Grammys 2020 were all about Billie Eilish, a singer who represents a new era for female artists

Eilish's historic Grammys sweep is impressive, but the singer's impact reaches far beyond awards shows.
Image: Billie Eilish, The 2020 iHeartRadio ALTer EGO  Show
Billie Eilish performs onstage at the 2020 iHeartRadio ALTer EGO at The Forum in Inglewood, California on Jan. 18, 2020.Emma McIntyre / Getty Images
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By Rachel Simon

UPDATE (Jan. 27, 2020, 7:30 a.m. ET): This piece has been updated throughout with Billie Eilish's Grammy wins. The teenager took home five Grammys on Sunday night in a historic sweep of the major categories.

As any teen (or music critic) will tell you, Billie Eilish is, right now, the epitome of cool. The 18-year-old singer-songwriter is unabashedly outspoken, confidently original and blessed with a kind of raw talent that's earned her nominations in six Grammy categories and five wins, including album of the year, song of the year and best new artist. This month, she even signed on to co-write and sing the next James Bond theme song.

Unlike some similar “it girls” of the past, Eilish’s success as a star doesn’t hinge on the failures of her peers.

But, in a contrast with some similar "it girls" of the past, Eilish's success doesn't hinge on the failures of her peers. She has yet to involve herself in any petty competition (hey, Taylor and Katy) or tear people down (looking at you, Miley and Demi), tactics common for members of the cutthroat pop industry looking to gain press. Instead, Eilish stands out simply by singing and writing her uniquely haunting and distinctly original music while continuing to champion the wins of her peers.

Back at the beginning of the decade, pop's most successful female musicians were, more often than not, in some variation of a feud with one another. Sometimes those feuds seemed real, as with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry's yearslong fight, reportedly stemming from a backup dancer issue. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B's squabbling, meanwhile, went from social media potshots to a physical altercation at New York Fashion Week in 2018. But even women not actively fighting were frequently pitted against one another by the media, such as Swift and Beyoncé or Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. After all, the pop music industry has long thrived on drama, manufactured or otherwise, since click-y headlines drive concert ticket sales and streaming downloads.

Yet as the headlines grew stale and the feminist movement grew stronger, the feuds — real or fake — began to die out; major stars like Mariah Carey argued for the media to stop framing women in music as competitors, while others, like Swift and Perry, publicly settled their scores. There was room for everyone at the top, they all promised, and the success of one woman shouldn't take away from that of her equally talented peers.

Now, with the first Grammy Awards of the new decade behind us, that sentiment is proving truer than ever. Artists like Eilish are coming of age in a world where competing with your fellow pop stars is viewed as both pointless and stupid. In interviews and on social media, the "Bad Guy" singer routinely praises prominent female musicians like Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey while also highlighting lesser-known women like Tierra Whack and Kiah Victoria.

Eilish knows she's a superstar, yes — but she's not worried about having enough space at the top. "Everybody's always trying to make everybody compete," she told the Los Angeles Times in April. "They're like, 'Billie's album might pass Ariana's. ... But just stop. I don't care. I don't want to hear that Billie Eilish is the new Lana Del Rey. Do not disrespect Lana like that! That woman has made her brand so perfect for her whole career and shouldn't have to hear that."

As 2020 takes hold, the pop charts are likely to include a mix of wildly talented musicians, with Eilish surrounded by powerhouses of the past decade, as well as new showstoppers like Lizzo and Camila Cabello, softer-voiced songwriters like Maggie Rogers and Kacey Musgraves and striking newcomers like Ella Mai and Ava Max. And it's unlikely that any of these women will mind being part of such a crowded roster. In fact, many are embracing it, collaborating on songs, opening for one another on tour and dismissing any notion that they don't all deserve individual success.

"I don't want to hear that somebody's 'the new Billie Eilish' in a couple of years," the singer said in her L.A. Times interview, and hopefully she won't have to. As today's artists know well, having witnessed the fights of their A-list predecessors, competition between women hurts more people than it ever helps.

It's understandable that people often like to compare celebrities and that not all celebrities might be thrilled to share the spotlight. Eilish is coming home from the Grammys with an armful of gold. But really, a whole new generation of artists has won.

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