Billie Eilish’s was announced the closest and most trusted collaborator

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LOS ANGELES — The December morning that Grammy nominations were announced, Finneas O’Connell woke up early. The 22-year-old had produced and co-written all the tracks on “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” the debut full-length by his sister, Billie Eilish. That album helped establish Eilish, now 18, as one of pop’s brightest and biggest new stars in 2019, which also made Finneas one of the most sought-after producers. The idea that at least one of the siblings might be nominated for a Grammy award didn’t seem out of reach.

O’Connell wanted to wait until his girlfriend was awake so they could hear the news together, but it was 5:30 a.m. and he felt bad waking her up. His phone was erupting with texts that he refused to look at, but he figured the sheer volume of messages was a good sign. “I figured they wouldn’t text me if it was like, ‘We’ll get ’em next time,’ ” says O’Connell, who goes by Finneas. (Or, sometimes, FINNEAS.)

Eilish wound up with six nominations, and Finneas with five, including album of the year, record and song of the year for the hit “Bad Guy” (which he co-wrote), and producer of the year (non-classical).

A few weeks after that nominations morning, Finneas is sitting in a coffee shop in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, the upscale neighborhood where he just bought a house, and he still can’t believe it — even though he can actually kind of believe it. He’s at that place, in the late-early stages of fame, where everything good seems possible and nothing too calamitous or traumatizing or weird has happened. He’s genuinely open and friendly, and appears to go unrecognized by everyone but Shakey Graves, a musician friend he runs into on the street.

In October, Finneas released “Blood Harmony,” a seven-song EP that was mostly cobbled together in dressing rooms and tour bus lounges and hotel rooms when he was on the road with Eilish. It’s a sleek, striking work, poppier and more linear than “When We All Fall Asleep.”

In its own offhand way “Blood Harmony” is more commercial, though it doesn’t need to be. His sister’s success has changed the topography of Finneas’s life in almost every conceivable way. Mostly, it has freed him. He can make any kind of music he wants and never needs to have a hit in his life. He can take or leave the parts of fame he doesn’t want, unlike his sister, who is stuck with all of it.

She walks around, and because there’s a billboard of her face on Sunset Boulevard, people really recognize her,” he says. “In my perfect world, I get to be a professional musician and still go to Trader Joe’s.” For celebrities in Los Angeles, being able to go to Trader Joe’s is the ultimate dividing line, like still being able to take the subway is for celebrities in New York. Eilish usually needs security to go anywhere.

She walks around, and because there’s a billboard of her face on Sunset Boulevard, people really recognize her,” he says. “In my perfect world, I get to be a professional musician and still go to Trader Joe’s.” For celebrities in Los Angeles, being able to go to Trader Joe’s is the ultimate dividing line, like still being able to take the subway is for celebrities in New York. Eilish usually needs security to go anywhere.

“I think she does really well with it, and she’s very deserving of the adulation that her supporters give her,” Finneas says. “I’m maybe a little less cut out for that level of white hot, kids-chasing-you-through-an-airport, ‘Hard Day’s Night’-level stuff”.

Finneas grew up in the Highland Park area, where his parents were working actors who taught their children at home (there were two bedrooms; they co-slept). “We were a very crunchy, sort of hippie-dippy family,” Finneas recalls. They were, and are, close. Each member of the family speaks with obvious affection about every other member of the family, especially Finneas for Billie.