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What Billie Eilish’s Historic Grammy Sweep Can Teach Budding Artists

Defy genres, stay authentic and build a brand for yourself

Nirmika Singh Jan 28, 2020

American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish. Photo: Rachel Luna/FilmMagic

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It’s only been a day since Billie Eilish swept five wins at the 2020 Grammys (including the big four — Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year — along with Best Pop Vocal Album) and naysayers have begun to whine. Many critics see the 18-year-old singer-songwriter’s rare achievement at the 62nd Annual Recording Academy Grammy Awards as yet another show of love for white artists by the ‘old white men’ that call the shots at the Academy. Some even argue that this unprecedented triumph is some sort of overzealous  ‘grandfatherly’ pampering by the powers that be. Eilish is the youngest and the only female artist to ever win across these categories, and the second artist to have accomplished this feat after the 1981 win by American singer-songwriter Christopher Cross, who won the top four honors for his eponymous debut album.

Beating heavyweights like Ariana Grande, Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Rosalia is no child’s play and reducing Eilish’s historic win to an act of white benevolence is both insulting to her impeccable artistry as well as patronizing and sexist on many levels. Keeping controversy aside, there are many things that Eilish’s impressive ascent to stardom can teach budding artists:

1. Defy genres and find your groove 

Is Billie Eilish’s music pop, indie alt-pop, electro-pop or ambient? It really doesn’t matter because it’s good and it connects with people. From her first single “Ocean Eyes,” written when she was only 14 to the 2019 full-length album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Eilish has played to her strengths — her whispering, shape-shifting vocals and nuanced songwriting, combined with her brother Finneas O’Connell’s stellar production makes her a unique musician. Eilish’s authenticity as an artist is her biggest USP, something she realized and cultivated very early on. There’s loads to learn from her pursuit of excellence.

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2. Build a team, build your brand 

Billie and Finneas today might be the de facto flagbearers for bedroom producers around the world but their empire wasn’t built by just the two of them within four soundproofed walls. Soon after receiving an overwhelming response for “Ocean Eyes,” Eilish signed to an A&R agency and got herself a publicist to help her in packaging her art. Make no mistake — her signature look featuring outlandish baggy clothes and her don’t-give-a-damn demeanor aren’t casual personality traits but carefully crafted image builders. If you’re an artist, you cannot afford to neglect the aesthetics of artistry, whether it’s about the way you look or the way you use your social media or interact with press. Hire professionals to do the heavy-lifting while you focus on the creative parts. A robust team is a sure-shot recipe for success. Also, don’t forget that your art is ultimately a business and you will have to invest in it, whether by means of hiring the services of a digital agency, a stylist or a creative team. The word “organic growth” is misleading — do not fall into the trap of believing that promoting your art means selling your soul. If all artists believed that Facebook ad spends are against your creative ethos and Instagram promoted posts are about ‘buying likes’ (kindly Google to educate yourselves) there would be no digital superstars today.

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3. It’s all about streaming

Eilish’s team worked closely with Spotify and Apple Music to ensure her songs made it to playlists and she got special mentions, interviews with in-house curators, etc. The sooner you realize the power of streaming and work towards building an active community of fans and listeners, the better it is for you. However, contrary to popular beliefs, no streaming platform can catapult you to stardom if you don’t have a base fandom. “It really comes down to the artist,” says Jeremy Elrich, Spotify’s Head of Music Strategy who we met ahead of the Grammys. “And I think great artists have a way to cut through the noise. And it’s really, ultimately, it’s just their vision and we’re just helping connect with fans.”

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