Billie Eilish looks like a parent’s worst nightmare. Her goth couture and morbid songwriting forge the public image of Hot Topic cashier, not a homeschooled child prodigy. Yet a new documentary following the teenage pop star’s fast-tracked rise to fame reveals that behind the dark, twisted persona, are supportive, loving parents cheering her on.
R.J. Cutler’s new documentary “The World’s A Little Blurry” on Apple TV Plus documents Eilish touring and recording her 2019 album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Candid and personal, Eilish lets viewers into the intimate music-making process in her childhood home and through the shock of winning four Grammys at the age of 18.
The film doesn’t just document Grammy nominations or the unique experiences of a world-famous artist, although it does that well, but also showcases the everyday highs and lows of today’s American teenager. Between concerts and recording sessions, Eilish battles depression, boyfriend problems, driver’s license exams, and anxiety over social media comments.
“People are like, Billie Eilish’s music is depressing,” Eilish’s mother Maggie Baird says at one point in the film, referring to her daughter’s songs about suicide and death. “No, it’s that kids are depressed. It’s a scary time.”
Like any other American teenager’s life, a critical component of Eilish’s trajectory is her relationship with her family, and the film showcases that beautifully. Eilish’s parents don’t just defend their daughter’s career – they’re part of it.
They’re not intense stage parents chasing fame or money. They’re an ordinary mom and dad duo – her mom nagging Eilish about doing her physical therapy exercises, her dad making dad jokes about her ghoulishly long fake fingernails. They carry suitcases across Europe on tour and cheer backstage, only to return to their modest Los Angeles home to make tea and work in the yard.
As much as the film is about Eilish and her struggles, it’s really about her whole family, and how they support her amidst the challenges of being a performing artist, and a teenage one at that. In one poignant scene, her father opines on the emotion of watching your children gain independence and grapple with fear, not that comes with watching your daughter perform in front of thousands, but that comes with watching her pull out of your driveway in a car alone for the first time. Her parents and her brother Finneas don’t shield her from the world, but they buoy her in it.
“You’ve got a whole army of people trying to help you not destroy your life, like people in your shoes have done before,” her mother snaps during a disagreement with Eilish’s publicist.
Her mother’s comment juxtaposes her daughter’s career with that of another reoccurring character throughout the documentary, and one of Eilish’s long-time idols, Justin Bieber. Eilish recalls her tween years, stressing that she would never be able to love anyone as much as she did Bieber. When he surprises her before her Coachella performance, Eilish transforms into an adoring teenage fan, sobbing in his arms.
Bieber clearly sees himself in Eilish, facing the challenges of fame at a young age. Katy Perry also approaches Eilish at Coachella to offer both comfort and a warning of sorts about the next decade of her life. But unlike Bieber and Perry, whose relationships with their parents have been strained to nonexistent at times, Eilish’s relationship with her family goes both ways. They are not just looking out for her, but she leans on them.
She talks about her love and respect for them throughout the film, admitting she wouldn’t have made any music without her co-songwriter brother or her parents who taught them how to play instruments. This attitude of a gracious teenager must be surprising to the mom bloggers who call her music satanic.
Young fans of Eilish will enjoy the performances and behind-the-scenes feel of “The World’s A Little Blurry,” especially previously unknown tidbits about the star’s personal life, like the boyfriend she secretly dated for much of 2019.
For adults or parents who may be confused by Eilish’s popularity, they will have a better window into the trials of Gen Z and why her honest, but grim songs about inner demons are topping the charts. For parents who are still not convinced Eilish’s frightening persona is good for their troubled kids, they might be relieved to find a teenager who is not rebelling or running away from the home that shaped her, but leaning in even closer.