AUSTIN, Texas — From Frances Forever to Gracie Abrams, Girl in Red to Phoebe Bridgers, Saturday’s Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup felt like a movement building up to one conclusion – Billie Eilish’s headlining set on the Lady Bird Stage to close out the night.
While those artists span multiple sub-genres within the world of pop music, they share a certain ethos that has only increased its power over the music industry since Eilish first performed ACL in 2019.
Even in 2019, Eilish was probably already too big for her 6 p.m. Honda Stage set, but by now her place in pop music is undeniable, as is her status as 2021 ACL headliner.
The 19-year-old took the stage around 8:30 p.m. dressed in baggy long sleeves and shorts. She opened her set with “bury a friend,” the same song she closed with in 2019, kicking off a new chapter in her ACL story.
“Remember when you guys pretended to hate this song? Yikes,” she told the crowd as she launched into “NDA.”
As her stardom has grown from anti-pop teenage weirdness to stratospheric levels, her fanbase has expanded – something apparent in the size and diversity of the crowd on Saturday night.
“I feel more and more like I was made for you,” she sang on song “Halley’s Comet” to loving cheers from the fans.
Eilish had fun asking the crowd to follow her cues, and the audience followed along with her commands. On “you should see me in a crown,” no one moved until they were told to, which happened just as the beat dropped. On “Oxytocin,” she asked everyone – “nobody’s too cool to do this” she insisted – to bend down low and then jump. Before launching into “when the party’s over,” she told everyone to put down their phones and look at her face, to live in the moment.
The middle of the set had Eilish leaning into softer songs and her smoky singing style – not a “whisper” but an emotion brought to her lyrics in the most subtly stark way. On “Your Power,” it was nothing but Eilish and brother Finneas playing an acoustic guitar on stage as images of the desert played behind them. It was around this time someone in the audience threw a bra her way.
“Whose titties are those?” Eilish asked.
But she could also belt it out, as she did Saturday night on low-key roast anthem “Lost Cause.”
As she did on Weekend One of the festival, Eilish channeled that theme of dissatisfaction into what’s happening in Texas, which just passed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law.
“If you’re a man, like literally shut the f--- up,” she said as “bans off our bodies” displayed on screens behind her.
Naturally, Eilish closed her set with “Happier Than Ever,” the latest single and title track from her album of the same name. The cathartic ballad starts with the singer's jazzy whisper and builds into a force. It’s a reminder that, since her 2019 ACL show, she’s taken control of her surreal popstar life, or at least is using her music in hopes of making that dream a reality.
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