At first glance, Billie Eilish and The Beatles seem poles apart. Dig a little deeper, however, and a wealth of similarities emerge. While their careers are separated by more than 50 years, both artists made a point of unstitching themselves from the aesthetics of mainstream pop, a decision that allowed them both, somewhat paradoxically, to push it forward into a new era.
Like The Beatles, Eilish has helped remould pop music – redefining the role of the teenage pop star by taking on issues surrounding sexuality, the climate crisis, and gender identity. Her reach in this way is largely down to the fact that she is a similar age many of her fans, in much the same way that John, Paul, George and Ringo were when they ushered in the countercultural age. As her brother and collaborator Finneas noted: “Many pop stars kind of patronise — they’re like 25, talking to 15-year olds. [Billie] is the same age as a lot of the kids that are listening to her.”
Eilish has highlighted all of these similarities with the various Beatles covers she has delivered over the years. From her performance of Paul McCartney’s dream-born classic ‘Yesterday’ at The Oscars to her ukulele rendition of ‘I Will’ in James Cordon’s Carpool Karaoke segment, Eilish has always characterised herself as a popstar who owes The Beatles an enormous debt. Indeed, as Eilish’s mother (the actress Maggie Baird) told Variety, it was the music of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison (sorry, Ringo) that taught Billie and Finneas the fundamentals of songcraft.
Homeschooled from an early age by parent’s who had big plans for their children, the pair were taught songwriting alongside the usual maths and English: “It was the Beatles who inspired them to begin writing their own songs,” Maggie began. “Because the class was for kids,” she continued. “I had to simplify it: Here’s ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, let’s give these pieces of the song a name. The class was just an hour a week for 10 weeks or so — but Finneas was like [mimes ‘Eureka!’ moment], and in a few months he formed a band. All I had to teach him was the basics, and he immediately got it — and the same with Billie.”
Stella McCartney even acknowledged the clear influence of The Beatles on Eilish’s sound, telling iD: “I know that Billie is a huge, huge Beatles fan,” Stella shared with i-D last year. “The second time I met her she spoke of that real admiration for their songwriting, and I sense that when I listen to her work, and her brother’s writing. They have similar starting points [when it comes to] telling a story through the melody of music. There’s obviously a modernity to Billie’s work,” she continued.
“But I think that there’s a lot of beauty in the arrangements of her music, the harmonizing and the structure, that’s heavily influenced by The Beatles’ writing and work. [She has] a strong message of identity and staying true to yourself, never compromising. That’s something The Beatles did too.”
It’s amazing that so many years after their split, The Beatles are still informing popular tastes. Whether it’s the universality of their songwriting or their wondrous non-conformity, something is clearly keeping us interested in what the ‘Fab Four’ have to say. And with Billie Eilish introducing a new generation of listeners to their albums, it looks like that fascination is set to continue.