This is what made Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is the first musician born in the 2000s to have a number one hit. Her dreamy SoundCloud sound sounds just like how Xanax feels. But as it turns out, it’s not the music alone that makes the woman. That’s just how it starts.
Found on SoundCloud
In March, 2016, an unknown Billie Eilish posted “Ocean Eyes” on SoundCloud. It was her tenth post on the platform, and only her third original song.
It exploded. The first comment ever on “Ocean Eyes” says only “gorgeous.” The third comment, however, is from a random musician named Michael Enwright.
“Even from here I can hear the sound of A&R’s everywhere freaking out.”
Enwright then presumably created this Hillydilly post, which is how she was discovered by the industry (but not by her fans). Later, in a Facebook post made after she was globally famous, Eilish thanked Enwright.
“Hillydilly.com started it all. Thank you for everything Michael Enwright, Chad Hillard, I love you.”
The Attention Economy
When Eilish’s obsessive Gen Z SoundCloud following devoured her Khalid collab on Spotify, she rocketed to mainstream global stardom.
“This is what true reactivity looks like in an attention economy,” is how Mike Biggane, head of global genre groups at Spotify, described it to Billboard. “She’s always focused on her core fan base. Credit’s due to her team for maximizing opportunity as her audience developed.”
Her natural aesthetic is almost-too-perfectly relatable for a disaffected teen in the Xanax age. Her Instagram handle was “wherearetheavocados.” She has a penchant for baggy streetwear outfits. Her song titles are in text-speak: “ilmomilo”, “8”, “xanny.” Her album intro track is about Invisalign.
These choices feed an intense Gen Z fandom for whom music is secondary to followability. Even Justin Lubliner, part of her all-star, 16-person management team, acknowledges that image is equal to the music, “not through one song, but with a body of work and a well-defined image.”
The Future. A&Rs are scouring places like SoundCloud and Hillydilly for the next Eilish at all times. But they aren’t just looking for a great songs, they’re looking great packaging. Someone who Gen Z is going to click and follow in droves. It helps to be gorgeous.