It’s no hyperbole to call Billie Eilish a phenomenon. Last time she played Reading & Leeds she was only 18 years old and attracted a crowd which was reportedly the largest ever seen at the festival. Unsurprisingly, the general feeling was that it was only a matter of time before she headlined the whole thing.
Four years (and one pandemic) later, she’s back to fulfil that prophecy. In the time in between she’s released another number one album in the form of 2021’s Happier Than Ever, as well as recording the theme to Bond film No Time to Die and contributing to the Barbie soundtrack with the stellar ‘What Was I Made For’. Oh, and she headlined a little festival you may have heard of called Glastonbury, too.
All of which is to say that if 2019’s performance was an example of a breakneck rise to the top, this year’s headline slot seems not only deserved, but completely expected. What that does mean though is that just turning up isn’t enough to wow any more. Luckily, Billie doesn’t disappoint.
Opening with ‘Bury a Friend’, the same track she closed with in 2019, the set is a whistlestop ride through an impressively hit-packed back catalogue. Shots of the crowd show the front row, most of whom have been at the barrier since 11am just for the 21-year-old. They spend the set alternately screaming along and crying their eyes out.
On stage, the energy is just as high. Pyro erupts within seconds of the show starting, and Billie frontloads the set with the higher energy cuts from both the debut and Happier Than Ever. ‘Therefore I Am’ sounds absolutely massive live, with Billie jumping up and down while a ludicrously big crowd sings along to every word.
Mid-set the tempo slows, with phone lights held in the air for ‘What Was I Made For’ and more floods of tears in the front of the crowd. “My one ask is that you lose yourself tonight!” she says with a smile, segueing into ‘You Should See Me In a Crown’ to bring everyone’s energy levels back up.
The finale of turbo-banger ‘Bad Guy’ followed by ‘Happier Than Ever’ is an absolute statement, punctuated by an entire warehouse’s worth of confetti and fireworks, but none of the spectacle is used as a crutch to prop up the set. The songs sound incredible and Billie is relaxed and chatty, asking who was there last time she played (answer: everyone, judging by the volume of the response) and at one point doing a backwards roly-poly while columns of flame shot up either side of her.
It all feels so natural and hammers home that this isn’t a star-in-waiting any more, or an act that has to be qualified by her age or relative newness. Instead, the set stands up with the very best Reading has to offer. If 2019 cemented her as a future headliner, tonight Billie Eilish shows just why she’s become one of the biggest pop-stars in the world.