It is after 9pm on a Tuesday and Billie Eilish is floating around Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena in a cherry picker. The sold-out stadium is brightly lit by the phone torches of Eilish’s 20,000-strong multigenerational audience. “I love you, Billie!” screams a fan during a musical interlude. Eilish smiles sweetly, her XL face beams down on the audience from giant screens, and she begins to sing. Despite her lyrics’ inclination towards the macabre, Eilish’s brand of live performance favours kindness over shock and awe, and at just 20 years old she’s in total — and seemingly effortless — control of the worshipful crowd.
Control is key when you’re one of the most popular performers on the planet, having inadvertently gone viral at the age of 14 thanks to an early SoundCloud upload. That track, “Ocean Eyes”, led to a deal with Darkroom/Interscope Records and in 2017 Eilish (full name Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell) released her critically admired debut EP, “Don’t Smile at Me”. At 18, she was commissioned to write and record, with her brother and regular collaborator, Finneas, the theme song for the 25th James Bond film, “No Time to Die”, joining the ranks of fellow 007 contributors Madonna, Adele, Chris Cornell and Duran Duran. The track earned her an Oscar for Best Original Song, a golden statue that keeps company with seven Grammys, six MTV Video Music Awards and two American Music Awards (all these gongs have also landed her
two Guinness World Records). Plus, Eilish remains the youngest person to headline both Glastonbury and Coachella festivals.
All of which is to say whatever Eilish is doing is working — no-one would blame her for coasting on her success to date. Skating by, however, isn’t on the cards.
“I have a really strong nose,” she says of a recent addition to her professional portfolio: her debut fragrance, Eilish by Billie Eilish, released in November 2021. The artist is curled up, feet tucked beneath her, on a purple lounge at Universal Music Australia’s office in Sydney, just hours before she is due to step on stage at Qudos Bank Arena. “I have thousands of candles and thousands of fragrances and lotion and body things,” she continues. “One of my favourite things in the world is scent.”
In an interview with The New York Times in 2021, Eilish confessed to owning “probably” 100 bottles of perfume, each vessel labelled with paper to remind her of its olfactory significance. “Some are very specific,” she told the reporter, “like, ‘This one smells like a ballet class I used to be in,’ or ‘This one smells like that one day we went to this person’s house and this person said this,’ and some are more vague, like, ‘This Hawaiian Punch perfume I got at CVS [pharmacy] for $1 smells like 2015.’ ”
When a segue into the fragrance industry was first suggested, Eilish was dubious. “When you get famous, you do this and you do this and you sell this,” she mimics. But the idea percolated, then stuck. A perfume would provide an opportunity for the singer-songwriter to indulge in a lifelong passion. All she needed was a partner.
Eilish found her collaborator in the international fragrance manufacturer and distributor Parlux, which specialises in designer perfumes and has created celebrity scents for the likes of Paris Hilton and Jason Wu. “It was just everything I wanted to do,” says Eilish of the experience. “These were my favourite calls. These were the only calls I cared about.”
When it came to concocting her eponymous scent, Eilish mined her personal archives. An admittedly nostalgic person (“I have a song where I say I’m not sentimental, and that’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told. I’m extremely sentimental.”), she has never been able to shake the smell of a childhood friend’s home in Glendale, Los Angeles. “It always smelled like vanilla in there,” says Eilish. She recalls a wooden chest belonging to her parents that echoed the Glendale residence’s scent profile. “It smelled a little bit Eilish, before Eilish was real. And I would stand in there and be like, ‘Ugh, it smells so good. What is that?’ ”
Eilish chased the scent for years to no avail. She was searching for warmth: vanilla with notes of cocoa, red berries, musk and wood. She talked at length with Parlux about the smell that contours her memories, learning from the team about how perfumes are blended, balanced and bottled. When Parlux sent Eilish the initial edit of fragrance samples, she sniffed the first formulation and knew immediately it was hers. “It almost brought tears to my eyes,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been looking for.’ And that’s Eilish. We went with that exact one.”
Her first scent (Eilish recently released a follow-up, named Eilish No. 2) is an amber gourmand that opens with notes of mandarin, sugared petals and berries before giving way to creamy vanilla, spices and cocoa, all grounded by base notes of sleek woods, tonka bean and musk. The bottle was also constructed under Eilish’s discerning eye. An amber-bronze-coloured bust, it’s a homage to the artist’s favourite parts of the body: the neck, chest and collarbones.
Inclusivity was important to Eilish. “It’s for everybody,” she says in a promotional clip for the perfume. Of equal importance were ethical ingredients. Eilish is vegan and regularly uses her platform and social media audience (Instagram clocks her follower count at 106 million) to
advocate for issues that matter to her. Her song “TV” is a melancholic reflection on a difficult relationship, with lyrics that also touch on political events: “The internet’s gone wild watching movie stars on trial / While they’re overturning Roe v. Wade.” Eilish is particularly vocal about the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. In June she co-presented the inaugural multi-day climate conference Overheated, held at London’s O2 Arena, and she is the executive producer of the eponymous climate crisis documentary directed by Yassa Khan in 2022, which includes appearances by Dame Vivienne Westwood and the Cuban-French musical duo Ibeyi. For Eilish, it was non-negotiable that the fragrance reflect her values, and it is labelled vegan and cruelty-free.
Clearly, perfumery is a genuine passion project; a vehicle as personal and cathartic for Eilish as music. The ingredients list of her debut fragrance is just one example of how it’s difficult to untether the pop star from the scent. How, if at all, do the two Billies intersect? “It’s funny, because when I started this, people would ask questions about how they’re related,” she says. “I’m essentially using my name for clout. Part of me is like, ‘I only got where I got just so I could make a perfume one day. That’s the only reason I’m here.’ ”
She’s speaking wryly, but it invites rumination on what message, or legacy, she wants to imprint on the world. If she were one of those 100 fragrance bottles with their paper label reminders, how would she choose to be described? “The older I get and the more eyes that are on me, I lose that confidence I used to have,” she says in a moment of vulnerability. “I used to have no care in the world. I just was living my life, happy-go-lucky. I was just like, ‘Yeah. I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this, and I don’t care what anyone thinks, and I’m just going to wear this and say this, and I don’t care.’
“I didn’t even realise that I had it until I lost it,” she continues. “I’ve been trying to get that back. And I think that if there’s something I want to be remembered for, it’s encouraging people to do what you want.”
Later that evening at the first of her Sydney shows, Eilish looks out at the enraptured crowd. “I want you guys to know that I stand with you and everything that makes you who you are,” she says. “I support you. I love you so much and I hope you feel comfortable to be yourself here — and safe.”
Eilish wants you to do what you want. She wants that for herself, too.