The truth about how her brother’s real love changed a nightmare into the Record of the Year
“I am thankful every second of every day to have my sister in my life. The obvious is obvious: that we’ve changed each other’s lives forever, and so on. But honestly, all I care about is you. You’re my best friend forever and no one makes me laugh harder. There’s nothing I don’t love about you. Nothing.
They don’t deserve you.
–Finneas, in a message to his sister Billie
“The obvious is obvious.” From Finneas about his love for Billie come words only a songwriter might say. Like a good lyric, in that fundamental equation is the essence of the songwriting spirit, pointing to that thing which is beyond words, yet undeniable. And to do it in so few words, and in this playful echo of the word ‘obvious.’ It’s why songwriters revel in song forever, because it’s there that place beyond words can be reached, when music and words are combined. That the obvious is obvious applies to the vast talent merged with diligence and passion that is alive in their songs and records.
Although “Everything I Wanted”didn’t win the Grammy for Best Song , 2021 (as did their song “Bad Guy” the year before), it was nominated. [That award went instead 2021 to H.E.R. for “I Can’t Breathe.”)
“Everything I Wanted” did win the Grammy for Best Record, 2021. Best Record is awarded for the record itself, and is awarded to the artist and the producer. Which in this case is Billie (the performer) and Finneas (the producer). Awarded at the lockdown Oscars in March, 2021, which was rejiggered with few people for pandemic safety, Billie seemed shocked when hearing the announcement, as did Finneas.
She then accepted it in pure Billie style, which was entirely unprecedented in Grammy’s history. It is not uncommon for winners to acknowledge the greatness of fellow nominees. But she took it to a new extreme by addressing Megan Thee Stallion directly and telling the world that her song “Savage” deserved the award. Who else would do that? [Also, Megan did win Best New Artist and Best Rap Song, so she was well-awarded.]
Often when siblings work together professionally, rivalries and resentment surface -especially if one gets more attention and/or success- to the point that they become estranged always. Not so with Billie and Finneas, who have genuine love and respect for each other. Though they co-wrote all of her songs except ones which Finneas wrote alone, including “Ocean Eyes,” and though he is the producer of all her music, there is no rivalry between them, or envy. There is love, and more – deep, genuine mutual respect. Billie has stated many times that Finneas is a genius. Finneas has said that Billie, ever since she was a little kid, is an amazing singer, and a brilliantly daring and instinctual producer-songwriter. They have said something many times which most siblings never say. That they are best friends. Yet it’s true.
“We’re both very protective of each other,” he says. “She hates the internet making fun of me way more than she hates the internet making fun of her. And I’m the same way, inversely. If the internet’s trashing her, I’m devastated. But if the internet says something mean about ‘my eyes divorcing each other,’ I couldn’t care less. I think it’s so funny.”
Finneas was actually envy-free when all their work resulted in Billie becoming the biggest music star in the world, as he stood behind her onstage, and in their songs and records. People had a hard time accepting this, as they assumed the only motivation for songwriters and musicians is intense fame and the adoration of millions. Yet that is one motivation, yet not the only one.
Many genius musicians find their joy in the music itself, and in their gift for realizing song sparks into complete records. Yes, success is always a motivating factor, and Finneas’ success was vast. Unprecedented, in that he won Grammys for Best Song and Best Record, which he shared with Billie, but that same year (2019), he also won Grammys for Best Engineering and Best Production. Those two were for him alone, as he produced and engineered her music (famously, in his bedroom of their family home). How many other people have won all these Grammys in one year for one project? None.
He does enjoy the spotlight, but it’s not what compels him. It’s music that matters most; it’s about the potential and power of songs, every kind of song. He likes performing and is great at it. But he’s happier being the guy standing to her side making the music.
“I don’t think Finneas cares about being famous,” Billie said in our interview. “He really genuinely doesn’t have any jealousy or envy. It’s kind of crazy. I feel like I would, if I were him. But I don’t think he wants to be famous. When he sees what I have to go through, he sees it is really hard a lot of time.
“He does not want the crazy same thing that I’ve got going on, and I love that about him,” she said. “He makes his art because he loves it; he wants people to hear it because he wants people to hear it. It’s nothing beyond that. Which is really rare I think. He’s just a genius dude, he’s really unbelievable.”
Finneas confirmed this was the truth. Not the genius part – he is a humble guy. The part about not wanting that level of fame. As he told us last year:
“Some people think that I would be jealous of her,” he said, “for the level of attention she receives, or the notoriety. But I couldn’t be less jealous of that stuff. I hate photo shoots. I hate people. I hate not being able to go out places. I love the feeling of anonymity of sitting down at a coffee shop. I love that stuff. If somebody says to me, ‘Hey, I really like your production,’ and that’s super nice. But she’s at that level where she can’t go out anywhere. She just can’t. She can’t go out in public without causing a scene.”
Her electric green hair, he admitted, didn’t help. “She’s not made herself look very subtle. Whereas I have every white person’s face, which is to my advantage. I just look like every guy. Which is great! [Laughter] I love the luxury of not having it take over my life.”
It’s often said that when someone becomes famous, they don’t change but everyone around them. Suddenly nobody says no. Everyone caters to them all the time, even if their ideas aren’t great.
And all celebrities of enormous current fame need somebody in their life who doesn’t do this, who will tell them the truth. Finneas was always that person in Billie’s life. The evolution of this song is beautiful proof of that.
The seed of the song was a disturbing dream Billie had of leaping off a building to her death. Often it has been called a “nightmare” in the press, but it wasn’t, which is why it’s so disturbing. In the dream this death was everything she wanted; an escape at last from the world of pain. The lyric specifies that the word ‘nightmare’ is not the right word, although for most people this would be a nightmare. That is, sadly, the point. It was a dream, and one in which she got everything she wanted:
I had a dream
I got everything I wanted
Not what you’d think
And if I’m being honest
It might’ve been a nightmare
To anyone who might care
“We started writing it,” Billie said to Irish DJ Annie Mac, “ because I literally had a dream that I killed myself. And nobody cared. All of my best friends and people that I worked with basically came out in public and said, like, “Oh, we never liked her.” In the dream, the fans didn’t care. The internet shit on me for killing myself, all this stuff, and it really did mess me up.”
Being an innately great songwriter, she immediately channeled the emotion of her dream suicide and resultant mess-up into a song. She began writing “Everything I Wanted.” But with a whole different slant from that which we know. It fully embraced that dynamic of joyful relief from life the dream promised. It was a dark song, about as dark as dark gets, but it was genuine. That is the dream she dreamt.
END OF PART ONE.