First Virtual Concert: The Billie Eilish Experience

 

I never thought concert memories would take a turn where I was writing about a show I watched on my laptop, but here we are... Yesterday was the first show on my lineup of virtual concert tickets I've purchased over the last month. A handful of artists have started rolling out virtual concerts to fill the gaps in their touring schedule. As time goes on and the prospect of live shows soon gets bleaker, artists are starting to turn to other options. The first live show instance I noticed was a few months ago when Liam Payne started selling tickets to his livestreams. His pricing started at $10 and offered varying packages up to $100. I never went to one of those, but they seem to be doing well for him. His third livestream is set for Halloween. Other examples to offer some context include MGK throwing 2 live shows for $15 each to play each of his latest albums in full, Yungblud is doing a virtual tour with different shows in about ten different cities with each show coming in at $5 each, and Niall Horan doing a charity show from Royal Albert Hall for $20. Billie's livestream was the highest priced of any I've seen coming in at $30. For that, ticket buyers got access to the livestream in real time and for 24 hours after, access to exclusive merch shopping, and a brief pre-show. While Billie showed her sizable touring crew that she was obviously paying for the event, there wasn't an explicitly announced charitable angle to it. Going into it, the price made me weary, but it's still far less than the $500 after-market ticket I would've bought to see her in the nosebleeds this year. Basically, this livestream felt like the only way to see Billie, at least until another of her tours go on sale in like five years. 

Billie decided to run her show through Maestro, which I figured I'd note since everyone seems to be using a different platform. In the purchase receipt, there was an easy "take me there" button, and there was no log in required which was nice. I checked into the event through the various times offered to see what inventive features Billie had come up with. If you want a deeper look into the experience with visuals, there will be a ton more in my upcoming vlog that should be out Friday. Make sure you subscribe to my channel so you don't miss it (here). Two hours before the show, the interactive merch shop opened. The room was built like a video game where you could walk around and see all the merch in glass museum cases. You could click on each item to view the prices. To keep the authenticity rolling, everything was at that ridiculous concert mark-up price level. She had a couple cute things, but I couldn't bring myself to spend more money after the ticket. There was also a room where you could view a collection of fan art that was fun to look at. I wish credits to the artists had been more prominent in the display. There was also a section for voting, but I clicked around and couldn't find much information in there on the issues listed. 

Voting was a major theme of the night. In the pre-show lead up, there was a PSA from Alicia Keys about the importance of voting mixed in with trivia questions about Billie where you could click a multiple choice answer to test yourself. This felt highly reminiscent of the trivia that sometimes plays before shows or in interludes. It was cute. There were also sections where representatives talked about issues like climate change and how they've made Billie's tours more sustainable. Personally, the messages about climate change and education on issues felt more important than just shouting vote. Everyone, at this point, knows they should vote. And the majority of Billie's fanbase is probably too young to vote anyway. Education goes a lot farther, so I was happy to see glimmers of that mixed in. Most of the pre-show felt like a long commercial, though. 

The final bit was a feature where Billie interviewed her crew members backstage at this event, presumably during one of the rehearsals. This might have been my favorite part of the night because she specifically gave visibility to people who are out of a job right now but are integral to making a show tick. Most people don't know these jobs exist. Visibility is important for getting Congress to pass relief for venues and touring crews, to get others to advocate for them, and to a lesser degree, show kids and teens that these jobs are out there. It's also fun to learn about how something as large scale as a tour or live concert broadcast comes together. Like I'll mention later, Billie definitely brought it conceptually. 

Heading into the show itself, her singing was excellent, and her stage presence is interesting. She has plenty of energy and exudes good vibes. You can tell she genuinely enjoys performing. She was "on stage" or in the center of the giant warehouse set with Finneas and their drummer, who was behind a plexiglass shield. Even behind all his instruments, Finneas is captivating to watch. It's almost like you can see him thinking as he supports Billie. It was a fun set and flowed nicely. They pulled off cool, arena level transitions. Many of the backgrounds morphed to mimic the music videos. For Xanny, she sat on that same bench, and in "my future" she danced through that animated world from the video. As the show progressed, the animation and digital manipulation became increasingly cool and detailed. At one point, it genuinely looked like they were sitting on a pedestal in outer space. The set left you constantly wondering what was coming next. Her creativity and ability to be able to pull together a team who can manipulate and execute visuals to that degree is amazing. During "everything I wanted" she included fans singing along in a towering background walls. She was so bright and smiley that the song took on a brand new life. You could feel the love and joy instead of the despondency it seemingly grew out of. During "all the good girls go to hell", Billie doubled down on her advocacy message expanding from climate change into the protests and more. That number ended with "No Music on a Dead Planet" in the background which struck a nerve. I love the statement. 

Billie also captured a part of concerts I've been missing just watching late night performances on YouTube- the between song banter. She seemed so happy while also expressing disappointment about not being able to play live shows and hug people. She encouraged voting, especially from young people because we're the ones with a future. Unless people don't vote and we die. The message was delivered in a very Billie fashion and captured what draws me to her. She's an extraordinarily creative person who pulls off fascinating performance art pieces, but she's also a teenage girl like me. 

I genuinely enjoyed the show and all the effort they put into it. I don't think Billie could've done anything more to improve the experience. The team also seemed to work hard to provide fun moments. At a couple points in the show, there was a button to download video clips to share online and with friends, I guess how people would take their own videos at concerts. The stream was a bit glitchy at the start, which meant I missed most of the second and third song, but that issue got resolved and refreshing the browser fixed that. 

While it was a good show and a fun experience, it didn't feel like a concert. I've honestly watched concert docs and felt more like I was at a show. I honestly had a hard time staying off my phone and paying attention. Yes, that's my fault, but it's hard to stay engaged with something on your screen that lacks an interactive component or anything that glues you to the screen. I didn't feel immersed. It was nice to enjoy a show, swaddled in a blanket and lying down. Usually, concerts are at the end of a long day standing when you're highly dehydrated and sort of ready to go to sleep already. But I think it's the adrenaline hit when it starts and being packed against everyone else forced to face forward and pay attention that creates some of the magic. Beyond that, we do everything on our computer screens now. After spending hours in class a day on my laptop, my brain just doesn't feel locked in to focusing on that screen only. I don't know how an artist can overcome that Zoom fatigue level because all of these issues are no fault of Billie's. 

Also, there's a price issue. Generally, I don't think about what I paid for a concert ticket after the fact, but I keep asking myself "Was that really worth $30?", and here's the thing. I think Billie's tickets were decently priced for the cost of running a show on that level, but I don't believe a livestream will ever be worth $30. I'm glad it was a chance to pay her touring crew and to give a show to fans, but there's just a cap. I feel like the value level is somewhere closer to $20 or maybe more like $15. Yes, it costs a lot of money to put on a show and figure out logistics, but that might mean virtual shows simply aren't a sustainable endeavor. Or aren't sustainable at an arena show production level. But my problem is that, as cool as her visuals were, that's not what I love about live performances. My favorite shows are the ones in small rooms without all the bells and whistles that happen in an arena. I feel like the livestream set is a chance to give everyone a small, intimate show vibe even when you're an artist too big to ever offer that in real life. 

Honestly, I don't think any of these paid live shows will ever be as satisfying as the Instagram Lives we got at the start of the pandemic where artists would go live in their living room and play songs into their cameras and chat about life. Those moments, particularly thinking back to ones that Niall Horan and Conan Gray did, made me feel closer to the artists. We were going through the confusion together, and they were comforting everyone with guitars and stripped songs played in pajamas. No amount of glitz and glam can impress me more than that rawness. I understand deeply the need for artists to make money and to be paid for performances so they can't just keep going live forever, but I wish that spirit could translate into the paid live shows. I also think these free lives from the start of the pandemic might make some fans less likely to pay for a virtual ticket because they're now being sold something they used to get for free. I don't personally have that problem, but it has been a common complaint. 

Going forward, I hope the upcoming shows I'm going to will have a smaller, more intimate feeling. I love going to concerts because I feel like they give me a deeper insight into who the artists truly is, and this livestream didn't bring me closer to Billie. It felt like most of what I've seen on the internet. If the opportunity presents, I would happily go see Billie. I think she's an excellent performer. This just didn't give me the joy that many of those early lives were able to give me through my phone screen. I know that connection and concert feeling is possible virtually because I've experienced. It'll be interesting to see if any artist will be able to nail it. 




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