In 2019, Billie Eilish shut down Reading Festival. In what would become a defining moment in her career – in the UK, at least – the then-17 year-old pulled one of the festival’s biggest-ever crowds. Months prior, she’d released her game-changing debut ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ and until that point had played a run of small shows in the UK and a Glasto appearance. NME called it “a triumphant cap-off for a remarkable summer” and teased her as a “future headliner”.
Tonight (August 27), Eilish giggles when she asks the crowd how many of them were at this show four years ago, a day she remembers as being as warm as “a thousand degrees”. Judging by the screams that come back, most have made the return visit. Since then, she’s bagged multiple Grammys, impacted the landscape of youth culture and released another album in 2021’s ‘Happier Than Ever’. She returns as a headliner – one of only a handful of women to do so in the festival’s history – and the youngest-ever to now top the bill at Reading & Leeds, aged 21.
Unlike her Glastonbury headline slot in 2022, which occasionally struggled to connect with an older audience, this show is ripe for the kids in front of her: baggy Billie hoodies are the outfit of the day, after all. They scream for ‘Bury A Friend’, the superb ‘Therefore I Am’ and ‘You Should See Me In A Crown’, as well as deep cuts ‘Idontwannabeyouanymore’ and ‘NDA’. She is backed by a two-piece band – including brother and co-writer Finneas – who accentuate, not overwhelm, her hushed vocals, while her stage presence, once understandably shy, is now bold. Such is the presence of her performance, that even signature moves – arriving on stage through a trapdoor, asking the crowd to “scream as loud as you possibly can” – are still electrifying on a night-to-night basis.
There’s a large resemblance to the Happier Than Ever show she’s been touring globally for a few years, but now there’s a new song, too. ‘What Was I Made For?’, her gorgeous tune for the Barbie soundtrack, is the highlight of the set, the minimal set-up only amping up the heartbreaking lyrics: “Think I forgot how to be happy / Something I’m not, but something I can be”, she whispers and the crowd roar back to her. The recently-Number One single looks set to be a setlist staple from here on out, as does 2022’s ‘TV’.
It’s a testament to her star power that a quieter final third can be received so well, even if a few casual fans are adamant that their chats are more important than what’s going on on stage. But when ‘Bad Guy’ and her magnum opus and closer ‘Happier Than Ever’, complete with fireworks, hit, not one person in the crowd appears focused on anything but Eilish. It’s not hard to imagine her joining this weekend’s other headliners like The Killers and The 1975 in having an open invite to return: after just two appearances, she’s already a Reading legend.
Billie Eilish played
‘bury a friend’
‘I Didn’t Change My Number’
‘Therefore I Am’
‘my strange addiction’
‘idontwannabeyouanymore’ / ‘lovely’
‘you should see me in a crown’
‘What Was I Made For?’
‘Oxytocin’ / ‘COPYCAT’
i’ love you’ / ‘Your Power’
‘bellyache’ / ‘ocean eyes’
‘when the party’s over’
‘all the good girls go to hell’
‘everything i wanted’
‘Happier Than Ever’