Beyonce might be one of the greatest entertainers of all time. With a monumental career that has spanned over two decades and a tracklist comprising of hits like “Irreplaceable,” “Ego,” “Halo,” “Drunk in Love,” “Flawless” and “Brown Skin Girl,” Beyonce’s discography has easily influenced an entire generation.
Yet Beyonce doesn’t get paid as much as her white counterparts.
According to Forbes, for the last couple of years, Taylor Swift has remained the highest-paid female artist — towering over Queen B with more than double her salary of $185 million in 2019. And alongside Swift on that list are artists like Katy Perry and Ariana Grande; artists who, in my opinion, although specular, aren’t as outstanding as Beyonce. (And by the way, Katy Perry, according to the same Forbes list, was worth $530 million dollars.)
Yes, Katy Perry — even my white friends are confused.
But to be white, female and mediocre in America is praiseworthy. This leads me to Billie Eilish — America’s most recent sweetheart.
I have a qualm with Eilish. We’re sort of mortal enemies. More on my part than hers but you get the point. Why, you ask? When I was 19, I remember having to enroll in Goodwill’s certified nursing assistant (CNA) program because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my creative endeavors.
At 19 years old, Eilish, also white, has accomplished more than most people will in their lifetime.
But let’s face it, it’s because she’s white.
Coming from an upper-middle-class family in Los Angeles, Eilish, whose family once murmured that “they couldn’t afford horseback riding like their peers” (*rolls eyes*), has had access to resources most people cannot afford, with an in-home studio, a personal producer who happens to be her brother and a mother with decades of experience as a songwriter.
With hundreds of millions of views on her YouTube music videos, seven Grammys, millions of followers including senator Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on Twitter and a net worth of $30 million dollars (five percent of Beyonce’s entire net worth — and before you say “five percent isn’t a lot,” ask yourself if you even have one percent of Beyoncé’s wealth), Eilish will have a career unlike anyone else before her.
But what makes Eilish successful outside of being white and privileged? As a Black woman, I have taken the position that there is nothing that exists outside of privilege that has made Eilish successful. I would even say it would be an anomaly if she wasn’t successful.
With our systems deeply rooted in racism and wealth inequality, Eilish has simply ridden the wave of others before her. Or could it be, as my counterparts would say, that the emergence of eclectic or “weird” music as mainstream has propelled her? It’s simply not the full truth.
From a sounds perspective, with tunes like “Bad Guy,” “Therefore I Am,” “No Time to Die,” “Lovely” and lyrics such as “Keep my pretty name out of your mouth,” although edgy, catchy and chart-topping, I personally can’t relate.
But outside of my positionality as a young Black woman, a lot of things make Eilish relatable.
Eilish, despite her many achievements, makes people feel seen. She makes people feel heard and good. Billie Eilish, who is also extremely humble and self-deprecating, is like every white person under 21 whose developing self-confidence and borderline feelings of apathy make them feel alone. She, also in a world that labels women, is a young woman who disregards labels. Add an eccentric voice, a slightly cocky persona and former neon green ombre hair to the mix and you have a hero.
But that’s not quite all, is it? In the documentary, “The World’s a Little Blurry,” Eilish’s mother said in reference to her daughter making music as an outlet, “In today’s world, there are a lot of kids who feel depressed.”
And there you have it. Eilish represents an underage, depressed suburban America.
Diagnosed with depression at a young age, in an interview with Vogue, Eilish stated, “When people ask me what I’d say to somebody looking for advice on mental health, the only thing I can say is patience. I had patience with myself. I didn’t take that last step. I waited. Things fade.”
So unlike Beyonce or even Taylor Swift and the Katy Perries of the world, for a significant portion of the population who feel depressed, Eilish is there. She’s a spokesperson and a representative.
According to the CDC, “depression among children aged six to 17 years increased from 5.4 percent in 2003 to eight percent in 2007 and to 8.4 percent in 2012 and keeps increasing.” What’s more, depressive anxiety disorders affect one out of four children between 13 and 18 years old, and with diagnoses for depression on the rise, Eilish makes music for kids and young adults alike who are very much in tune with these feelings. With kids struggling to develop self-confidence and tend to their mental health, Eilish delivers real feelings of being in love, depressed and also in control.
With a persona that validates sadness and encourages mental well-being, it’s no wonder why individuals see a friend, role model and inspiration in Eilish.
So, is the success tied to her experience reasonable? No.
Is it fair? Definitely not.
But is it real? Yes.
If you struggle with self-harm, seek help by reaching out to a trusted adult like a relative, teacher, or counselor at school. You can also reach out for help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contacting the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.
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