Since the 1960s, the musical documentary has strengthened the bonds between musical artists and their fandom. However, it’s rare that the artist already enjoys an extremely open relationship with their followers. Billie Eilish rose to prominence in 2016 thanks to SoundCloud and a changing musical landscape. Fast forward to 2021, and the nineteen-year-old singer/songwriter has taken over pop music. With five Grammys to her name, including Record of the Year for “Bad Guy,” Eilish looks to have a staggering career ahead of her. Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry is set to land on Apple TV+this Friday. Directed by R.J. Cutler, we follow Eilish to new career highs. While traditional in its structure, Eilish’s authenticity shines through as she validates her superstardom.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry follows the musician as she begins to record When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, her 2019 Grammy-winning album. We get an intimate view of her home-life, including her relationships with her parents and siblings. One of those siblings, Finneas O’Connell, helps write the majority of her songs and helps to execute her vision. Eilish wishes for total control over her music and consistently showcases her unique eye for artistry. While When We Fall Asleep becomes a sensation, she tours, plays Coachella, meets her heroes, and wins Grammys. She also deals with a volatile relationship, an artist’s demands, and physical injuries that affect her mental state.
There are two things one instantly takes away from The World’s a Little Blurry: the runtime is simply too long, but Eilish is compelling as a subject. For hardcore fans of Eilish, the nearly two and half hours will be an insightful and interesting foray. For general audiences looking to understand the artist, it’s simply too long. Some sequences are repetitive, and there’s a familiarity we’ve seen in many other musical documentaries. Tour sequences can be fun, but it’s the interactions with fans, whether a gaggle of teens or Orlando Bloom, that provide energy to the film. They love her, and the feeling is reciprocated at nearly every turn.
Eilish’s vulnerability to her fandom is palpable, but it also runs the risk of being dangerous. She takes what they say as gospel, even to her detriment. Despite playing massive venues and hearing screaming fans every night, a Facebook or Instagram comment can throw her into a tailspin. She hates the process of writing music, in part because criticisms of her vision sting. It’s impossible to ignore the ecosystem set up around Eilish that has pampered her. There are too many examples of parental control over a starlet going poorly for The World’s a Little Blurry to not raise some red flags. However, her parental and familial apparatus has created the perfect environment for success.
Like Beastie Boys Story last year, The World’s a Little Blurry examines its star’s youth. It’s easy to forget how young Eilish is, despite her seemingly ever-present role in music for the past five years. She’s already written a Bond-song (the process of which is detailed in the doc), won music’s biggest prizes, and performed on the largest stages. Her ambition to be a great artist is palpable, but it’s also clear her talent extends beyond music. She struggles to stay focused on the process, especially when her emotions and words are diluted. As she films the music video for “when the party’s over,” her frustration is apparent.
Even as she questions the people from the studio who want to meet her or the types of performances she agrees to take on, she never loses her fans’ bond. That authenticity becomes startling as she finds herself in an emotionally manipulative relationship. It’s a startling series of events, but more surprising that her boyfriend seems so aloof to her concerns. The toxic relationship clearly hangs over her head for the majority of the film. The juxtaposition of a superstar gaining more and more control by the day and the way she’s manipulated shine in stark contrast. Yet by the end of the film, Eilish has found her way through the darkness.
While she finds a new path in her love life, she never shies away from speaking her mind about depression and mental health. Her vulnerability on these subjects has helped capture her fans, but there’s more to the actions she takes than simple disclosure. Having the outlet and utilizing its power to heal becomes an interesting fixation of the film. While Billie Eilish does not practice self-care the way, you or I may, her willingness to acknowledge her struggles makes her all the more relatable.
The visceral concert experiences are a highlight of the film, all of which occurred before Covid-19. Her album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, released in March of 2019. The world this documentary released into is very different than the one when it was filmed—thousands of people crawling over each other to get close enough to touch Eilish. Tens of thousands pack into concert venues or the sprawling stages of Coachella. There are no masks in sight. The joy of being in a crowd is undeniably nostalgic.
While Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry certainly entertains, it also has its shortcomings. The fairly standard plotline and extremely long runtime hurt the overall experience. For Eilish, this is clearly not the first or last documentary we’ll see about her career. Yet catching the singer on the way up makes it extremely likely that she will never be quite as available. This makes The World’s a Little Blurry a compelling, if overly long, snapshot of pop superstardom in the 2020s.