Billie Eilish first appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in August 2019, sporting a spiked collar, claw-like nails and an apathetic teen glare. Nearly two years later, the 19-year-old star graces the cover once more — this time shot in soft focus, wearing a minimalist button-down blouse and her new blond locks.
“I feel like there’s an intimacy to [the photos],” photographer Yana Yatsuk says. “It’s a little more real to me, a little less perfect. It feels like a boyfriend would have shot it.”
Yatsuk, who’s based in Los Angeles, has photographed several notable women for Rolling Stone, including songwriter and producer Teddy Geiger, Oscar winner Regina King, and the members of Haim. Her laid-back style was a perfect match for capturing Eilish’s coming-of-age era — and, by the photographer’s own account, the shoot came as naturally as it appears in the photos. “I pitched a rough [idea], but [Billie and I] seemed to really align from the beginning,” Yatsuk says.
Eilish easily fell in step with Yatsuk’s approach — close-up shots, mellow Sam Cooke tunes playing in the background — and the photographer’s ability to improvise helped enhance the casual feel of the afternoon. Photos of Eilish sitting in a banyan tree, in particular, were spontaneous: Yatsuk had scrapped the idea of a tree swing after her art team was unable to build one in time for the shoot, before Eilish yelled, “I love climbing trees!” and began scrambling barefoot over the roots. Of course, Yatsuk had her camera at the ready.
The only real challenge came from the location, a former convent turned elementary school, where Yatsuk and her team realized upon arrival that class was in session. Envisioning a mob of schoolchildren rushing at the world-famous singer and sabotaging the photoshoot, Yatsuk had to come up with a plan, and fast. “We were like, ‘Should we build walls? What should we do?’ ” she recalls. They ended up sneaking Eilish around the back of the property to avoid notice. “Somehow, we figured it out.”
At the time of the shoot, Yatsuk had not yet seen the art for Eilish’s new album, Happier Than Ever, nor the naturalistic music videos for “Your Power” or “Lost Cause.” She attributes the stylistic similarities between the images she shot and the rest of Eilish’s work to the singer’s own clear-eyed vision.
“She’s brilliant, and she knows what she wants, but she also has trust, and those two things together are really important,” Yatsuk says. “And obviously, she’s drop-dead gorgeous — it’s hard to take a bad photo.”