“You guys need to be f***in’ ok, because y’all are the reason that I’m ok.”
That’s Billie Eilish in 2018 during a show in Salt Lake City, Utah moments after a fan had to be carried from the crowd after an injury. Eilish stopped the show and asked the crowd at the small club she was performing at to make room for the fan to get to safety. She checked if the fan was ok before asking the rest of her rabid audience if they were ok too. Based on the darkness in her lyrics and the horror in her music video imagery, one would think Eilish couldn’t give a damn whether people were ok or not. On the contrary, as the concern she has for her fans and her family far outweigh the concern she has for herself. Because at many times between 2018 and 2020—when she’s risen to pop superstardom—Billie Eilish has not been ok.
One might worry that watching Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry may ruin the mystique of the 19-year-old singer-songwriter. The new documentary from writer/director R.J. Cutler (If I Stay, Belushi) tracks Eilish’s ascension to international notoriety. It starts with Eilish and her producer/brother Finneas in their childhood bedrooms creating her 2019 debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and ends with that same album winning top prize (along with some other trophies) at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Filling the rest of the doc’s 140 minutes is Eilish crafting her image, loving to sing, hating to write songs, falling in love, getting her heart broken, and being blindsided by mainstream fame. While it might shatter the creepy aura that her material has set up over the years, the doc reveals Eilish as an incredibly creative artist who is as smart as she is sensitive. Any talks of her being a trendy industry plant are thrown out when she’s seen workshopping her vision for the “when the party’s over” music video in her own backyard, instructing her mom to practice sipping an empty glass later to be filled with black goo while she plans out the frames of the video. She stresses over not being able to manifest exactly what’s in her head and some of her lyrics are ghoulish drawings in her notebook only she can interpret, like a cross between Tim Burton and Kurt Cobain.
But her failures hit her too, whether they be the screens at her 2019 Coachella performance not working or spraining her ankle in the opening minutes of her performance at Milano Rocks in Italy a few months later. The World’s a Little Blurry shows Eilish keeping a brave face while the demand for her grows bigger and bigger. She has looks of disbelief when “bad guy” starts breaking Spotify records and buries herself deeper into her pillows for every Grammy nomination her mom says she earned. Even her relationship with Finneas has moments of friction, him being the filter between the record label demands and her artistic process. He wants to write their best song ever every time they work while she just wants to sing. And then there’s the loss of the intimacy of her early days, with Eilish being agitated by the number of smiling grown-ups who only want a picture with her to impress their kids before immediately ignoring her afterwards. There’s no cliche moment of Eilish breaking down in tears, but seeing her blank face expression due to her stress levels essentially short-circuiting her emotions is a cautionary tale of how dizzying modern fame can be. Eilish went from cult figure on the internet scene to playing arenas in about a year and no matter how mature and self-aware she is at her age, that sudden change in expectation can mess with anyone’s head.
The rise of Eilish through the modern internet age of pop music into a mainstream that clearly doesn’t understand her enough to treat her like a human would be worthy of its own documentary. In fact, the main problem of The World’s a Little Blurry is how overstuffed it is. Eilish’s story is captivating and her inner circle (mainly her mom and dad) are endearing to follow, but the doc as a whole would’ve flowed much better if certain things were cut out or divided up into something of a mini-series. Cutler’s attempt to capture every aspect of Eilish’s life leaves a wanting for more background on why Eilish and Finneas choose the musical styles they do, what inspires her public fashion and how she used social media to amplify her vision. The World’s a Little Blurry does a solid job of humanizing Eilish, but a music documentary should give a little more weight to the craft of the musician. As amusing as it is to see how her childhood obsession Justin Bieber embraces and supports her through her journey, it doesn’t seem like a necessary element to focus on.
But if Eilish wanted to tell her story, warts-and-all, that’s exactly what The World’s a Little Blurry does. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and, like Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana last year, shows the crippling impacts of fame in the social media age. If anything, Eilish has used the documentary to clear another hurdle in the pop star decathlon in that she still has something grounding her to reality. Considering that she sees herself as a flying demon swallowing tarantulas, her willingness to show any sense of empathy or humanity is commendable.