The R.J. Cutler-directed Apple TV+ documentary on Billie Eilish's meteoric rise "gives any worried onlookers plenty of calm—and a little bit of pause," says Carl Wilson. Billie Eilish, born in December 2001, is exactly 20 years younger than Britney Spears, who was born in December 1981. "What nobody involved on- or off-screen in the making of this film could have known is that it would have ended up being released immediately after another documentary that’s focused attention on that child star syndrome, the New York Times/Hulu production Framing Britney Spears," says Wilson. "That movie indicts the media, the music industry, Spears’ family, and the public in the sexualization and hounding of the early 21st century’s most compelling pop star into a nervous breakdown and the loss of her personal autonomy under the conservatorship of her dubiously trustworthy father. It’s provoked a lot of reflection about collective complicity in cases like these, as well as personal accounts from child stars such as Mara Wilson (who starred in films such as Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda) about their own, similar experiences in the spotlight. As I wrote almost two years ago about the documentary Leaving Neverland, which focused on allegations of child abuse levied at Michael Jackson, the cumulative effect of these stories on me has been to lean toward getting rid of the practice of using underage performers in entertainment businesses altogether. It’s hard to say how a lot of worthwhile stories would be told without children—imagining how The Wizard of Oz could have been done without a Judy Garland is a brain-bender—but the legacy of exploitation and spiraling aftereffects makes it equally hard to claim that young stardom is at all worth it. Billie Eilish, since her emergence into the heights of pop fame, is one of the rare cases that’s made me think that it can be done without excessive damage, if it’s handled right. As my colleague Willa Paskin wrote in her perceptive essay on Framing Britney Spears, a factor that’s too easily left out of these stories in American culture is class. Spears’ Southern family lacked the basic resources and familiarity with structures of power to protect her effectively, whereas Eilish and her brother Finneas, who were home-schooled by their clan of not wealthy but industry-savvy actor-musician-writers in Los Angeles, can be more strategic about defending themselves." ALSO: The World’s a Little Blurry knows full well how easy it is for talented young women to fall prey to defining narratives they never have a hand in writing.
TOPICS: Billie Eilish, Apple TV+, FX on Hulu, Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry, Framing Britney Spears, Britney Spears, Documentaries