Billie Eilish
Photo by Lars Crommelinck Photography/Flickr

Why Highland Park Only Reluctantly Claims Billie Eilish as Their Own

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Pop music phenom Billie Eilish might be No. 1 on the charts, but not in the hearts of these locals.

It’s right there in the Good Book. Near the middle and highlighted in red ink.

“Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” – Luke 4:24

Billie Eilish at the Youth Climate Strike in downtown L.A. in 2019. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Billie Eilish, the most popular teen on the planet, gets a shrug when you mention her name to most of the teens we talked to in the neighborhood she’s lived in for most of her life.

They are aware of the pop phenom but hesitant to admit she is one of them.

How could this be? Eighteen-year-old Eilish is unlike your typical female chart-topper with her cool non-conforming style, laidback attitude and deft music skills. Added to that, her family is almost storybook in their closeness and quirks. What town wouldn’t want to brag about their most famous export fresh from sweeping the Grammys and dazzling at the Oscars??

Not Highland Park. Not right now, at least.

“Yeah, she grew up here, a lot of people did,” says Gloria Martinez, a senior at Franklin High School while walking to Starbucks with her friends. “Highland Park already has its own name for itself. It’s not like, ‘Highland Park is Where Billie Eilish Grew Up.’ It’s so much more than that. It just kinda sucks because Highland Park is already losing its culture, and she comes in bringing more of the loss with her.”

Emilia Nolasco, a fellow senior at Franklin High, says the trouble started after Eilish said something negative about Highland Park in an interview that rubbed the mostly-Latino neighborhood the wrong way. She said she saw a lot of her friends talk about it online.

“Me, personally, I don’t listen to her. I like oldies, old songs,” Nolasco says. “Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.”

More than 60,000 people call Highland Park home, 72% of residents are Latino. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Further down Figueroa Street, a young Latina from NELA who asked to remain nameless spelled it out. “She is from Highland Park, and maybe she came through before a lot of the neighborhood changed for people who are natives of Highland Park,” she says. “But then, she said something to the effect that she was here ‘before anyone lived there.’ People have always lived here. It’s always been a thriving culture.

“That type of language is problematic. Maybe it wasn’t thought-out. I’m sure she meant no ill will — I hope — to the community she joined. But people might take offense to that.”

None of several people we talked to could remember the source of the controversial interview that seemingly everyone had heard. So here are some interviews where Eilish mentioned her hometown. Could these quotes have been misconstrued?

“It’s kinda like a little hipster block party, almost. It’s not huge, it’s this little area. There’s this one street called York, which is kinda where everything is. We moved there when it was affordable. It’s a great neighborhood and nobody really lived there. It wasn’t a popular place at all, then over time, tons of stores and little shops popped up, and it’s huge now, and kinda popping, which is weird. I think it’s really cute. It’s very homely, very comfortable.”
Coup De Main, August 2017

“Oh yo! We moved here only because it was affordable. A lot of people who don’t live in L.A. think that in order to live here you have to be rich and live in some really nice neighborhood and have a lot of money. It’s not true. I grew up in Highland Park when it was very sketchy and there were lots of gunshots. It was fine, it wasn’t horrible and miserable, and I wasn’t scared for my life.”
Music Connection, July 2018

“Highland Park has become popular now but growing up there, it was not like that at all. There were gunshots and shit, y’know — it was really sketchy. People just have a different vision of how I was raised and that’s not correct. They think I’m just a little rich girl from L.A.”
NME, March 2019

Stephanie, Kimberly and Brandon Estrada hanging in Highland Park. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Eilish may have gotten into a public relations mess with her hometown but Highland Park natives Kimberly and Stephanie Estrada have some ideas for how she can improve it.

“Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, they’re always repping Compton because that’s where they’re from. And they help Compton in that kind of sense,” Stephanie says. “So that’s why I feel like if she is repping the Highland Park community, then she should do something for the community. Do a fundraiser. Raise some money. I don’t know, just something that can help the whole, you know?”

Kimberly agrees.

“She’s someone who grew up here her whole life, and as someone who also grew up here her whole life, it’s like — she should integrate more into the community,” Kimberly says. “I think the people who don’t like her feel like she’s not integrated here and isn’t helping out.

“We all know Franklin [High School] isn’t funded well, [so] maybe help the music program. Or any of the schools here, bring more opportunities to the children.”

Related: Gentrifying Highland Park’s War on the Middle Class

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