Billie Eilish and Late Capitalism

Seeing this girl’s name and face literally everywhere for the past eight months - and especially now that her first album has been released to massive fanfare and critical acclaim - has really got me thinking about her whole backstory, the subject of “industry plants”, and what it says about the modern culture industry in general. While it’s true pop music (and the majority of the culture industry) has always been a corporate-created façade, what stands out in Billie’s case in particular is: 1. the manufacturing of her rise to fame is much more obvious than it was for pop stars in the past, and 2. a large amount of her fame can be attributed to her misappropriating a subculture known to be DIY, and also her image as a so-called “socially conscious” voice amidst the muck of the face-tatted-coloured-locs era.

Billie grew up in a gentrified neighbourhood of Los Angeles a stonethrow away from Hollywood. Her parents are actors and musicians with a long list of credits stretching back 40 years, her mother also teaching songwriting and screenwriting to industry professionals. Her brother Finneas O’Connell is an actor who has been on hit TV shows and is also a successful musician himself. According to interviews Billie has given, she and Finneas were homeschooled specifically so they could focus on acting, singing, and dancing rather than conventional academics. In other words, she wasn’t just born with a foot in the culture industry, she was raised within its waters. Her time in music began at age 14 when she recorded vocals to a song Finneas wrote and produced for his band (“Ocean Eyes”) which “just happened” to go viral once it was posted to SoundCloud. Shortly after, she was signed to Interscope Records; she had almost no prior musical experience before being signed (e.g. she was never part of an underground/local music scene, was never in a band, never made a bunch of demo tapes), which should come off as pretty sketchy to say the least. Interscope proceeded to flood her music all over platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, get her a plethora of interviews in highly credible publications, and got her going on two world tours despite at the time only having released an EP. But most of all, she has an overwhelming amount of social media clout, especially on Instagram where she currently holds 16 million followers. It could be said she’s known more for her presence on the platform than her actual music (i.e. everyone knows who she is but no one can name any of her songs). If this isn’t a textbook example of a major label planting an artist, I don’t know what is.

Billie’s image underwent a profound change sometime around early 2018 without explanation. She shed any impression she once had of being a cute little alternative pop princess for “SoundCloud rap” attire. All of a sudden she was wearing baggy designer clothes with a neck full of real chains, and began flaunting her friendships with said “SoundCloud rappers” all over her social media (most notably with XXXTentacion; she rambled on about him during her Montreality interview done two months after his death to ensure everyone knew the two of them had been close friends). She also adopted a cheesy accent reminiscent of “ghetto” black vernacular despite being white as snow and raised in a gentrification cesspool. Her actual music, however, did not change as the singles she put out remained soft alternative pop, not the blaring Miami scene-inspired trap music of her new found friends.

Media publications, however, have remained highly sympathetic to her, writing about her as if she’s a teenage sage, a soft voice of mindfulness looking to mourn over a culture of destructive self-indulgence. Her music, unfortunately, doesn’t even come close to reflecting this, probably because she simply doesn’t have much of a base to draw upon (she is still a sheltered suburban white girl, after all). She doesn’t sing about political issues and very rarely does she really touch upon the grim realities of everyday life under late capitalism. Her song “Xanny”, which is my personal favourite from her new album, does speak about youth drug culture but has little substance to it overall. Her songs focusing on teen depression come off as petty with, again, very little integrity. Ironically, the one instance of her fully venturing into the trap/industrial genre is also the only song where she doesn’t sound soulless and cavalier: her uncredited feature with Denzel and J.I.D. (certainly because she’s singing Denzel’s words, rather than something Finneas pre-wrote for her).

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I don’t believe Billie is a villain. I do believe however Billie is a victim, as it’s clear she’s being massively exploited by Interscope as an easy cash cow. Her entire time in music has been corporate-controlled and bankrolled. She’s received loads of promotion via big-name interviews and social media before releasing a single full-length album or getting a song in the Billboard Top 10. Even pop star plants of the past would at least garner a Top 10 hit or two before the influx of media coverage. And to reiterate, yes, this is how the music industry has always been and how the vast majority of pop stars are invented, but this case is especially striking. No one would care if Ariana Grande was revealed to be a completely manufactured star, because no one sees her as anything but a manufactured pop star with a pretty voice and look, but Billie’s whole appeal is that she’s *not* Ariana; in some ways she’s presented as the antithesis of Ariana, a seemingly dark, edgy girl who sings about “real shit”. I’d argue Billie’s case is the proverbial spark which causes the prairie fire since her suspiciously instant rise to fame is getting people talking about the inner workings of the music industry more than ever. Yes, it’s always been this way, but the discourse has now shifted to the point where normies have become more aware and terms like “industry plant” have entered their lexicon.

I know you’re a grad student because you write a lot without saying anything.

Fair enough.

This was used since the 1930's. It's been almost a century now stop using this shit term.

Nigga if my name was Finneas I would first kill whoever decided that name was a good choice and then kill myself.

Their parents are probably hippies. They were homeschooled after all.

The music and entertainment industry is one of the few where the exploitation is relatively low, at least for the mainstream artists. Dont feel sorry for Eilish, feel sorry for the writers/producers who will go unmentioned, the stage hands who will go unaccredited for her tours, and the listeners to have to listen to her music. Youre making interesting observations but unless this is a discussion about how capital limits art, Eilish is almost 100% irrelevant to politics

Sounds no different from your average hipster TBH fam.

isnt the media market going to produce whatever people like the best?

every fucker on earth wants to make it in LA. its pretty much just a sea of personalities that media managers can select from. whoever fits the current trendy profile get it

not really that bizarre or unexpected

I was more so drawing on ideas from thinkers like Marcuse or Debord in terms of how "counter culture" is just as easily processed and sold to consumers as anything blatantly top-down. Billie is the "anti-pop star" who ends up selling a million records and gets an album bomb on Billboard, who just happened to be the perfect material for a major label to sculpt.

It's analogous to how Sbux will set up "local" coffee houses sans logo.

This i can get down with. With the extended relationship between economic and state elites, it could be argued that the music industry is an ideological state apparatus, and this would be a very good example of it.

Can you even be a undergraduate of anything and working class?

Seems like the working class is ya know… working. Leterally none of my friends or family went to college, 60% of the kids in my school didn’t even graduate high school.

spicy hot take user

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Workers or not, they're not revolutionary.
If you earn a wage but have a degree, own property, own investments, make more than $100k a year, and otherwise live indistinguishably from the petite-bourgeoisie… why would you support a revolution?


Wow! Your conception of Marxism is so lifestylist and elitist as to be completely useless! Good job user :^)

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This song is ass, just like your thread OP.

Do undergraduates (of anything really) even make 100k a year? Sorry if the question is too ignorant, I'm not american. But that does seem like an absurd amount of money.

Finance possibly, or IT and engineering maybe but even they usually need a masters

I think he’s making the correct point. That the working class (the actual working class) doesn’t succeed in college for a number of reasons. For instance when I started school I didn’t even know when an associates degree ment or what Fasfa was. I literally was not capable of going to college that first year because I grew up in a poor community where no one went to college. I also had to pay my own bills so juggling work and school became pointless. When I wasn’t gonna make money off my degree I would be better off in the workforce. Because I don’t have anybody supporting me.

Far too often especially here do I see privileged middle-class kids who don’t even realize they’re privileged or middle class. They’ve never lived in the ghetto They’ve been homeless or grew up without a telephone or internet.

Not to mention the people in poor communities tend to have shit family lives and do poorly in school and aren’t well educated enough to succeed in college. That was me and all my friends.

lol owned

A lot of middle class kids call themselves "poor" because they can't afford as much as the rich kids.

jesus I think the 'bourgeoisie' now outnumber the actual workers 3:1 at least, and I thought the revolution was hopeless before.

Succeeding in college doesn't really mean shit today anyways, graduates are fighting dropouts for minimum wage bullshit jobs, sure some of us on here grew up poorer or richer than others but does that actually matter? I mean isn't Marxism supposed to be about liberation of the workers not just the most underprivileged minority? Sounds a little dare I say liberal.

Historically speaking the middle class are poor.

Never change Zig Forums.

touche, to be fair I was defending OP though and anyways they started iiiitttttt.

(also I dunno who the fuck this is)

Answer the question - why would they want a revolution? Their lives are already good enough under capitalism, and a revolution would introduce risk for little gain for themselves. Their only interest in socialism would be moralistic or idealistic, and this is EXACTLY what we see in the real world among middle class "socialists" in the first world. Or do you REALLY think one of these middle class college educated workers would be willing to die in a revolution?

Make another thread about grad students if you're going to discuss the subject.

This thread is about the culture industry.

But user are /you/ willing to die for the revolution?

Yeah thats fair. Sorry for participating in the derail.

What happened?

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Some of them maybe who knows. All i know is eating nothing but potatoes and cheese once every 72 hours for a month straight because your shit comunity doesn’t have the weath nessarry to have a sustainable food bank. An you are leterally starving sure lights a fire under your ass. An is a wake up call you’ll never forget. I never became more voilent then when i went threw that shit. Its a uniqe experience when you leterally have no options.

People treat the poor and homeless like leteral garbage. Thats experience is why im like i am today. Not some fancy education. An there are leterally a million a year who go threw that same experience every year.


If you think everyone with an undergrad degree or even who owns their own home is living high off the hog you must be fucking delusional. I don't even have a job right now and my last one was working retail for £8 an hour. If there's a revolution I can't wait to die in it.

If we only can rely on the 80 million or so people who have gone through that in the world for revolution we're already fucked.

To make an response to OP's effortpost, I agree with you but it's also not really surprising, this shit has gone on for decades and this is just a more blatant example, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift both are products of music/media oligarch families too to name just a few. However I liked the way this was written a lot, you should try submit it to a leftist blog/magazine or something.

Much thanks. I might use it for something in the future.

She sounds like Lana.

i will tolerate no Denzel slander

There's something to be said about how "late-stage" capitalism is about infatalisation, and the pacification of the proles. Everything is pastel colored, or very bright and engaging. Were transition from the later 10s where everything was this sort of neutral, office aesthetic, very sanitized to the new colourful, loud, self aggrandizing culture. 6ixn9ne, XXX, Lil Pump are all the forefront, and Jojo siwa is the future.

Kind of ironic how Billie is touring with him, given as to how at this point she IS the clown from the Clout Cobain video.

To be fair, Bob Dylan did all this shit too.

hmmm theres something to be made of the un-aesthetic. the music video for you should see me in a crown is highly unsettling for most people, and theres a macabre fascination with the uncomfortable, in my opinion more so than past decades.

I mean, it's very marketable in today's climate. Since 2014 the charts have been dominated by slow and dark shit, hence why trap music is everywhere.

90.38% of American workers earned less than $100k a year as of 2017.

48% don’t even make $30k.

You’re referring to a pretty small sliver of the population.

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More households do make that much though. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least over 20% of households made 100k+. Maybe even 30%. 200k+ is a real thin range though. That may be the 1%.

Please take this to a different thread.

This fucking “households” bullshit. As if there’s no difference between a “household” with two working adults earning $25k a year and one with only one working adult earning $50k.

But as you can see, not that many Americans even earn above 50k. 68% earn less than $50k, and you would need two of those in the same household to get above a $100k yearly household income.

That observation is banal as fuck tbh. Even non-Marxist already noticed it with Conquest of Cool

she looks weird and i don't like her music, probably because i'm too old for teenage stars and generally never liked pop music, because i figure most of it is superficial effort triggering the lowest common denominator in order to make a lot money.
her growing up in a family of artists/musicians and continuing the family tradition is something to be admired rather than being subject of critique though. it has nothing to with communism vs. capitalism, she could do the same under communism.

Home ownership is heavily promoted in the USA precisely because it turns people reactionary.

By "clown" I mean it in the sense that her label is throwing money at her non-stop hoping she'll do a trick (be it make a hit, do another interview, or just do something attention-grabbing on social media to get her name out there). Think about it. Billie's entire musical existence thus far has been bankrolled by Interscope; there was never a time she was making music for an audience without a major label backing. She's literally a label slave even if she doesn't see herself that way.

Now to be fair, one could make the argument that Denzel's background is a wee bit sketchy as well given that he - despite being from one of the worst parts of Florida - did go to an elite arts high school where he was classically trained in theatre and fine arts and whatnot (could very well be the reason why he's much more talented than his contemporaries). However, you know as well as I do after being thrown out of school he did a lot of shit with the underground Miami hip hop scene, hooked up with SGP and all the OG SoundCloud dudes. Compare that to his figurative child bride and how she was immediately thrown into the mainstream with only one song in her name (which she had no part in making aside from vocals).

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Yeah but there's welfare programs in America.

i dont know who this iiiiisss

She's the industry's 30th attempt at replicating Lorde.


OP I agree.
What are your thoughts about class-conscious people, like you, pointing out such ideological apparatus of the bourgeois state AND creating a culture of the proles themselves (at the superstructure) while at the same time also waging a revolution in the base. I don't think there is any other solution other than that.

I think along with your analysis of this pop singer, you should think about her position in the first world. Like obviously things would have been different had she been raised like this in the third world, if we assume she has been raised the way you tell she has been.

What do you mean? Like a postcolonial analysis?

to this i'd add that this could be a way of making others feel that they too can 'achieve' stuff like that and that since this is 'possible', their conditions are the result of their 'failures', not failures of the system

What do you mean by a 'post-colonial' analysis?

I wanted to point out this:

Most industry plants like Billie and Clairo are often portrayed as "youth making pop songs in their bedrooms who just happened to get lucky and go viral" when in reality their families have industry connections and could get them promoted and signed, then payola'd into stardom.

Here's a video on the subject. It's mostly about Clairo but he mentions Billie too, also Justin Bieber and Lana Del Rey.

Rightly said.

Thanks for the video, no wonder it has so less views even if other videos like it exist. For dumb content, thousands of videos with same content will get promoted, but not videos like the one you sent.

Also related: [The Late Capitalism of K-Pop]

I was waiting for someone to post this one.

To add, OP talks about that pop singer being exploited.

I think in the K-Pop industry as told in this video, you can see real exploitation of children. It's like a camp of children.

Why didn't you post it yourself? Is it unrelated?

Is this how payola works today?

you okay comrade?

how do you escape the culture industry?

individually you do so by stop consuming the culture as much as you can.

collectively, people new to the left might not be able to point out the bourgeois ideology as good and accurately as you can, so point it out for them. Of course, organise too. Read proletarian literature, find proletarian films from Soviet era (on, from Chinese era you can watch [How Yukong Moved the Mountains] on YT, there are communist songs, socialist realism art, etc. Popularise these among your comrades. If some of your comrades are artists/musicians, they will produce work of their own. That is briefly how communists build counter hegemony to bourgeois culture

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counter-hegemonic praxis is highly important for academic leftism, but imo has trouble translating to the everyday experience of the proles because ofcourse, to them, its just music, there's no deeper meaning or intensive other than the themes of the music itself.
Not to say the proles are stupid, quite the opposite, but the thoughts that the culture industry makes music for the purpose capital alone would be hard to grasp, at least for my normal self anyway.

It's why i distance any sort of praxis from music, films are far easier to culturally analyse as film analysis has in itself become entertainment. Its far easier to explain how A Quiet Place is the screaming monologue of a scared surburban white middle class seeing teir influence shrink and their opinions discounted than it is to explain Billie Eilishs music is intentionally dark and brooding, not for the purpose of being edgy or count-cultural, but for the purpose of making profit, as its would be seen as counter-productive to fund unpopular styles.

What’s wrong with browsing what’s trending?

Jesus Fucking Christ

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These are incredibly important takes, of all places to expect meritocracy to be promoted, many people would look to mainstream pop music, which much of the content rallies against the status-quo as do the artists themselves

Christ alive wasnt expecting that at 8am

Honestly don't really think Billie Eilish is any more obviously manufactured than lotsa pop.

Like Bieber - that happened in front of everyone. Usher put out his music video on YouTube when nobody knew who he was and everyone instantly hated it and was confused by it because it was fucking awful. The visceral negative response to Bieber was actually the organic public response - there was no grace period when he was actually popular before the backlash. Instead, they had to keep on buying hype and slots until they'd convinced enough people that Bieber was popular. This is how pop works, essentially - it's marketed to be accepted by the public as though it was their own culture, so that it can replace organic interaction with music and art. A great deal of it is just rich guys throwing money around. That's the process.

So fuck Billie Eilish, but afaict she's not special.

OP even said several times all pop stars are manufactured, it's just the case that Billie's situation gives a catalyst for discourse on the topic.

Don't get me wrong. Please care about your sanity. Trending videos on YT are shallow and fucking crazy. Your time is better spent on reading theory, organising, or consuming socialist realism art/music/literature, etc.

Analyzing trends is useful since we can understand what the masses are consuming.

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pol showing once again they are intellectually unparalleled in the combative exchange of discourse

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it's a weak attempt derail. Ignore it

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You can do fine by only knowing the gist of content the masses consume.

These statements by Marx should be enough for you:

In the modern world, where we see a decrease in participation in organised religion, the 'opium' takes other forms – such as the media we are talking about in this thread, video games, social media, etc.

Even if the proles recognise that such culture (like Billie Eilish) is detrimental to mental health, toxic, etc. they will always think that this shit is produced by individuals who are isolated, that this is a mistake of some individuals and if people are properly educated then this will not happen. This is the same as radlibs wanting to 'fix' capitalism because few rich people has spoiled it, that we need 'woke' capitalism. This is what the bourgeois wants you to think, this why they push 'individualism', 'American dream', etc. so much

The most popular videos now, aside from the fash recommended by the algorithm, are ones that glorified the creators wealth. Ricegum, Mr Beast etc. the concept of "Flexing" someones wealth, ironically, makes the most money. Now while as nauseating it may be, it provides a valuable insight into societies psyche, which is the same as its always been, desire for capital, both financial and social.

The point is that you don't even need to watch trending YT videos to analyse what the masses like to consume.

We are in a capitalist society, so the masses consume everything communists don't want the proles to consume. Simple as that.

Not more useful and insightful than

I disagree, I think we can see specific patterns in content that speak to a deeper level of societies desires and fears.

Saying under capitalism, all consumption is wrong is, in my mind, misguided. All consumption is directed, encouraged, advertised etc. and even coerced, but it doesn't mean that all is illegitimate.

Actually… it's important to understand *what* is influencing the masses.

You're of course right. But don't you think organising (specifically the concept of 'mass line') is a better alternative to that?

Organising is not just say starting a union. It is also going to people, many times door-to-door or a tea-shop frequented by workers, and asking them what troubles they have and what THEY think is the reason they have the troubles.

Analysing consumption trend, though not bad, will tell you some workers think Muslims are causing their troubles.

Actually going to the masses and asking them will give you the opportunity to correct them and show them the right way.

Anyway, I think we both are right, but it is quite possible sometimes to judge a video's content and viewers' consumption pattern by just looking at the video title, or getting a general overview from leftist online forums where someone who has already watched such videos can provide inputs, which save your time/

False dichotomy. You can do both.

It's interesting to think about content which won't be 'illegitimate' under capitalism. Either it slipped past the bourgeois censor, or I am unable to think about any. Can you tell me more?

I later hint that yeah you can do both.

So why dogmatically oppose one? Seems unnecessary.

Ah this is very true and done hand in hand with the analysis would provide a very rounded window

It was a hypothetical statement to start with, mostly because i also couldnt think of an example to start with, but also the idea of what makes some consumption legitimate and some not if all of it is done through manufacture isnt fully formed

Please carefully read the rest of my reply.

If you must, then do it.

I am not dogmatically opposing both, I am just pointing out that the essence of the media that we consume never changes – it's the same recurring theme dressed up and sold as something different and revolutionary. You don't have to work hard to watch every trending video every time any new comes up, you need to get a general idea – work smarter, not harder.

Plus, I will still put more weight on, and suggest you to too, organisation IRL then analysing trends online (though not denying you shouldn't do the later)

Some neutered vestiges of the New Deal and Great Society reforms like SNAP, WIC and Section 8 housing. There’s also unemployment and disability, but those specifically require that you not be employed (with unemployment, you have to be actively looking for employment and the benefit is temporary regardless, with disability, your disability has to be debilitating enough that you’re basically unemployable.

I would love if examples are pointed out against what I claim.
I typed out a long response on what I 'claim' (being pointed out since Marx), but doing so is redundant since we all as Marxists will discover this 'claim' one day or another.

The thing is that most, if not all, media is reactionary, and all that is branded as 'truth', 'logic', 'critical thinking' is what at the end of the day maintains the status quo – and the farthest left I have seen the media go is some form of crude materialism – that yes our thoughts are shaped by our senses, reality, but in the end everything is fixed: capitalism, human nature of greed and 'competition', existence of rich and poor, changes brought by great minds, etc. But even the materialist part (senses shape thoughts) is rarely seen.

It's fair and ill concede that i also cant think of any truly leftist media, or any that isnt tied to the process of capital. It depends on how media is defined, however, and also which of the most left wing media platforms and content creators are reactionaries.

Truth, logic, reasoning, critical thinking are all bastardized enlightenment concepts for the self-sustainability of capitalism and neo-liberalism, so i wholeheartedly agree there

Tell me this shit isn’t real.


Since you used the word 'ideological apparatus' before, are you aware of this work by Althusser: