Saturday evening at 6:12 p.m. EDT, I was laying in bed, furiously refreshing my web browser. The ticket I bought two weeks ago to Billie Eilish’s “Where Do We Go? Livestream” hadn’t processed, and while a few more clicks quickly bought me another one, it still wasn’t working. At 6:13 p.m., the chat sidebar loaded. The livestream definitely was happening, at least for some people. A sea of green hearts, avocado emojis and calls to “stop flooding the timeline!!!” streamed by too quickly to read.
I’ll admit, the mix of frustration from being “late” and the chaotic fan energy flashing in front of me made me feel right at home. If I had been able to attend her ill-fated first-ever arena tour in person this year, I’m sure I would have felt something similar — between the struggle to find an overpriced parking spot and the hordes of passionate Billie fans I would have encountered. I wasn’t sure exactly what a Billie Eilish livestream concert was going to be like exactly, but my guess was thrilling. 19 minutes later, I could stop guessing. Billie appeared in signature oversized Gucci singing “ocean eyes” — the song that put her on the map as a streaming phenom five years ago.
A cloud of smoke appeared and suddenly viewers were transported to what seemed to be the set for Eilish’s “xanny” music video. Massive screens made up the walls and flooring of the stage, allowing Eilish and her small ensemble (her brother Finneas on keyboard and guitar and Andrew Marshall, her drummer) to be transported well, anywhere. Imagine a virtual, at-home version of Epcot’s “Soarin’” without the smells and gentle swaying, but with a pop star.
While the track “my future” also took viewers into one of Billie’s music video landscapes (this time a moonlit cartoon jungle), much of the technology usage more closely emulated a video game. Black and white world-building visuals surrounded her during the latest James Bond theme “No Time to Die” and the “bad guy” finale backdrop reminded me of the coolmathgames.com classic “Run.” However, the most obvious video game connection was when she performed “ilomilo” — which is named after a video game. The ilomilo characters floated around Billie at the bottom of the ocean until a massive digital shark swallowed her whole — game over.
Once I’d settled in, I couldn’t help but smirk at some of the other ways the livestream was set up to feel “real.” The “Share the Moment” sidebar, for example, produced ready-made video clips and images to share directly on social media. Instead of, say, hoisting your iPhone above a rowdy crowd to post 20 shaky videos to your Instagram story, you could post a picture perfect image of Billie singing beneath a pixelated moon. Another side bar replicated the merch stand by offering an exclusive livestream collection to shop. Because what’s a livestream without merch?
Questionable sidebars aside, a tension persisted throughout the show. On the one hand, it was a visual production, carefully crafted to make the best of extraordinary technology. At the same time, it was a live concert with space for Billie to breathe and chat and giggle. These formats came to a head midway through, when Billie was telling the audience how much she missed them, but all the livestream was showing was a black screen. “Oh I’m in the dark OK let’s sing the song” she hurried upon receiving some sort of signal to stop talking.
Still, this tension in no way deterred her from speaking out about the important things — namely the election. “All The Good Girls Go To Hell” featured doomsday imagery of fires, flooding, oil spills and a reminder: “No Music On A Dead Planet.” After which Billie pleaded, “Vote! Please vote! Especially if you’re young because we’re the ones with futures unless we all die,” which got Finneas to chuckle off screen.
I’m glad that I eventually made it “in” to the livestream, but the experience itself didn’t brighten my mood. During the melancholy “everything i wanted,” fan videos started to pop up behind Billie in a collage of pre-taped heart hands, smiles and waves. It was sad. The weight of the unknown hung in the faces of the strangers I saw and in Billie’s words when she promised she’d see them again “one day.” The good news? “We’re making an album,” Billie grinned before “i love you,” then covered her mouth in faux surprise.
Daily Arts Writer Katie Beekman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.