Billie Eilish knows a thing or two about enduring gaze. Eyes have been on the Gen Z pop star since 2016 when, age 14, she went viral on SoundCloud, propelling her to stratospheric fame.
Since then, she’s grown up in the public eye (in front of 90 million Instagram followers, to be exact), suffering intense public scrutiny, from sexualisation to body shaming. She is all too aware that women are objectified – in the media and everywhere else, reaching absurd heights in the pornography industry – as she indignantly unpacks in an exclusive new cover interview for i-D’s latest print issue, themed "In Real Life".
"The other day I was talking about how stupid and unrealistic porn is so much of the time," she tells leading grime artist Stormzy in the interview, of the jumping-off point for her single "Male Fantasy". On the track she sardonically sings: "She would never be that satisfied / It’s a male fantasy / I’m going back to therapy."
"How unrealistic, misogynistic and totally ridiculous the world of porn is," she continues. "I decided that it was actually a really good idea for a song to talk honestly about pornography because it’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about. Pornography can make you feel violated and good at the same time and this conversation turned into the song. It was hard to write because we wanted it to be as revealing as possible."
Eilish now has seven Grammys, two critically acclaimed albums (she released her second, Happier Than Ever, earlier this summer) and two global arena tours that sold out in seconds. She is, to all outward appearances, a pop beacon of success. But amid the deafening furore of public admiration and internet trolls, she struggles with internal doubts – just like everyone else.
"I’ve felt like a failure a lot in my life," she says in her frank conversation with Stormzy. "And it’s really easy to feel like a failure when so many people are looking at you and telling you you are one. It can be hard not to believe them. I grew up with the internet. I use social media for the same reasons everyone else does, and you come across these videos saying you’re ugly and you suck and you’re terrible and that makes me feel like a failure. There are other things too, more concrete things, like when I disappoint myself, when I don’t feel how I said I was going to feel, or do the things I said to myself I was going to do… but failure is an interesting thing because, like success, it’s really only in your head. You can literally physically fail at something but it can still be a success, and vice versa. Success and failure are all only about your perspective."