“Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry,” directed by R.J. Cutler, whose past documentary films include “The September Issue” and “The War Room,” is the newest addition to the music documentary genre that has taken the world by storm in recent years. Music documentaries, such as “Framing Britney Spears” or Lady Gaga’s “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” have been able to influence an artist’s public image at a time when image is increasingly important.
Every artist wants to present an authentic version of themselves to the world. Documentaries have become a strategic way to connect with people, especially now when concerts and physical fan interactions cannot occur. “The World’s a Little Blurry” chronicles teenage star Billie Eilish’s creation of her highly anticipated first album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” both on and off the stage. The film makes us, as the audience, reconsider our expectations of pop stars and examine why musicians are idolized in the first place.
The relationship between a documentary subject and viewer is meant to be intimate, indulgent and meaningful. For an hour or two, we can become a fly on the wall, learn the subject’s daily routine or see them at work. “The World’s a Little Blurry” exceeds expectations of intimacy by redefining what the unfiltered life of a celebrity looks like. The documentary feels like a blend between a YouTuber’s vlog and a parent’s home video. Her performances are the only direct shots, which allows for a moment of reflection for viewers to focus on her talent, eccentric concerts and connection to her fans.
Musician documentaries present a degree of intimacy and reframe how an artist is perceived by the public. Since they are longer projects, they can reign over any assumptions made from social media, guest appearances or music. There is always a risk that these documentaries can become artist propaganda as opposed to offering a slice of life. In Eilish’s documentary, both the bad and good are deliberately intertwined and evenly showcased. It recognizes that Eilish experiences frustrations, bad days and familial arguments, just like everyone else. One scene shows Eilish’s brother, Finneas, talking to his mother in their cluttered kitchen. He said, “I feel like I’ve been, like, told to write a hit, but I’ve been told to not tell Billie that we have to write a hit.” We are shown the complexities of not only being a teenage star but a star in general.
Celebrities are idolized for a variety of reasons. It may be for their art, looks, lifestyle or personality. While we do expect stars to be honest, in a way, we do not expect them to be normal. We want to see their Los Angeles mansions, their custom sports cars and their perfectly behaved purebred pups. In Ariana Grande’s recent documentary “Excuse Me, I Love You,” a majority of the shots are taken from live concert bits, there are over 10 minutes of her discussing her pets, and a bubblegum pink veil obscuring the intimacy and authenticity of the film. “The World’s a Little Blurry” lacks the glamour and glorification of such a lifestyle.
Eilish’s documentary makes the case for idolizing a star who represents the normal teenager, who can relate to the average teenager. Yes, she is cool, but the documentary doesn’t bother to prove it. The film showcases Eilish practicing for her driver’s license in the family’s van, bickering with her mother and going to physical therapy. Not only are we able to see “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” created in Finneas’ bedroom, but we can hear her say, “We made this album in a bedroom, in our house that we grew up in, and it was mastered in somebody’s living room. It’s really, like, anything is possible.”
The concerts, meet-and-greets and backstage preparation are not depicted as glamorous. They showcase her struggle with fame, problems with her boyfriend and dealing with mental health. The moments are real. We are not meant to see her as a saint or someone who is nearly flawless. Rather, as a regular person. Eilish deserves praise for discussing topics that are considered taboo and those that are particularly left unsaid in attempts to maintain a celebrity image. “The World’s a Little Blurry” is almost the teenage version of Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana,” showing what Swift’s documentary might have captured in her early years.
The film is a reflection of Eilish’s normality in the best way. Her nonchalant manner of discussing every aspect of her life cannot be seen as anything but brave. Not only does Eilish appeal to her current fanbase, but her authenticity is enough to reach new admirers. “The World’s a Little Blurry” questions what a celebrity’s lifestyle is meant to look and feel like and sets a new standard for authenticity in music documentaries. I can only hope that other music documentaries follow in Eilish’s footsteps.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Mar. 8, 2021, e-print edition. Email Ana Cubas at [email protected]