Billie Eilish review, Coachella 2022: Youngest ever headliner triumphs with Gorillaz in her midst

Three years ago, Billie Eilish made a shaky start to her Coachella career. Held at the festival’s Outdoor Theatre, the then 17-year-old’s set was blighted by technical mishaps: she arrived on stage over half an hour late, forgot some of the words to “All the Good Girls Go to Hell”, and worst of all, brought out special guest Vince Staples for “&burn” only for his microphone to entirely fail to work, leaving him rapping in silence. Not ideal, then.

Still, she had fond memories of that weekend, too. After all, it was backstage here in Indio that Eilish met her teen idol Justin Bieber. In footage captured for RJ Cutler’s 2021 documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, the pair meet and embrace for the first time. Eilish had grown up worshipping the Canadian singer, who is eight years her senior, and the moment marked a sort of emotional crossing of the Rubicon for Eilish as she was quite literally welcomed into the world of pop superstardom by the icon she’d deified.

Across just two feted albums (and a Bond theme for good measure), Eilish has become a Grammy magnet and an all-round alt-pop sensation. Mixing retro tones with mordant lyrics about issues both universal and specific to her life – everything from teenage heartbreak to NDAs and paparazzi – Eilish sings with a voice that veers from whispering to full-throttle belting without ever losing its intimacy.

Hilariously, at 20, Coachella’s youngest ever headliner is not old enough to qualify for one of the ubiquitous wristbands worn by attendees here to show that they can legally buy alcohol.

By the standards of a Coachella headliner, Eilish’s stage is relatively sparse: no back-up dancers, no gimmicks. The focus is all on her, and the multiple guests she welcomes over the course of the night. She arrives tonight relatively promptly – just seven minutes past her 11.30pm stage time – and quickly sets about dispelling any fears of a similarly disrupted show this time round.

During opening track “bury a friend”, a woozily pulsating song about a monster under her bed, Eilish immediately heads to the place where she always looks happiest: surrounded by her fans out on a long runway. The faces in the crowd light up as she passes, and even when she brings out Georgia-born R&B singer Khalid for their aptly named duet, “lovely”, all eyes remain locked on her.

In the years since she last performed here, Eilish has grown into a polished live act, punchier and somehow more vulnerable than on record. She’s been forced to mature well beyond her years, something she sings about on “Getting Older”. For this, she’s joined by a genuinely surprising guest star, Blur’s Damon Albarn – or, as he’s known in America, Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn. He wanders on halfway through the song, unannounced, to join her, as if to prove that Glastonbury isn’t the only festival where he can pop up when you least expect him.

Eilish is effusive in her praise, telling onlookers that the Albarn-featuring supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen was her “first favourite band” when she was six years old. “Blur changed the world and f***ing Gorillaz changed the world, and this man is literally a genius and that’s that.” As if to illustrate her point, the pair are joined by De La Soul rapper Posdnuos for an exuberant version of Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc”.

Her brother and repeat collaborator Finneas also joins her for two affecting numbers, “Your Power” and “i love you”. But the showiest flourish of the evening comes during her infectious breakout single “ocean eyes”. Standing on a crane-elevated platform high above the crowd, Eilish is illuminated by the lights of phones below – a moment of pure transcendence.

Eilish can now add “Coachella headliner” to her staggering CV, which already features seven Grammys and her recent Oscar win for Bond theme “No Time to Die” (which doesn’t feature during her set, to the chagrin of some). Soon she’ll add “Glastonbury headliner”, too. It’s not hard to imagine Eilish looking down at the vast audience laid out in front of her and weeping, like Alexander, as she sees she has no more worlds to conquer.

Instead, she stays humble. Her final words of the show are “Sorry I’m not Beyoncé.” As her masses of adoring fans drift into the night, nobody else seems to be. They’re happier than ever.