It's hard to overstate the power and influence an artist like Billie Eilish has on the music industry and pop culture in general today. At the time of the writing of this article, she is currently the 16th most listened to artist in the world on Spotify, and currently the first song on the "Today's Top Hits" playlist.
Eilish garnered some of the highest praise from top industry names today, with artists like Hayley Williams (Paramore) expressing how they wish this material had been available for them to hear when they were Eilish’s age, and Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) comparing the influence of her music to that of Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), with top YouTubers like industry veteran Rick Beato coming to Grohl’s defense and affirming Eilish’s influence over today’s generation.
Much of this praise for Billie Eilish in the articles linked above was sparked by the release of her newest single “Your Power” on April 29. This song is quintessentially Eilish and yet a deviation from her previous work stylistically. It’s stripped down, acoustic feel is incredibly raw and intimate, pruning away many of the more elaborate vocal production elements that she is so well known for from her previous releases. As someone who respects Eilish as an artist, but is not himself a huge fan of her style, I have to say even I was drawn in by the simple, very accessible nature of this song, and I think that will continue to serve to its advantage in the future.
As the latest single release for her forthcoming album Happier Than Ever, “Your Power” is setting the tone for this album’s themes as well as the more holistic direction that Eilish is taking as an artist. And it’s these themes that deserve a little bit more of an exploration. As Christians, we seek to take a tally of those powers in our lives that seek to influence us and weigh them according to the standard of Scripture. So where do Billie and “Your Power” line up with all of this? What is the song about, and what sorts of themes can we draw from it?
Let’s go to the source. What has the artist herself said about this song?
Esquire, in covering her recent Vogue interview, reports that Billie has commented that this song “calls out abusers who exploit underage girls.”
Wow! Heavy stuff right out of the gate.
Genius contributors elaborate that the content of “Your Power” springs from her past abusive relationship with rapper 7: AMP. There are plenty of references in this song to classic examples of abuse, such as the lyric “You made me feel / like it was my fault, you were the devil.” There is manipulation, denial, and the promise of reform with no change. It’s a powerful message of personal experience that speaks to far more people than I think we realize.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the awareness of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse in our world today, especially towards women, has skyrocketed. This is especially true in industries like the entertainment industry. The world is not the place we imagined it to be, and it is not the safe and better world we thought we were creating. Some of us have indeed created this safer world for ourselves, but in doing so have ignorantly declared that the world at large was fixed. We could not have been further from the truth. On the surface, sometimes it seems like we’ve eliminated certain threats in our world, when in reality, all they have done is slip away into the shadows, still as alive and present as ever.
Eilish is just one of many artists carrying this message to the masses and furthering awareness of the abuse that so many face in today’s world. It is a continuation of the reckoning the world is facing for allowing injustice to persist under the guise of having eradicated it. As Christians we should see this as a place to repent and mourn for the fact that we have ignored this.
But I have to throw in a “however” here. As right as Billie is to be exposing this part of the world, and as courageous as she is to be telling her story, there exists the danger of falling into the all too common trap of complete and total self reliance in response to this world.
The “exposé” nature of this song is one thing, and seeking to overcome abuse and learn to stand apart from an abuser is noble and brave for anyone, no questions asked. But I have noticed that what tends to be touted as the solution can turn into an equal and opposite temptation, one just as destructive as abuse but far more sinister: complete and total self-reliance.
I don’t mean self-reliance in the “I am an island” kind of way. Rather one that is expressed in what Billie herself has said. In the caption to her picture on the cover of Vogue, she is quoted as saying “It’s all about what makes you feel good.” And it’s here that we as Christians need to begin to draw a distinct line in our minds between overcoming past trauma, and starting down the path towards self-destruction in the name of recovery.
Billie is known for her message of body positivity, which up until this point has been in not allowing her body to be sexualized, not least because she is only 19 and has been on the public entertainment scene for 5 years already. However, with the release of her photo shoot in Vogue (which this author has not browsed through), she has made the decision to switch to allowing herself to be seen more sexually, but as she sees it, it’s on her own terms. She is quoted as saying (imitating her critics): “‘You’re going to complain about being taken advantage of as a minor, but then you’re going to show your boobs?’ Yes I am, motherf**ker! I’m going to because there’s no excuse.” This is her way of reclaiming power over her body and not allowing others to control it.
The singer knows what she’s doing, and she’s never felt better. That’s her philosophy: do what makes you feel good, dress how you want to dress, and don’t let others define you (even if those voices grow louder as you gain fans all over the world). “It’s about taking that power back, showing it off and not taking advantage with it,” she says.
There’s something beautiful to be said about taking power away from those who abuse us and reclaiming who we are. But when we finally decide to reclaim who we are, questions necessarily arise: Who are we? What are we meant to be? What is the best possible version of myself?
Philosophers have been asking these questions for millenia, and Billie Eilish encapsulates the current Western answer to this question in a previously released single for this album:
I’m not your friend or anything, damn
You think that you’re the man
I think, therefore, I amTherefore I Am (2020)
Eilish means something different to what René Decartes meant when he first wrote this line, “I think, therefore I am.” Her comment is in reaction to others telling her who she is. She is the definition of who she is.
I hope you can see where I’m getting to. As Christians, we should support Eilish and everyone she represents in exposing their hurt and desire for change. The Church needs to take an active role in the pursuit of justice in this matter, protecting those in the world most at risk for this type of abuse while also constantly examining her own inner workings for any signs of that abuse that she may be causing at the same time. But we should pause before we follow those amplified voices to the conclusion that ends in each person saying something suspiciously similar to “I Am that I Am.”
I could get into a long treatise about this, but suffice it to say for now that, as Christians, we recognize that our identity is found in none but God alone. We walk a fine line in the world, one that is increasingly more and more aware of just how much hurt and pain it has, hurt and pain that we as Christians are called to be ministers to. But at the same time, the world is offering its own remedies to that pain as well, and increasingly the awareness of the pain is being coupled with the remedy in such a way that cautioning against the solution is seen as denying the problem.
So let’s be careful, family. Let us pray for the ability to discern between a solution we don’t agree with and a problem we need to be addressing. Pray for the tears to mourn and the inspiration to act in ways that promote the furthering of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Nick Henretty is a music and audio producer, podcaster, and blogger based out of Richmond, Virginia. He has worked with organizations such as Inspiring Philosophy, Deeper Waters with Nick Peters, and Moral Apologetics Press, and currently hosts the 3 Priests Walk in a Bar podcast promoting ecumenism between different Christian denominations. He has a passion for peeling back the surface layers of pop culture issues to expose the deep and abiding questions at the heart of the human experience and showing how the person of Christ is the answer and fulfillment to them.