“This is really insane. Nothing like this has ever been done on this stage.”
Billie Eilish was addressing the packed crowd midway through her set at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park in California’s Silicon Valley, marking the first time an artist has given a public concert at the iconic home to Apple’s keynote addresses.
But she was also speaking for her stripped-down acoustic set with her brother and writing/producer partner Finneas on guitar and piano, featuring a custom, one night-only production design from acclaimed creative director Es Devlin (Adele, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar). The staging surrounded Eilish and Finneas (who performs under his first name) with trees and alternately brooding, horror-movie lighting that created a fitting enchanted forest environment to accompany the songs from Eilish’s debut “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”
“This is the one time I let somebody else do [my stage design] and she nailed it. She’s so creative and the trees are real,” Eilish told the crowd. “Mostly real.”
Eilish was in town to accept her award for Global Artist of the Year at the inaugural Apple Music Awards, which as the company announced on Tuesday were established as a “a celebration and boldest musicians of 2019 and the enormous impact they have had on global culture this year.” Eilish was also named Variety’s Hitmaker of the Year, and will accept her award at a celebration in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Rather than follow the trophies-and-podium speech format of other award shows, Apple tapped Eilish as a special headliner to create an exclusive concert experience for several hundred of her most devoted Bay Area fans (as well as millions of others who could tune into Apple Music’s livestream). In addition to Global Artist of the Year, Eilish was honored for Album of the Year “When We Fall Asleep…” and shared Songwriter of the Year recognition with Finneas, a category selected by the service’s global editorial team.
Also recognized by the Apple Music Awards are Lizzo, for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” for Song of the Year, the platform’s most-streamed song of 2019.
“Apple has shown so much support of me and my brother since the beginning,” said Eilish, who didn’t mention her reported upcoming documentary for Apple TV+, rumored to be part of a deal valued as high as $25 million. “And I want to say thank you to them for that.”
Eilish showed extra love for Apple and her fans by including special performances of “come out & play,” a song she wrote and recorded for Apple’s 2018 holiday campaign, and a first-time acoustic performance of fan favorite “Ilomilo.” She opened the set with five songs from her 2017 EP “Don’t Smile at Me,” including her 2016 viral breakthrough “Ocean Eyes.”
And to cap off the night, Apple presented Eilish and Finneas with custom-made awards plaques, cased in the company’s signature reflective chrome and filled with the proprietary wafers stocked in iPhones worldwide. (The extensive design process began months ago before honorees had been decided to ensure they’d be ready for the early December unveiling.)
Prior to the concert, Eilish sat down with Beats 1 radio host Zane Lowe for a live interview reflecting on her whirlwind year, which she noted was clouded by periods where she was “clinically depressed” before she could fully appreciate the career highs unfolding on a daily basis. “I just was patient with my surroundings,” Eilish explained. “I probably was the last person to see [the success]. It just kinda started and I started to see things going on around me. A couple months ago I decided to start living like it just started happening.”
That includes a deep appreciation for her fans, whom Eilish rewarded with a bonus treat immediately following her 70-minute set. As fans exited the Steve Jobs Theater, they had the opportunity to pass through a special screening room that showcased a 22-minute video of Eilish and Finneas writing and recording the song “I Love You” in her bedroom in 2018.
Finneas said performing that song to sold-out arena and festival crowds truly crystallized how universal the hyper-intimate sessions had become. “There’s a lot of things in music that don’t feel like they’re gonna be finished,” he told Lowe. “Neither of us believe the album is done at all. There’s so many things to look at and keep painting. When you hear a whole arena of people screaming a lyric back to you, it’s like ‘Oh yeah, I’m done’” As he wrote in a June caption from Chicago’s United Center, “Billie’s bedroom is so much bigger now.”