What Singers Can Learn from Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish at Lowlands Festival
Billie Eilish at Lowlands Festival
You don’t need to be bombastic to be fantastic -says Jaime Babbitt

Billie Eilish, burst onto the scene in 2016 like a teenage asteroid…and gave all us singers something to think about. Her first video, “Ocean Eyes”, is a head and shoulders shot of a stunning young-girl-becoming-a-woman (she was 13) with an angelic voice singing fabulously evocative lyrics (written by her brother Finneas, originally for his band) being perfectly herself: shy and vulnerable, yet undeniably self-possessed. 

Here – now you can be one of the 155 million people who’ve seen it:

Who is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell, this old soul, unafraid of life’s darker sides, who found her way into the hearts and psyches of music lovers of all ages (especially young girls and women)? Inquiring minds want to know!

Firstly, I think it’s safe to say that Billie is a true artist. She’s less concerned about fame and fortune, and way more concerned about expressing herself in her own unique way. She’s creating trends, not following them. And you, dear readers, get to decide for yourself what kind of artist you’re going to be. Oh, and you get to change your mind, too. *Disclaimer: there’s no shame in any game. Rihanna hasn’t put out anything musical since 2016, yet she’s got $260 million (Fenty Beauty, ahem). 

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Hey, the world has room for all kinds of creativity, right? If you wake up every day and are compelled to sing, write, perform and record songs and feel like life will not be complete without these elements, you do YOU. (Your family and friends may have other opinions, but that’s a bridge you’ll have to cross…)

Secondly, the way Billie does ‘her’ extends far beyond her vocal prowess, which we’ll discuss in a bit. 

Okay, time out, sorry, I can’t concentrate on my writing. You have to see this.

Billie PUT A SPIDER IN HER MOUTH FOR THIS VIDEO,  “You Should See Me In A Crown” (*trigger warning for arachnophobes):

Yowza. Now back to our regularly scheduled article… 

Billie chooses to dress in a way that doesn’t call attention to her body. Many championed her cause, deeming it one of wanting to not be sexualized or body-shamed. However, In a Vogue Australia interview, she said, “I want layers and layers and layers and I want to be mysterious”. Ironically, all this mystery has made Billie into an undisputed fashion icon. She has been rocking a Gucci ankle pillow of late. No, I have no idea what it is for. 

Here she is at Glastonbury rocking pigtails, athletic tape and a surgical mask:

She’s my hero.

However, you came here for the voice stuff, so let’s get to it. 

1. Billie Knows A Little Can Go A Long Way

Let’s look at this week’s pop chart and the female voices dominating it at this writing: Ariana, Lizzo, Taylor, Camila, Miley. All these women have some pretty serious pipes (except maybe Taylor. Sorry. IMHO, Taylor is more of a conversational singer; more on this in another article). Oh, pardon me; did I forget the singer of the #1 song this week?

That’d be Billie. For ‘Bad Guy’. (Billie is the first person born in the 21stcentury to chart #1 on Billboard, or should we say Billieboard?)

Just LISTEN to her voice here. 

Voice? Whisper is more like it. She hardly takes it above that and yet this track drips with personality. Many vocal coaches might argue that she isn’t even singing. I challenge them all to emote at this level/volume. This, dear readers, is the perfect exercise in: how little can one do and still be completely powerful! Billie is showing us over and over how to do this. You don’t need to be bombastic to be fantastic. Challenge yourself. Pick a song: big, loud, rangy…or not, and take things waaaaay down; see if you can still convey the emotional tone and connection.  

2. Billie Knows How To Rock An Airy Voice Like A Bawwws

Show of hands: how many have tried and failed to sing with strength while singing with lots of air? You’re not the first, believe me. 

Of course you want to emulate singers like Billie, Regina Spektor, Elle Goulding, etc. They’re all awesome. The trick is not to do what you usually do when singing with a more pure voice, which is to restrict your exhalation and distribute it at a pace that allows you to finish entire lines. 

Instead, almost counter-intuitively, you want to allow air to escape as you’re singing….and this part is very important: **while not letting up on your breath support AT ALL

Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “Oh, this is easy; I don’t have to use good/any breathing techniques when I’m this quiet.” WRONG. And remember: be like Billie and **never sing loudly while singing with tons of air.You’ll lose your voice faster than a speeding chicken, or whatever. 

Practice singing with pure tone, then start adding air, and then see just how airy you can get…

3. Okay, wait, sorry…I gotta go back to the spider for a second.

I think the most valuable thing we can learn from Billie Eilish is to aspire to fearlessness. 

Do musical (and non-musical) things that frighten you (though I do draw the line at wading in crocodile-infested waters, jumping off a bridge or eating expired pork). Sit with the fear. Let it hang out with you. Don’t try and stop it, or edit it; just be a witness to it.

Are you terrified to do an acapella song in your set? To sing and play an instrument at the same time? Why not let the fear be a catalyst? Look, if Billie can sing with a spider in her mouth, you can sing and play a few piano chords, right?

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