Live Report: Billie Eilish – The O2 Arena, London | Live

Artists like Billie Eilish come once per generation. A fierce voice of dissent in the post-Weinstein/Trump era, his hyper-aware lyricism, delivered with breathless vulnerability, sets the world right.

When Billie last performed in London in 2019, she was just eighteen. A lot of life experiences happen in these nascent coming-of-age years, and it shows. Her new album revels in gothic majesty, expands in darker and weirder directions – and reflects much of how we’re all feeling right now.

Presenting his second album at the O2 in London, it felt more like a rally against the status quo than a stadium show by a mainstream artist. Conversely, this is the first time the O2 has gone exclusively vegan. The aroma of wholesome, guilt-free food wafted through the O2 entrance like a Shangri-La tent at a festival.

Jessie Reyes set the tone with an explosive and rage-filled set, oscillating between drum-laden pop-punk and salsa-tinged R&B. She recalls an anecdote about meeting a “music guy” while walking the streets of Toronto: “Girl, you can sing, but if you want to make it in this industry, you have to learn to suck cock.” “Fuck that”, she proclaims “it’s 2022” and smashes into ‘Gatekeeper’ (“Spread your legs / Open up / you could be famous”). The crowd roars in agreement. It’s a concert with a message.

Darkness descends. People are vaping and taking selfies in anticipation. A drummer appears floating in an electric white box. The spotlight is on Billie Eilish. She is an apparition in a white tracksuit with lightning stripes, crossing the expanse of darkness. As the opening bass drum of “Bury A Friend” echoes through the stadium, the crowd loses their shit. To my left, a mother and her teenage daughter embrace and sing with delight.

Billie zips through four powerful tracks from the new album (‘Therefore I Am’ stands out) with relentless, jerky momentum, underpinned by Prodigy-like visuals, as if passed through a glitchy Insta filter.

She takes a break and explains the rules of the concert. Don’t be an asshole. No judgment. Enjoy. Then explodes “You Should See Me In A Crown”, performed in deliciously dark and sultry perfection.

Playing with the audience like a cult puppeteer, she knocks them to the ground, gets up, and dances to “Oxytocin,” a rousing, up-tempo display of honeyed vocals and spidery EDM, followed by “Halley’s Comet.”

His brother and longtime collaborator joins the scene with a guitar (resembling an oddly shrunken Ed Sheeran), slowing things down with an as-yet-unreleased acoustic track. The crowd responds by waving their phones in the air like lighters.

Then the shit gets a little crazy. Billie calls for an invocation – a gratitude meditation. She thanks everyone for being there, for being yourself. You feel validated, seen. Even if you’re on your own, like this Clash writer, it’s hard not to feel part of it. If it was someone else, it would be a total party. Somehow, only Billie Eilish could pull this off at The O2.

Continuing the theme of inclusion, suddenly she is on the pedestal of a crane on the other side of the arena. Under a scorching orange light, she draws closer to the audience, no matter what slice of tickets they are in. He crawls around the stadium, as she spins 40 feet above the ground.

The most moving moment, however, is “I’m getting older.” Against the backdrop of grainy videos of Billie and her brother as children, smiling, carefree, enveloped in the joys of childhood, contrast with the lyrics “Things I once enjoyed / Just keep me a job now / The things I want / One day I’ll get tired of it…”

It’s a stark but sensitive observation about how the paths we take in life that once gave us fulfillment can turn ugly as we age. It also feels in tune with the times, intertwining the anti-work movement and “The Great Resignation” as society hurtles toward an uncertain future.

The closing track? “Bad Guy”, obviously. Billie’s Grammy-winning hit. The silly lyrics and obnoxious basslines took audiences back to simpler, happier times — a pre-pandemic spring of 2019.

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Words: Justin McDonnel

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