In 2009, a website went viral – it allowed you to send yourself a message that would automatically turn up in your inbox three years later. A friend of mine sent himself the number of a girl he liked. Given the same exercise years earlier at school, another friend sent himself the lyrics of a Black Eyed Peas song. I never sent myself anything, though I probably would have chosen some edgy quote from a political philosopher. These exercises are always telling because you get to see what was important to you when you were young – and whether you lived up to it years later.
And so, enter the yearly Billie Eilish interview with Vanity Fair – a real life embodiment of sending yourself an email and reading it four years down the line. Vanity Fair has now created a time capsule, merging the four videos they filmed with Eilish over the last four years. Viewers can see Eilish listening, responding and reacting to her younger self in real time.
Hilariously, before any of us knew about the coronavirus pandemic, in 2019 Eilish wanted to know she’d be given 100 days off the following year if she asked. In 2020, an exasperated Eilish looks back at her past self through gritted teeth”: “100 days? I really said 100 days?” she asks, incredulous. “Well, bish, you got what you wished for! You happy?”
Since her first interview in 2017, her hair has gone from a pretty washed-out grey to today’s subversive slime green roots and jet black dip dye. Her skin has gone through puberty and comes out porcelain.
In 2017, Eilish’s most liked Instagram photo was of her with the Grammy-nominated singer Charlie XCX; in 2020, it is her with arms full of five Grammys picked up at last year’s awards. That is her biggest achievement now, by the way – which is nice to look back on, considering in 2017 she was elated about being Apple’s Up Next star. Uber stardom has not stopped her from speaking to her family every day over the past four years, nor does it change her favorite movie ( which is Fruitvale Station.) Her brother is still her best friend.
Imagining her future self at 17, she asks: “Will I have accepted the things I cannot change, and changed the things I cannot accept?”. Now 18, Eilish looks back at that question and rolls her eyes. “Oh God. I did not age well. Girl, please,” making the motion of a plane crash with her hands. “Your whole life would have gone, ‘eeeeh’. And not just you, everyone – because, coronavirus!” she adds.
The format works because you watch her grow. Like watching a documentary that tracks a child growing into adolescence – think Richard Linklater’s Boyhood – we watch her overcome obstacles and achieve goals. When she is 16, she is perplexed about a random, viral rumor that she is pregnant; in 2020, the most salacious gossip is more depressing – it is an image of her body that went viral and caused people to speculate about her putting on weight. “Nope, this is just how I look, you’ve just never seen it before,” she remarks now.
But perhaps the best thing about the interview is her youthful wisdom. She used to be scared of people around her dying, but it burns differently now that the chances are more real. “All the things I thought mattered the most a year ago matter less. All the things I thought mattered least now matter more,” she says.
What advice would she have given herself then, if she had the chance? “God, how do you prepare yourself for this year? I think all I would say is, ‘enjoy this. Don’t take anything for granted.’”