Billie the Kid: Teen Pop Stars and the Double Standard of Pop Star Scrutiny

With Billie Eilish placed firmly in the cancel culture crosshairs, the “Happier Than Ever” album circuit has been a bit of a rough go and proof of the double standard for maturing teen idols.

Billie the Kid: Teen Pop Stars and the Double Standard of Pop Star Scrutiny


Jared Marshall

7/29/2021 11:00 AM

There’s a cruel irony to the title of Billie Eilish’s sophomore record, Happier Than Ever. Not only is it set to hit streaming platforms only months after Framing Britney Spears has ignited a public reexamination of how we treat our teen pop idols, particularly the women, but it is also coming after a marketing rollout that was anything but happy. The audience-crossing phenomenon has become the latest focus of cancel culture. Twitter fingers and TikTok fyp’s across the globe have united in an effort to nail the Devil Eilish to a cross, most recently panning her excellent single “NDA”-- some fans claiming it to be derivative of the popular video game Among Us’s theme song. 

Eilish has come under fire for a lot over the summer, some of which is cut and dry where other accusations require further dissection. The incident which Eilish has addressed is one involving a racial slur. A video surfaced in which she mouthed a slur directed at Asian people while reciting the lyrics to "Fish" by Tyler, the Creator. Eilish was about 14 at the time of its recording and apologized for the comment as soon as it came to light.  

The more complex matter which turned into a national conversation was the accusation of queerbaiting in her video for "Lost Cause". The video shows Eilish partying with a group of women and engaging in slightly suggestive behaviour. None of it transcends the playful behaviour you may have seen some of your friends engage in on Instagram stories, but being that the video was released at the beginning of Pride month, it was insinuated that Eilish may have been using this video as an attempt to appeal to her queer audience. This was followed by an Instagram post from the set of the video captioned "i love girls." 

Queerbaiting is a form of marketing in entertainment that creates the illusion of same-sex romance without actually confirming it to the audience, usually in an attempt to appeal to queer audiences without anyone with more conservative beliefs. Queerbaiting is a problem that should be discussed. At best it is an empty attempt at bringing diversity to art without committing to anything of substance and at worst it is fetishizing sexuality to increase your consumer base. Opening these nuanced conversations of identity to the art world is progressive and important. The issue is that it can push artists into a corner where they are forced to come out. Accusing Eilish of queerbaiting is assuming that she is straight… and Eilish has made no response to these accusations. People are allowed to express their identities publicly and they are allowed to do so on their own terms. 

After being accused of queerbaiting in the music video for "Girls", Rita Ora came out as bisexual and apologized for offending the LGBT community. Pop artists have no obligation to disclose anything about themselves. Many assumptions are being made about Eilish’s actions, fans still commenting on her social media posts demanding that she address the accusation. If Eilish is questioning her sexuality then she does not have to address a damn thing.

The queerbaiting accusation has been conjoined with the case of Eilish’s rumoured boyfriend, Matthew Tyler Vorce, who recently apologized for a history of homophobic tweets. Eilish has been criticized for excusing homophobic behaviour due to her association with Vorce. I do find it interesting that Zoomers and younger millennials, a generation that considers itself sensitive to issues of social equality, are being more critical of a 19-year-old girl than the 30-year-old man she might be in a relationship with. I find even more interesting the continuously morphing attempts to go for this young woman's jugular.

It's telling that we are now deciding to have a national dialogue about queerbaiting after a 19-year-old woman expressed herself in a way that was considered too overtly sexual to not have a purpose. Eilish claimed that she wore baggy clothes to prevent being body shamed. Once she decided to change her style, she was immediately proven right. She has faced multiple accusations of being an "industry plant" as an attempt to demean her success as an artist. Now she has become the springboard to a conversation about queerbaiting. This is the new excuse to demean her success. She's not worthy of her platform because she takes advantage of her queer audience. I can't seem to recall any prominent incidents where Harry Styles was accused of queerbaiting. I can't seem to think of any examples where his sexual ambiguity sparked a national dialogue on how the industry can "do better." How we can "do better." I'm not saying that Styles deserves any of these accusations. Styles is entitled to his privacy and is under no obligation to share his personal life with his audience. It's just unfortunate that the women of pop music's freedom of expression is not respected the same way as the men's. But hey, that's show business.

Eilish is barely an adult. She's growing up. The path to adulthood is one of learning. She doesn't have all the answers and she is going to make mistakes. Does she deserve to be criticized for her mistakes? Of course she does. I don't know Billie. None of us do. But I do know she lives in the same world that I do. I know she's a Zoomer just like me. My generation likes to call people out, it's kind of our shtick. Eilish serves as a good case study for the complications of call out culture. Criticism is healthy and leads to growth, but before we criticize someone, we should reflect on what that person is actually doing and why we want to criticize them. When it comes to racial slurs, the answer is pretty simple. When it comes to matters of identity-- it might be something you want to unpack before you open your mouth or rush to your keyboard.

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