the opportunity to do it over again on the red carpet, she says, she wouldn’t have answered the question. But she acknowledges it could have been worse. “I’m lucky enough to be in a time when I’m able to say something like that and things go OK for me,” she says. “And that’s not how a lot of people’s experience is.”

TWO DAYS AFTER THE INTERVIEW, Eilish calls me from her cellphone. She’s anxiously driving around Los Angeles, unable to shake the feeling that she told me too much. She laughs when I tell her where I am (the handbag department of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, shopping with my mother-in-law), and we make plans to meet up again the following week.

Back in L.A., Eilish greets me at a different studio; she doesn’t work in conventional studios, but she enjoys hanging out in them. She’s wearing a black Monster Energy drink T-shirt that reaches to her ankles (she says it’s Willy Chavarria, the game-changing New York fashion designer). She takes me into the control room basked in blue lighting, where we sit on opposite ends of a couch.

Eilish thanks me for doing another interview. “I have overshared my whole life,” she tells me. “It’s compulsive, like I need to tell you every single detail about something. That was part of my thing when I was first starting out. I just didn’t give a fuck, and I said anything.”

Eilish says that our talks were therapeutic for her. They were the first non-Barbie interviews she’d done in more than a year, and she was more than ready to discuss this new music she’s been sitting on. But she’s also been forced to rethink how much of herself — and her art — she’s willing to give away.

“I feel like I’ve been beaten down to feel this way,” Eilish tells me. “The way that the world has treated me into feeling extremely anxious about everything that I say. It’s really exhausting when anything I say can become a headline, completely taken out of context, and it leads to constant paranoia.”

She wants to clarify a few things. Most of all, she has zero interest in being a spokesperson for mental health. “I think it’s really weird when you are in the middle of something and somebody asks you to be the advocate for the thing you’re in the middle of,” she says. “I understand that it’s important, and I understand that it’s an epidemic and it needs to be talked about, but I don’t want to fucking be the role model for depression. What happens when I do some shit y’all aren’t going to like?”

If Eilish wants to be an inspiration for anything, let it be her commitment to environmentalism. She’s spoken out against the climate crisis and promoted sustainability on tour, partnering with her mom’s nonprofit, Support + Feed, which aims to combat climate change and increase food security through a plant-based food system. “I have never had an interest in being a role model, ever,” she says. “If you’re going to think I’m a role model, think I’m a role model in terms of trying to save the environment, and being more conscious of the way that you live, and your carbon footprint, and your contribution to animal agriculture.”

Eilish has officially decided to make some changes to the way she presents herself to the world. “This album, to me, feels like a way to restart, in terms of my sharing,” she says. So let’s take a second to reintroduce Billie Eilish, the home-schooled bohemian who captured our attention as a teenager. She’s 22 now, yet she’s more self-aware than people twice her age. She would like some space to grow, to figure out exactly who she is — no label required. She is not the poster child for anything. And she is not, she’d like to note, a TED Talk speaker. So where does that leave us? Eilish sums things up with four simple words that point to her desire for normalcy and acceptance.
“I’m just a girl.”

Production Credits

Photography Direction by EMMA REEVES. Video Direction by KIMBERLY ALEAH. Styling by SPENCER SINGER. Produced by OBJECT & ANIMAL. EMI STEWART and ALEX BRINKMAN, Executive Producers; REESE LAYTON, Creative Producer; JAMI ARCEO and EVAN THICKE, Video Cover Producers.  Video Cover DP: BEN MULLEN Video Cover 1st Assistant Camera: BRADLEY WILDER. Video Cover 2nd Assistant Camera: CHASTIN NOBLETT. Video Cover Editor: NEAL FARMER. Tailored by ANNA TELCS. Hair by BENJAMIN MOHAPI for BENJAMIN SALON. Makeup by EMILY CHENG at THE WALL GROUP. Manicure by ERIN MOFFAT at ART DEPARTMENT. Production Designer: GRACE SURNOW. Leadman: KEVIN LOPEZ. Stunt Coordinator: SARA BEKO. Stunt Utility: NATHAN KAYN. Eco Set Representative: MAYA EL-HAGE. Set Medic: JOSE TONY BAUTISTA. Object & Animal Production assistance: DANIELLE DARLING, BEN NAKHUDA, IZZY STRAUSS and ISAAC FRIEDENBERG. Digital Technician: CALEB SHANE. Photographic assistance: ANDRES CASTILLO and SAÚL BARRERA. Styling assistance: JEMMA FONG and RAY BRAUNGART. Set Dressers: EVELYN JIMENEZ; LEO JOHNSON and T. MARSH.for for