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Billie Eilish in "Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles"

The Punishing Pressure of Being Pitch-Perfect  


In the music industry, artists often endure dangerous treatment for the sake of their art. 


BY JAIMELY DE LEON


12.8.2021

Through our experiences with media and its contributions to society, we have all become familiar with the term “celebrity.” These individuals are representations of the public and its values, as the power they are given is collectively provided by those who allow them to use it. They are products of our environments, altering every infinite speck in existence to become as marketable as possible. It’s almost as if it were a shooting star. And for most, it is. When dealing with a title of sociability and popularity in this world of sharks, one must enter their life as a playing chip—and their sanity as collateral. This form of relinquished identity is extremely prominent in the music industry, where artists often endure dangerous and even inhumane treatment for the sake of their art.

Behind practiced smiles and rehearsed lines are the scars of what being an artist truly entails, and the acknowledgment of their existence is only the first rung of the ladder. We see this in every shocking behind-the-scenes horror story, in every over-dramatized magazine headline, in every new lawsuit against a production company. Perfect is the expectation. Celebrities must deal with the undefinable boundaries of what perfect actually means, and fulfill it in the way the world sees fit. Climbing this ladder towards beauty, fame, and excellence opens up a path of harsh realities—ones that blur not only their relationship with music, but with themselves. They are denied a sense of humanity, instead replacing it with the busyness of exhaustion. Although these facts are being hidden less and less, the emphasis on consumer and product relations are being promoted more and more. As they are constantly confined into a small box of what is presentable and what is not, artists begin  to ingrain these ideals into their minds, therefore influencing the public to do the same. Their jobs are glamorized and so is their pain, marketed as a set package so it is impossible to separate and differentiate the two. It’s a tactic, and one that is currently working; they are seen as objects to be consumed by the public, giving away every part of themselves until there is none left. Consequently, this creates the idea of parasocial relationships, where the nurtured relationship between artists and consumers is interwoven into every aspect of profit.

We see this fatigue of being a celebrity being shed more into the light, by some more than others. Recently, Billie Eillish - an alternative singer who has rose to popularity over the past couple of years - has been a catalyst for this increase in awareness; from her latest album release cycle: Happier Than Ever, she creates a narrative through her songs which serves as the progression of her life as a celebrity, as well as the burden that comes along with it. On her sophomore studio album, the 19-year-old super-star exposes personal revelations on the toll of fame and the suffocation of stardom. Although she has never been one to shy away from speaking about her experiences, she directly addresses the relationship between her and her career as she expresses her pain to fans in this release, doing so now more than ever. Being one of the only things she’s ever really known, her music is such a defining factor of her life, using this fact to confront the monsters it has brought: stalkers, abusers, nondisclosure agreements, and even her own view of herself. Despite this, fans tend to overlook her tired sighs and emotional lyrics, writing it off as another stream on their playlists. Listening to these tracks, such as My Future, gives a sneak peak into Eilish’s life and her growing discontent with the spotlight throughout her teenage years until now. The endless cycle of this love-hate struggle with her art is proved once again, and this time in her own words: “things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now.”

This is not only present in western media but all over the globe, where artists across the ocean are facing the same fate. By this, I’m referring to the Korean entertainment industry, more specifically what is known as K-POP, and its harrowing behind the scenes. Its musicians, otherwise labelled as ‘idols,’ are trained under harsh conditions and exploited in order to deliver a perfectly cultivated picture to fans, or rather in truth, customers. As it can be inferred from the name, they are idolized to no end, forcing emotional and physical expectations to maintain unconditional support. This obsession stems from money-driven marketing techniques that prey on the illusion of intimacy: praises and rehearsed heart-felt sentiments, dating concepts, and topped off by all the I love you’s and the I miss you’s, there is an undeniable encouragement for the invasion of these artists’ personal spaces. The internet only contributes to this further, as it creates a toxic environment for these relationships to grow through the release of content in a matter of seconds. It allows for their messages and ideals to be spread in massive waves, generating clusters of fan-bases to consume it. As the internet also serves as a method of communication between artist and fan, it only makes their marketization even easier and we see this in the ever-increasing follower counts on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. From this, it isn't a big shock that there is a growing responsibility for so many people and as a result they must bear the weight of a million eyes watching their every move. Being closely monitored, juggling the aftereffects of mental and bodily health, and faced with the lack of familial contact, all done for a quota of likes and clicks -  while some may say they’re lucky, others would argue that is nothing more than the life of a machine.

Interactions and false senses of love are sold to fans, creating seemingly indispensable bonds to foster and evolve into something more terminal. Fans web their way into the lives of these artists and constantly familiarize themselves with everything there is to know, whether it be public or private. With this comes the desensitization to their situations. As people begin to get comfortable with this deluded picture of perfection, so do its victims. They endure harsh discipline from not only their companies, but the expectations of the people they’re meant to please. This failure to see what is right in front of them is what allows for this cycle to continue, as they subconsciously give up their own power as individuals. Abuse and ignorance is marketed into sales, manipulating all parties involved to contribute and further the clutches of capitalism and unethical labor that is labelled as art. They are essentially displayed as public property for the public’s gratification, glamorized in a way which dehumanizes the one aspect of the industry that is human.

We can’t escape this internet paradox. It is the very center of our society, symbolizing the ‘social’ part of social media. This symbiotic relationship of sorts juggles between who is the host and who is its parasite—in the music industry, those lines aren’t exactly clear. In this production of art, sacrifices are necessary to be made and in most cases, that means giving up your identity for the promise of another day. They are trapped in a form of contractual enslavement, where their lives are auctioned off to the highest bidder; through this, the initial passion that fuels their participation is turned into profit. So as we analyze the dark side of what music can truly produce, there’s only one thing I have left to say, or rather ask: to what extent are they not so much creators of art anymore but the products instead?


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