Newsletter: Meet the neon-haired L.A. teen who just made Grammy history

Billie Eilish made Grammy history as the youngest artist to earn nominations in all of the Grammy Awards’ top four categories.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Nov. 21, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Billie Eilish was on the cover of Rolling Stone in August, but she had to clean her bedroom during the interview.

“Can she clean her room while you talk? Is that OK?” the singer-songwriter’s mother politely asked the interviewer. They were all in the two-bedroom Highland Park bungalow where Eilish grew up and has recorded her biggest hits. In fact, it’s where she still lives. With her parents. Because she’s 17.


On Wednesday morning, Billie Eilish made music history, becoming the youngest artist to earn nominations in all of the Grammy Awards’ top four categories. And those were just some of her nominations — she racked up six in total. Her brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connell, tallied five nominations of his own.

[Read the story: “At 17, Billie Eilish makes Grammy history with nominations in top 4 categories” in the Los Angeles Times]

Eilish is the first artist born this millennium to reach the top of the Billboard charts. She still sees a pediatrician, has 42 million followers on Instagram, wore pajamas with her name written all over them to perform on “Ellen” and hit the 1 billion streaming mark before she’d dropped a full-length album. Yes, she has played Coachella, and no, her mom doesn’t like her drinking soda.

When she was 13, she and her brother recorded a song that O’Connell had written called “Ocean Eyes” in his bedroom and uploaded it to SoundCloud for fun.

Forget getting discovered by playing the right clubs in the right order until you finally do it in front of the right people, or somehow getting your physical demo in the hands of some sweaty old producer. The track went viral. Soon, she had a record deal.

She is now a global superstar, albeit of the decidedly anti-pop variety.

Eilish is inspired by giant tarantulas, the Australian horror movie “The Babadook,” other people’s biggest fears, the Beatles and Avril Lavigne. She wears big, baggy clothes, gives death stares and usually sports wild-hued hair. Her mane is often blue, and now green. On her driver’s license, which she finally received this summer, the hair color is just listed as “other.”

Her neon-haired, neo-goth aesthetic is, as the New York Times put it, “a collective middle finger to the strictures of teen-pop sex appeal.” The fact that that commentary on teen sex appeal was, of course, written by an adult man is likely its own comment on the icky strictures that Eilish so deftly defies. But that is neither here nor there, just everywhere.


If you are an actual adult rock star whose kids probably still think you’re a loser by virtue of being their parent, backstage passes to a Billie Eilish show are perhaps the only guaranteed way to win their admiration. (Dave Grohl, Thom Yorke, Billie Joe Armstrong and Eddie Vedder have all brought their kids to Eilish shows, per Rolling Stone.)

In July, Eilish played a dazzling, sold-out set of shows at the Shrine Auditorium. This was the same venue where she had attended her first concert just five years earlier, but now she was an international sensation.

Eilish is a nihilist truth-teller for an audience who actually understands what Tiktok is — and will be living with their parents for the foreseeable future.

“If you absolutely despise yourself, this song is for you,” Eilish said before introducing her song “Idontwannabeyouanymore” during the July performance. Her fans rallied accordingly.


In case you needed reminding, there is nothing in human history darker than the mind of a teenage girl. Let alone one who has been up all night watching YouTube videos and making music.

[See also: “Billie Eilish, music’s biggest anti-pop star, returns home a hero” in the Los Angeles Times]

Of course, as Rolling Stone put it, Eilish’s “dirty little secret is that, for all her boasts about villainy and dad-seducing, she’s actually a pretty good kid.” Sure, she’s a peerless provocateur who has a song called “Xanny,” but she doesn’t drink or do drugs, and she takes her parents on tour. Her brother, who is now all of 22, remains her chief collaborator.

[See also: “Who is Finneas O’Connell, and how did he get five Grammy nominations? (Hint: Billie Eilish stans him)” in the Los Angeles Times]


Her birthday is in December, so she will be an adult — albeit still in her teens — by the time the Grammys roll around in January.

Some more Grammy news:

And now, here’s what’s happening across California and beyond:


Ambassador Gordon Sondland chose to save himself — and not President Trump — when he testified during impeachment hearings. Almost everyone in Trump’s orbit confronts the same dilemma, sooner or later: Stick with Trump and risk lasting damage, or break away and hope to survive his wrath. Sondland broke away in spectacular fashion. Los Angeles Times


Amid gentrification fears, officials killed a plan for hundreds of apartments in South L.A. The South Los Angeles Area Planning Commission voted to reject a plan for 577 apartments near a Crenshaw Boulevard light-rail station, the latest flare-up in a debate over gentrification and the benefits of market-rate housing. The commission unanimously opposed the six-story development known as District Square, despite a last-minute offer from the developers to charge below-market rents at 63 apartments inside their project. Los Angeles Times

The Democratic presidential candidates, or at least the top 10, took the Atlanta debate stage. Pete Buttigieg took his turn in the bullseye, Joe Biden struggled anew, and Kamala Harris rallied. Here are five major takeaways from the 7,835th Democratic debate of this presidential cycle. (Just kidding, it’s only the fifth debate, and we still have seven more ahead of us!) Los Angeles Times


After a weekend of record-breaking high temperatures, Angelenos broke out jackets and umbrellas Wednesday as rain — and even snow — fell on Southern California. But temperatures are expected to rise into the 70s over the weekend. Los Angeles Times


Free admission to MOCA starts Jan. 11. But the change isn’t as easy as it may seem. Los Angeles Times

That Soviet submarine next to the Queen Mary is being sold to an anonymous buyer. The Scorpion submarine, which became a Long Beach tourist attraction, had deteriorated so much that it was closed in 2015. Plans are to remove the sub by mid-May. Los Angeles Times

The Russian Foxtrot-Class submarine known as the Scorpion sits next to the Queen Mary.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Apple abruptly canceled the planned AFI Fest premiere of “The Banker” over unspecified concerns about the film. The surprise decision to pull the movie represents a blow for Apple as it begins to move into the distribution of original films and launches its Apple TV+ streaming platform. Los Angeles Times


Can you design a better streetlight for L.A.? The city is launching a public competition to come up with a new design “emblematic of 21st-century Los Angeles.” Curbed LA

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Inside the bloody cartel war for Mexico’s multibillion-dollar avocado industry. It’s not just a drug war. Los Angeles Times



The race to replace Katie Hill in California’s 25th Congressional District has already become “a fierce Democratic mano-a-mano,” as Politico puts it. Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) has been lining up establishment endorsements, but the entry of progressive journalist and Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur into the race has set the stage for an intraparty battle. Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Steve Knight, who lost to Hill in 2018, is also looking to reclaim his seat. Politico

Stockton and Rancho Cordova joined the growing list of cities to pass emergency bans on “no fault” evictions to prevent landlords from booting tenants before new statewide rental rules take effect in January. The Los Angeles City Council approved its own emergency moratorium on evictions in late October. Sacramento Bee

California’s budget could soon be flush with billions in unspent cash. Analysts say that the state budget could see a record $26 billion in cash reserves by the summer of 2021. Los Angeles Times


An ambitious bikeway program for the San Diego region is now $79 million over budget and a year behind schedule. Obstacles include everything from neighborhood outrage at the loss of parking spaces to the technical challenges of overhauling streets designed primarily for cars. San Diego Union-Tribune


Was a massive, $280-million emerald destroyed in the Camp fire? A Paradise couple says so, but PG&E wants proof. Sacramento Bee



Climate change activists are urging Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti not to move forward with plans to build a gas-fired power plant in Utah. They say the $865-million plant is inconsistent with calls to stem the global climate crisis by phasing out fossil fuels as quickly as possible and conflicts with Garcetti’s own climate agenda. Los Angeles Times


Like Fruit-of-the-Month club, but for Bakersfield. In case you were wondering what to give the friend who has everything and really, really loves the Central Valley: BakoBox, a new monthly subscription of goods and services, highlights Bakersfield local creatives and businesses. Bakersfield Californian

In their first game together for the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 42 points and Los Angeles rallied to edge the Boston Celtics 107 to 104 in overtime Wednesday night. Los Angeles Times


For years, people pinned dollar bills to the ceiling of an Alameda bar. Turns out the local rite of passage had amounted to a small fortune — when they finally took the bills down, the grand total, not including foreign currency, was $10,367. SF Gate

Men run the kitchen at most Sacramento restaurants. Burger Patch wants to change that. Sacramento Bee


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 66. San Diego: rain, 63. San Francisco: sunny, 61. San Jose: sunny, 66. Sacramento: sunny, 66. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Mitch Epley:

“I think the best memory I have of California would have to be the North Coast Redwoods, up north of Trinidad, and not quite to Orick. Beautiful animals, in beautiful country, clean, clear air ... all in all, a perfect memory. The redwood trees seemed designed by God to make you feel humble and small. A camper’s paradise.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)


Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.