Digital Cover: Finneas In Bloom
After redefining pop for the 2020s with his sister Billie Eilish, the producer is seizing his own moment in the spotlight.
When traced back to its Celtic origins, the name Finneas translates to “oracle,” meaning someone who serves as a voice of divine spirits. The etymological root feels strikingly fitting when considering just how large Finneas Baird O’Connell’s voice has become. The American artist, at only 24 years old, was Spotify’s most-streamed songwriter in 2020 (for example). Although occasionally, it’s Finneas lending his own voice to another artist, including pop music gods and goddesses like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and sister Billie Eilish, all of whom he’s written or produced for.
Whichever way you dice it, the singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, and actor has been creating music that feels larger than life in its popularity. O’Connell has won eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Producer of the Year in 2020 for his work on Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? In 2019, he released his EP Blood Harmony, which showcases a slightly more theatrical sound, more fit for a Broadway musical than much of his work on Eilish’s album. As far as his debut full-length album, we only know that it has a name and will be out in October of this year. “If I were categorizing it thematically,” he says over Zoom from Los Angeles, “it’s an album about my world experience, my life experience…it’s an introspective body of work. [It’s about] the things that I was scared of as a kid, and the things I’m scared of as an adult, and how they’re connected.”
While many artists create their own world, O’Connell is creating entire galaxies by the sheer number and diversity of projects he partakes in. That said, the world one lives in while listening to music O’Connell releases under his own name has two major themes: love and death. The optimistic, acoustic-pop track “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night,” for instance, contrasts with others like “Can’t Wait to Be Dead.” The latter is a song with similar instrumentals but feels far less cheery, as O’Connell summons imagery of a ride-or-die relationship that is all-consuming in its beauty and intimacy, while the world surrounding it nears a fiery apocalypse.
Given that, in real life, O’Connell is in a seemingly healthy relationship with his girlfriend Claudia Sulewski, and paired with the fact that a fifth of his life was spent living through Trump’s devastating presidency and a pandemic that killed millions, this somewhat “romantic but doomed” approach feels strangely appropriate. And keeping in mind that he’s been a vegan for roughly seven years, is anti-plastic and fur, etc., O’Connell’s fixation on his own mortality or that of our entire planet is nothing new.
“Maybe if over the past year I was going through a tumultuous divorce, then I’d have written songs about a tumultuous divorce, but I wasn’t,” he says. “I was in a happy, loving relationship, and I was just reading the news, like everybody else, going to the protests like everybody else, and I was writing about that.” In terms of both the good (overwhelming success) and the bad (years of political unrest and unnecessary deaths to COVID-19), the last few years were completely unimaginable to a younger O’Connell, whose aspirations were far more modest than his eventual reality.
“My dreams of success within the music industry were always really small,” he recalls. Earlier in his career, O’Connell (who was homeschooled with little sister Eilish) was booking smaller acting gigs on shows like Glee and Modern Family. His dreams of being an entertainer might have been modest, but they were there nonetheless. “There’s a venue in L.A. called The Fonda Theatre, and my dream was to open for a band there…it’s a 1,200 capacity room —that would have been pretty huge.”
O’Connor has already played for exponentially larger crowds across the globe than that of The Fonda, ranging from New York’s Madison Square Garden to London’s O2 Arena. Surely, the debut of his full-length album later this year will continue to exceed expectations. On top of that, this July, his sister Eilish released her sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, which O’Connell produced and co-wrote. September also marks the premiere of the 25th James Bond Film, No Time to Die, for which the siblings wrote the theme song. That’s all to say that 2021 will be a massive year for O’Connell—obviously more massive than his younger imagination even allowed him to envision.
Of course, “younger” is a strange term to ever apply to someone who still feels prodigal. But it’s true that the world first met a much younger O’Connell, and that he has matured since then. This is something he aims to make clear, if even only to himself, on his debut album. “It’s not really a coming-of-age record,” he says about the forthcoming release. “It’s like, I have come of age.”
Check out FINNEAS’ latest single, “The 90s” below!