Hold onto your beanies; Billie Eilish is bouncing her way into arenas, and her show at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire proved how she's going to do it
Billie Eilish wants to open this place the fuck up. “On the bridge of this song, I want you to go fucking crazy,” she says before she starts her final song, ‘Copycat’. When the cue comes, the mostly teen crowd on the floor spreads itself to make roundabout-sized pit, with Billie controlling them like a tormented puppet master. Fluorescent Billie-branded beanies are bouncing everywhere. The whole building shakes.
Staggeringly, this is only the start for Billie – she’s yet to release her debut album. It’s the third time she’s played in London, but the first as a bonafide star. Appearances at the Courtyard Theatre and Islington Academy – both of which could only cram 250 people in – were relatively tame affairs, with those rooms as full of industry heads as ardent stans.
Last night, her second of three nights at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire, and in the middle of her first full UK tour, was a very different affair. Teenage fans, most of which are sporting clothes from Billie’s clothing line (baggy, strikingly bright) are in the majority here. At any hint that the house PA is winding down and Billie might be appearing, screams rattle through the venue. The response is already being dubbed as “Billiemania“. Again, she’s not even had an album out yet.
Debut record ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’, however, is due to arrive in a matter of weeks, and though there were hints of what kind of reaction to expect (thumping lead single ‘Bury A Friend’ provoked a huge singalong, as did ‘Wish You Were Gay’, which had been out for barely 24 hours), it was more of a celebration of the journey so far, not the one to come.
For it was the swampy cuts from debut EP ‘Don’t Smile At Me’ that incited carnage. Opening song ‘My Boy’, for which Billie surveyed her disciples from a raised platform at the back of the stage, was a party-starting slice of trap-infused pop, while the slow-burning and self-pitying ‘Idontwannabeyou’ took on a bolshier live production. The bouncing ‘Bellyache’ also found its place, as did the sickly-sweet ukele-led number, ‘Partyfavor’.
Though she’s frequently thought as of a pop star, her live performances suggests that she has more in common with hip-hop’s biggest hitters. She floats around on stage – flanked by co-writer and older brother Finneas as well as a razor-sharp drummer – knowing that her lines will be belted back to her, drifting in and out of attack mode and conserving energy for the biggest lines and the heaviest choruses.
Billie doesn’t take herself too seriously, too. When NME first caught her in New York in 2017, she managed to turn the theme song from the US version of The Office into a crowd-pleasing hit. This time, she interpolates her influences, like the opening music to BBC’s Sherlock, and, er, the Nintendo Wii menu music.
Before ‘Copycat’ pandemonium closes the show, there’s a one-two, totes emosh double-header that demonstrates that Billie can quite easily do it all. The hushed melodies on When The Party’s Over’ swell and soar just as fast as they fade away, while breakthrough hit ‘Ocean Eyes’ is the crowning moment of the night. It was just another transcendent moment for a once-in-a-generation star. Hold onto your beanies, arenas beckon…
Billie Eilish played:
‘When I Was Older’
‘Wish You Were Gay’
‘Bitches Broken Hearts’
‘Six Feet Under’
‘watch / &burn’
‘You Should See Me In A Crown’
‘Bury A Friend’
‘When The Party’s Over’