Chicago

Billie Fans in Chicago by Liz Brown

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Before I headed from Lincoln Square to United Center on Sunday, I walked to a “hipster” coffee shop. Well, it was hipster enough to spin vinyl and have a local gentleman loudly spouting about eclectic genres and Elton John, but not so hipster it had traditional cappuccinos. After ordering, I chose a spot by the window, conveniently close to an outlet and light—both necessities on the road.

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I spent the next few minutes journaling, re-centering, and praying. I hadn’t been this excited or nervous for a show in a long time. Arenas are always a little chaotic and that nervous energy in my stomach, combined with the beautiful nostalgia of returning to an old workplace, topped off with a generous portion of excitement, made me almost tear up several times that evening.

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So I drank my non-traditional, still-hipster cappuccino, charged my phone and prayed. I asked God to show me how he would like me to show up in the spaces I would be in that evening. I asked him how best I could love the people around me. How I can work well, be present, and enter into both my emotions and those of the people around me. I don’t say this to be weird and religious-y or even to sound like a good person—honestly I rarely pray like this, and I should more. I’m still learning and I’m sharing this only to be honest.

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As I wrote, these words came to me: “Set your phone down. It’s all in the eyes. Be ready to hold out your hand—both to accept and to help. We are all part of this big cosmic miracle. You are a miracle. I am a miracle. We are all miracles—and especially together.” And let me tell you: the night did feel like a miracle.

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I packed up my book and journal and phone charger, slid my empty cup onto the counter, and walked back the 16 minutes back to my car. I left a little early because I anticipated a huge line and wanted to get some photos of it. As you might recall from the LANY shows I’ve shot, those moments of human connection are often my favorite part.

(Also this next succession of photos is the bridge of “Copycat.” Insane.)

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I wandered up and down the line of hundreds of (mostly) teens (and a smattering of parents and “older” folks like me), occasionally asking to take a photo of their street style, or talking to them about their signs and how long they’d been waiting. I’ve been a music photographer for 10 years and have never seen so many people wearing an artist’s merch before the doors even open. They were head-to-toe in Blohsh and their signs were covered in photos and inside jokes from Billie. Some even had drawn portraits. One drew a photo of Dwight Schrute.

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Even inside, I talked to fans against the barricade who had lined up before sunrise. Others had been waiting outside for 3 days. They were sweet, honest, and kind, and waited patiently as the generous security officers ran around handing out free water.

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Between sets, I had a seat (thank you, Chris), which was relatively close to the front, so I could see the majority of the 18 thousand (mostly) teens as I stood in section 121. How incredible it is, I thought, that 18 thousand people came to see Billie. How incredible is it that she has come from composing unheard-of songs in her bedroom to performing on a levitating bed stage in front of thousands in less than 2 years. Her journey is incredible.

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And just as soon as that thought came, so did another: everyone else in this room, the other 17,999, took a journey to get here, too. They’ve had experiences and conversations, lonely nights and heartbreak, friendships and summer nights, roadtrips and ubers and L rides, that have taken them to this moment, in this room, all lit up and magical and fleeting.

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Those stories are important, too. Those journeys are important, too. Your journey is important, too. You’re not small just because you’re not on a stage. You’re still a miracle. Remember what I learned earlier? We are magic. We are miracles. The fact that you are still alive through all the hard days you’ve experienced: that is a miracle. You are strong. Being a teenager is hella hard. It was 10 years ago when I was a teen and it’s not gotten any easier. You are brave. The fact that you’re with friends and you’ve put in the hard work to develop relationships: that’s a miracles. Other humans are miracles. The fact that despite those hard days you are showing up and smiling and laughing and dancing: that is a miracle. The way your generation desires authenticity and honesty more than anything: that is a miracle and it inspires me so much. I love that you don’t filter your photos and you wear tennis shoes and say what you mean. I love how passionate and genuine you are. You are all miracles; I mean it. You might not believe it today, but I hope you do someday.

You aren’t small. You aren’t unseen. And you don’t have to be silent; that room shook with 17,999 of your voices and I hope you see how powerful that is. (You can change the world.) I hope you slow down for sunsets and keep dancing and love the things you love with your whole freaking hearts. I hope you find the balance between grief and joy and never let it make you bitter. I hope you know that there is a space in this world for exactly who you are and you don’t have to be anyone else to fit into that space. I hope you know that you’re needed. I hope you know that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn and grow. I hope you drink lots of ice coffee and savor every moment. You’re stronger than you think and the world is yours to change. Your voice is strong and important. I believe in you.

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I don’t know what your journey was that brought you to that room. Maybe it was easy and fun or maybe you cried a lot (I’ve cried a lot this year, too). Maybe you’ve lived through a breakup or divorce or some other loss that tried to carve you away from the inside out. But you made it through those days (I’m proud of you) and I hope yesterday was a reminder that even if today is hard again, there will be good days, too. You’ll make it through. It gets better. I believe in you.

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P.S. I’m the big sister to a teenager in my real life, and y’all at shows feel like my concert little siblings. If you are at a show and you don’t feel safe (especially if security isn’t helping), find me. You don’t deserve to feel unsafe or be harassed or anything like that. I hope that never happens to any of you, but know, if anyone pulls any nonsense with any of my little concert sibs, I’ll go full Liam Neeson on them. Y’all are gems and you deserve to be safe and happy. Keep dancing, keep singing literally every word to every Billie song, keep painting and drawing and savoring the miracle of being human and being alive today. You got this.