Those who aren’t big music fans may wonder how a 19-year-old singer with only one album on her discography is worthy of a feature-length documentary. But few have experienced the meteoric rise that Billie Eilish has in the last few years, a journey that is chronicled in the documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry.
Directed by R.J. Cutler, the film focuses mostly on her ascent in 2018 and 2019, a period before her first album – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? – was released. As the film shows, she was already big thanks to her 2015 debut single, “Ocean Eyes,” and a 2017 EP that had sold well, but her fame was nothing compared to what she was about to experience.
Cutler’s camera is there every step of the way as she goes through the highs and lows of touring around the world, and right away it’s easy to tell that the relationship Eilish has with her fans is different than other stars. She says and shows on many occasions that she needs the fans as much as they need her, with impromptu meetings resulting in hug-fests. “I don’t think of them as fans … they’re part of me,” she says at one point, a depth of feeling that’s unsurprising given the type of music she makes.
Along with her writer/producer brother Finneas O’Connell, she composes songs – and makes accompanying videos – that are often very dark, and she freely admits that some of her material is a result of experiencing depression. Her lyrics, in which she talks about her life with little to no filter, and her fashion aesthetic – baggy clothes, multi-colored hair, long nails – paint her as someone who is unafraid to live her life as authentically as possible.
That mindset is challenged during her tours, as she takes to heart even small slights and constantly pushes herself to deliver for the fans, even to the detriment of her own body. She develops multiple leg injuries because of her showmanship, including a near-disastrous twisted ankle at the beginning of her show in Milan. Despite constant support from Finneas, her parents, and other people on tour, Eilish finds it tough to escape her own negative thoughts.
While no documentary shows everything about someone’s life, this one appears to pull back the veil as much possible. She seems to be as far from a “celebrity” as one could be, with her family still a hugely important part of her life. In addition to laying herself bare in her music, she talks in the film about having Tourette syndrome, and the resulting tics are seen at various points in the movie. The film also doesn’t shy away from showing the downside of fame, as Eilish occasionally finds herself feeling trapped and isolated.
What’s inescapable throughout, and what proves the worthiness of Eilish as the subject of a documentary, is how she’s still just a kid living her dreams and is fully appreciative of her good fortune. Eilish idolized Justin Bieber in her pre-teen years, much like many of her fans now do with her, and the meaning of that is not lost on her. An initial meeting with Bieber at a concert is supremely adorable, and their subsequent interactions show she is far from jaded.
Of course, it all comes down to the music, and the lo-fi process of making her music is mesmerizing. She and Finneas eschew studios, recording songs wherever they please, whether in Finneas’ bedroom at their LA-area home or on the tour bus. While this is far from the polished method of other singers, the result is undeniable and unique. Eilish has a traditionally mellifluous voice, but she often subverts that to make the music she wants to make.
The film is a marathon, even for superfans, at 2 hours and 20 minutes, but it succeeds despite the bloat. Time will tell if Eilish is a musician whose fame will endure, but The World’s a Little Blurry demonstrates that she’s carved a singular niche into the music industry by doing things her own way.
Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry is playing in select theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.