Monday, May 20, 2024

Billie Eilish Ushers In the ‘Post-Vinyl’ Eco Era for Records With ‘Hit Me Hard and Soft’

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As fans eagerly await Billie Eilish’s third LP, “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” making its global debut on May 17th, the singer is eager to talk about just how sustainable the new record and merchandise will be.

The very first audio recording — 20 seconds of someone singing the French folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” — is more than 160 years old. That early recording was made on a phonautograph, a precursor to vinyl records. But not much has changed since then. Records have undergone a few updates in the last century and a half — shifting from tinfoil to wax, then to shellac, and, finally polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or what we now often refer to as “vinyl” records. There have been improvements to speed, sound quality, and durability. But compared to other early technological achievements — the phone debuted just a year later in 1861 — records today are, for the most part, more like their progenitors than not. But just like singer Billie Eilish has broken Grammy and Oscar records, she’s poised to do the same for actual records by ushering in the post-vinyl era.

“Hit Me Hard and Soft”

With the release of her highly anticipated third album, “Hit Me Hard and Soft”, coming to stores and streaming services next month, Eilish is setting a new standard for the music industry: The vinyl, CDs, and additional album merchandise will all be made from recycled, recyclable, and sustainable materials. “The standard black variant is made from 100 percent recycled black vinyl,” reads the official statement. “These pieces are recycled and re-used for production of future discs; therefore, every disc will be unique and look different from the last. Additionally, Billie is using recyclable compound for her single LP colors, collecting all first-run scraps to re-use for additional runs later. BioVinyl helps reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent vs. virgin vinyl by using non-fossil fuel materials like used cooking oil or industrial waste gases while maintaining the same audio and optical quality as conventional vinyl.”

Sustainably made records — “vinyl” without its key ingredient, toxic PVC — only came to market in a meaningful way in 2022, courtesy of Britian-based Evolution Music. The company created a bioplastic vinyl record as demand for physical records continues its climb. (Despite the rise of streaming platforms, the physical record category has seen consistent growth since 2006; 2023 sales were up more than 14 percent over 2022, for a total of nearly 50 million vinyl albums sold worldwide.) Granted, there are much bigger plastic problems than collector’s edition records, but it’s not merely a novelty. Steve Berman, vice chairman of Interscope Capitol Labels Group, praised Eilish’s initiative, highlighting the team’s collective efforts. “We are always looking at this through the lens of not only what we can do, but as the platform gets bigger, what are more opportunities to be focused on this and have impact and empower change?” In other words, it’s about awareness — and when one of the biggest musical artists alive takes something like this seriously, inevitably, so do their fans.

‘We are doing everything we can’

According to the announcement from Universal Music Group, which owns Interscope Records, physical copies of “Hit Me Hard and Soft” will be made from recycled materials across all eight vinyl variants, including the standard black vinyl made from 100 percent recycled material and the remaining variants produced from ECO-MIX or BioVinyl. These innovative materials not only result in unique pressings but also contribute to a significant reduction in carbon emissions. The packaging further reinforces the album’s eco-friendly position and is made entirely from recycled content, plant-based inks, and recyclable shipping boxes. In addition to vinyl, the album’s cassette and CD formats avoid plastic packaging, opting for recycled and renewable materials.

Eilish has not been shy about her carbon footprint. “We are doing everything we can to minimize waste in every aspect of my music,” Eilish recently commented, appreciating her label’s support in her environmental endeavors. “We live in this day and age where, for some reason, it’s very important to some artists to make all sorts of different vinyl and packaging,” the singer, 22, told Billboard in a recent interview, “which ups the sales and ups the numbers and gets them more money.”

She continued, “I can’t even express to you how wasteful it is. It is right in front of our faces and people are just getting away with it left and right.” Eilish isn’t immune to the demand for collector’s editions, but she brings her sustainability ethos there, too. In 2021, she partnered with Gucci on a one-of-a-kind drop for her second full-length album “Happier Than Ever,” made from upcycled plastic. But she says the myriad of albums that has become a common practice is “really frustrating.” The “What Was I Made For” singer says she goes out of her way to be sustainable “and do the best that I can and try to involve everybody in my team in being sustainable — and then it’s some of the biggest artists in the world making f-ing 40 different vinyl packages that have a different unique thing just to get you to keep buying more.”

That could soon change, at least for Universal, which has a nearly 32 percent market share. According to Veronica Dullack, SVP of Global ESG & Sustainability at Universal Music Group, the label has set global goals around emissions reduction and called working with Eilish “a great opportunity” to co-create product-related solutions that could impact the group’s other artists.

Eilish’s partnership with the environmental organization Reverb extends her sustainability efforts beyond music production to touring. According to the organization, sustainability efforts on the “Happier Than Ever” tour, like serving plant-based meals to the artists and crew (Eilish is vegan), saved 8.8 million gallons of water. Reverb’s founder, Adam Gardner, lauded Eilish and her team’s willingness to challenge the status quo and integrate sustainable practices into the music industry. “Billie, her family, and her team don’t seem afraid to shake things up and question the status quo, especially when it comes to how the music industry does business…We’re excited that her new album is integrating cutting-edge production methods and materials,” Gardner said.

Billie Eilish for Gucci horsebit bag.
Billie Eilish for Gucci’s vegan leather Horsebit bag | Courtesy

Eilish is by no means alone; artists including Coldplay, Brian Eno, Massive Attack, Willie Nelson, and Dave Matthews have all leveraged their influence to bring sustainability to the music industry and to their fans. But Eilish’s efforts could bring about changes with lasting ripple effects. The new album’s sustainability efforts underscore what’s now business as usual for the singer. In 2021, she leveraged her appearance at the Met Gala to bring an end to the use of fur at Oscar de la Renta by agreeing to wear a gown by the label. In 2022, she launched Overheated, a climate festival during her “Happier Than Ever, The World Tour” dates at The O2 in London. The event was a collaboration between Eilish, Reverb, and Support + Feed, the nonprofit founded in 2020 by her mother, Maggie Baird, whom Eilish credits for her environmental commitments. Eilish helped Nike give its Air Force 1 shoes a vegan upgrade in 2022, and last year, she did the same for Gucci’s classic 1955 horsebit bag. “I am honored to be part of Gucci’s evolution in rethinking tradition,” the singer, told Vogue. “It’s a new understanding, and one that isn’t afraid to evolve in a new direction, that truly matters to me.”

But what matters most to Eilish, and certainly to her fans, is the music. And with “Hit Me Hard and Soft”, which drops on May 17th, Eilish is able to package her art and her commitments together. Perhaps it’s why she’s not releasing any singles ahead of the album. “I wanna give it to you all at once,” she wrote on Instagram. “I truly could not be more proud of this album.”

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