O2 Arena, London
It’s June in the UK, and the festival season is in full swing with many Brits flying abroad to experience the full force of the return of live music.
Here in the capital city, though, there certainly isn’t a shortage of concerts and Billie Eilish is a top act bringing her live spectacle to London’s O2 arena. For those staying in the UK rather than flying abroad, this certainly isn’t a compromise, with Eilish having carved out a reputation for creating visually striking, jaw-dropping performances. Remember the gravity-defying Saturday Night Live debut where the star appeared to be walking in a rotating box, moving from the floor to the ceiling? Unforgettable. Instead of a weekender, the star is in London for a six-show residency, and the O2 is collaborating with catering partner Levy’s to exclusively serve only vegan food at the arena.
A lot has changed since Billie Eilish last performed in the UK in 2019. Music venues shuttered their doors, countries closed their borders and the world locked down. Eilish released her second studio album – a statement that she’s Happier Than Ever. Then some areas across the world opened back up. What kind of show would a happier, more at-peace and environmentally conscious star bring to London in a post-pandemic landscape? For those who became fans of Eilish after the release of her dark, nightmarish single bury a friend, the star hasn’t left the sleep paralysis demons behind. Upon her arrival onstage, it’s the first opening track to her 90-minute set. It’s a gloriously dark vision to behold – the red and black visuals creating a vampiric backdrop as monsters crawled behind Eilish; the hooks of the hit single half-spoken, half-sung with the star maintaining the balance of sounding seductive and detached, hushed and eerie.
Next is I Didn’t Change My Number, which Eilish sings whilst stood on a ramp that – with the use of projections – looks like a road, the yellow lines sliding away beneath her. Happier Than Ever standout Therefore I Am appears early on in the set, before Eilish dives back into older single my strange addiction. From the release of her debut album When We all Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, it was clear that the collaborative bond between Eilish and Finneas was kept light-hearted and playful in the studio, despite the dark subject matter of twisted nightmares and demons. Perhaps one of the most obvious markers of this was Eilish slurping saliva from her Invisalign retainers on the LP. This playful energy comes across on stage too, with Eilish lying on her back as lasers beam down on her, cycling her feet in the air – or later, when she catches flowers from the audience and wraps a Pride flag around her shoulders, marching up the stage.
Though Eilish is, no doubt, a star on stage, Finneas is certainly not lingering in the shadows. When Eilish calls for praise for her brother, the crowd roar into an extensive cheer. Your Power lends itself to an intimate performance between the two siblings, Finneas taking centre stage alongside Eilish, with both playing guitar. After, she says her next song is a “sad” one, and that young women need to be protected. The statement ends rather abruptly – was she going to elaborate on protection in a speech? – but it’s met with a cheer. The music does the talking for her as Finneas leaves the stage and Eilish performs Male Fantasy – her vocals sounding just as she does in the studio. Bellyache, ocean eyes and Bored are backdropped by visuals of the ocean, tying in with Eilish’s climate-conscious ethos.
It’s after the two acoustic tracks that Eilish implements some classic, and undeniably enjoyable, arena fare – hydraulic lifts from the B-stage, phones-in-the-air moments and shaping the audience into several laps of Mexican waves. There seems to be a lack of natural audience interaction up until this point, but what is practiced hits the notes of a dopamine-soaring pop arena performance.
There are moments when the gleaming lights of the arena creep towards more troubling moments. Though the performance began with night terrors and the audience cheered to Eilish’s demons, the star states on stage that she wants everyone to feel loose, to leave their troubles behind during her performance. She asks the audience to carry out three rules, the first to not be “an asshole”. However, small rips intermittently appear in her bubble of pop euphoria as there’s trouble in the crowd during the show, and Eilish calls for security to help. Later, a fan faints and is carried out. Earlier this year Kanye criticised Eilish, claiming she made reference to Travis Scott and the Astroworld tragedy in one of her shows. The shadow of the tragedy lingers briefly, as Eilish asks the crowd whether there’s enough breathing room and commands them to move backwards. It’s here that a less-practiced version of Eilish shines through and during one segment of the performance, she tells the tiered audience to sit down; halting the show for a brief meditation where she walks the arena through calming, breathing exercises.
The momentum isn’t completely lost, however, as the last leg of the show crescendoes with hits such as all the good girls go to hell and bad guy – the latter of which sees Eilish play the role of the villain with a withering glare as blasts of confetti drift from the ceiling. The videos of gold cars feel clichéd during bad guy, and is one of the weaker points in terms of the visuals of the show. But throughout, Eilish delivered nothing short of a sensational performance, with frenetic light show after light show accompanied by visions of golden arcs, dancers, spiders, the ocean and childhood photographs. A world to get lost in for an evening, with moments of intimacy matched with the eerie, seductive qualities of her first album. As the lights come on, it seems as though the audience got everything they wanted. Though Not My Responsibility appeared in the set, Eilish seems more confident in her responsibilities than ever before with the way she managed the show through the twists and turns of fainting fans and crowd pressure at the barriers. you should see me in a crown? A crown indeed. Billie, we see it.