Billie Eilish Osheaga 2023 review

Photo by Tim Snow

Billie Eilish at Osheaga 2023: Pinnacle star power, backed by pyro, fireworks and Finneas

3 takes on the Billie Eilish set at Osheaga 2023, including a check-in on Rema at the other end of the festival site.

You know you’re in for an experience when you see an artist start their set by jumping out from beneath the stage like Michael Jackson, and that’s what Billie Eilish did at Osheaga on Saturday evening. Kicking things off with “bury a friend,” Billie had the crowd firmly in her grasp from beginning to end — and not just because they were screaming many of her lyrics at the top of their lungs. Her trademark oversized outfits, a heavy use of pyrotechnics and an incredible visual component to her show helped make her, for my money, the best headline act of the weekend.

As she performed alongside big brother Finneas and walked up and down a huge, lit-up ramp onstage, Billie wasted few opportunities to show those at Osheaga how much of a true performer she is. Her brother would even bust out an acoustic guitar to perform “i love you,” “Your Power” and “TV” with her, making even the biggest of festival stages feel cozy and intimate. 

There were plenty of other highlights, too: performing “What Was I Made For?” from the Barbie soundtrack, doing a back-to-back medley of old tunes “Bellyache” and “Ocean Eyes” that put her on the map, and an awesome surprise guest appearance from rapper Armani White to perform his track named after Billie Eilish (a moment which just so happened to be the first time the two had met).

Whether she was getting fans to move their arms in all kinds of directions, get as low to the ground as possible or take a deep breath in and out, her wish was always the crowd’s command. The show felt almost like a religious experience, at times, right up to the grand finale of “bad guy” and “Happier Than Ever,” which led to pyro, confetti AND fireworks going off at once. Billie Eilish was clearly born to be a pop star (specifically a pop star in a post-My Chemical Romance world), and presents her dark, left-of-centre take on pop music with the prowess of someone at least twice her age. (Dave MacIntyre)

Billie Eilish at Osheaga 2023

Spotting a psyched Safia Nolin staking out the best spot to watch Saturday’s headlining set, with Patrick Watson standing just a few feet away, was a nice precursor to the Billie Eilish show, a local endorsement for the skeptics, perhaps, who write her off as a pop phenom for kids. Two of Montreal’s best singer-songwriters can’t be wrong? With ballads like “Ocean Eyes” and “What Was I Made For” for every banger, Eilish should be beyond reproach, but all pop stars are — and always have been — subject to dismissive comments from the olds (and I heard a few of them at Osheaga that night). But to the legion of fans on hand to see Eilish fill the massive stage with her presence, her energy and her songs, she was everything. (Lorraine Carpenter)

Billie Eilish Osheaga 2023
Billie Eilish. Photo by Cindy Lopez

For me, hands-down, the best thing about Billie Eilish’s highly anticipated Saturday night Osheaga appearance was the fan excitement that hung thick in the air in the minutes leading up to showtime. Never has the relative silence of such a huge crowd spoken so loudly. As the seconds ticked between Baby Keem’s final bow and Billie’s big, bold entrance, the hair on my arms stood high. 

I think Billie Eilish is fine. I get why people adore her. As a personality in modern music culture, I respect her like crazy. I’m a keen observer, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan. Bearing witness to the gathering of Saturday’s proportion, I felt like a guest among the tens of thousands of faithful. And it was awesome. That’s my two cents. If people who single-mindedly attended Osheaga to see their hero on Saturday rubbed music snobs the wrong way, tough shit. I’ve personally never felt as happy for a crowd as I did that night. 

However, because I could afford to become unglued from the affair, after taking in the first 20 minutes or so, I decided to take a walk around the rest of the site and see what Osheaga looks like elsewhere when one of the biggest music stars on the planet is holding court. 

My endgame was to hear Nigerian singer Rema play his banger “Calm Down” and see what kind of crowd another legit hitmaker could attract at Eilisheaga. Making my way to the Green stage, I stopped for a peek at the EDM party that is the festival’s Island stage, where dubstep darlings Ganja White Night had a solid crowd I’d estimate was made up of around 1,200 happy dancers. Nice.

People scattered here and there across every other part of the site, eating, hanging out or otherwise not watching any show at all, were in the scant hundreds. If you were at Osheaga and walked back and forth between stage areas during any other moment of the weekend, you’d have been shocked at how empty the corridors between stages were. 

Meanwhile, at Rema’s show — which, though I missed “Calm Down,” sounded pretty cool, all in all — I’d guess a generous estimate of max 1,500 people came out to play. 

With that little act of journalism under my belt, I returned to the main stage, walked over, around and through the less crowded back area, up the hill and around the concessions, and took in more of that excited fan vibe. I found it everywhere I went. Seeing the looks on little kids’ faces when the show-closing fireworks lit the air was absolute magic. Billie Eilish rocks the world. (Darcy MacDonald) ■

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