Billie Eilish and the Pursuit of Happiness

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From the outside, the house isn’t terribly different from others on the block: a cozy bungalow in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood with an old lilac tree blooming near the entrance. In fact, it’s legendary: the place where a prodigal teenager and her older brother recorded the album that made Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell the queen of Gen-Z pop. 

It’s a location familiar to any Eilish fan, and at first glance on an absurdly beautiful day in April, not much appears to have changed about the house in the couple of years since it became famous, along with its teenage occupant. The O’Connell family’s rescue dog, Pepper, trudges through the backyard, now joined by Eilish’s year-old rescue, Shark, a gray pit bull. Signs of home-schooling linger in common areas, like an old-fashioned pencil sharpener attached to the wall and dingy supplies precariously placed on a desk. 

But look closer, and plenty is different. For starters, contemporary pop’s most famous home studio, set up in the childhood bedroom of Billie’s brother Finneas, is no longer a studio. Instead, the siblings’ mom, Maggie Baird, has taken over the space. “It still looks similar. There’s just no equipment,” Billie insists as she greets me in her kitchen, gathering ingredients and utensils for the cookies she wants to bake. Her mom’s added a blue rug to the bedroom and sleeps there with their cat, Misha. “We kept [the studio] for a while, then we were like ‘We don’t need this,’ ” Eilish says.

Finneas moved out a couple of years ago, settling down in Los Feliz with his influencer girlfriend Claudia Sulewski. He constructed a new studio in his basement, where he and Eilish began recording music last year. Eilish is, at first, cagey about admitting that she’s moved out as well. “I’m secretive about what’s really going on,” she offers conspiratorially, rummaging around the cabinets of her parents’ kitchen like a college student visiting home on a long weekend. “It’s been a couple of years now where I’ve been doing my own thing. But secretly, because nobody needs to know that.”

Eilish hasn’t been totally lying about where she lives; she still spends a lot of nights in her childhood bedroom. “I just love my parents, so I want to be around them,” she says, shrugging. Maggie and her husband, Patrick O’Connell, buzz in and out of the kitchen, commenting on the cookie baking and helping Eilish use the old oven. Eilish is sporting her new blond-bombshell look. A 180 from her formerly signature black-with-green-roots ’do, the new hair caused an uproar when she debuted it on Instagram in March. Today it’s damp from a shower, and she’s cozied up in a black T-shirt from her own merch store, along with a pair of matching sweats. On today’s menu are vegan, gluten-free peanut-butter-and-chocolate-chip cookies. She’s reading off an old recipe displayed on a food-stained printout that has clearly been well-utilized over the years. Eilish used to make them whenever she was sad. “It was a therapeutic thing for me,” she explains. 

billie eilish rolling stone cover

Billie Eilish, photographed in Los Angeles on April 13th, 2021.

Photograph by Yana Yatsuk for Rolling Stone. Fashion director: Alex Badia. Market editor: Emily Mercer. Hair by Benjamin Mohapi for the Benjamin Salon. Makeup by Robert Rumsey with A-Frame Agency. Styling by Dena Neustadter Giannini. Shirt by Burberry. Opening Image: Cardigan by Helmut Lang. Slip Dress by Gucci (Custom).

It’s been a while since she’s made the cookies (“You’re seeing history,” she teases). She’s found other ways to process her feelings, namely through writing her second album, Happier Than Ever, which is due out July 30th. The title is no fiction: She has, in fact, felt happier than she ever had before. But like a lot of things in her life, it’s not quite that simple.

“Almost none of the songs on this album are joyful,” Eilish explains, refuting the possibility that her second album is the bright, cheery counterpoint to 2019’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? The Babadook-inspired debut conjured up vivid memories of night terrors and lucid dreams over textures ranging from industrial electro-pop to jazzy ballads. Her videos were just as dark, full of spiders and black tears covering her face.

On the surface, Happier Than Ever is a different kind of nightmare. Emotional abuse, power struggles, and mistrust — stories drawn from Eilish’s life and the lives of people she knows — take up much of the lyrics, alongside musings on fame and fantasies of secret romantic rendezvous. The sound is mellowed out from the haunted-house sprawl of her debut: lush, somber, mesmerizing electronic soundscapes trickle down your spine, right along with Eilish’s words. 

And yet, even on the darkest songs there are moments of reflection, growth and, most important, hope. This is an album from someone who began to heal long before she wrote it. Or at…

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