Do you know who Billie Eilish is?
If you don’t, you must do a great job actively ignoring modern music, as the 17-year-old singer has been *everywhere* since the release of her debut studio album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, which came out in March.
She’s been such a phenomenon since the album’s release, it’s been difficult to escape her music — not that anyone should, considering hers is among the most captivating and fresh music to rule the top of the pop charts in quite some time.
Eilish’s dark, genre-hopping blend of styles and musical approaches, the result of her work with her producer and collaborator brother Finneas O’Connell, has definitely struck a chord in today’s music scene. It’s been such A Big Deal that she’s up for six GRAMMY Awards, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.
As a high-profile star of the highest degree, that means everything she does or says will be open to immediate scrutiny from the public — and on Monday, a video surfaced from Eilish’s Nov. 22 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. In the interview, she says “who?” when Kimmel asks her to name a member of Van Halen. The video hit Twitter on Monday, and some people LOST THEIR MINDS over it.
Billie Eilish didn't know who Van Halen was, I'm sobbing. pic.twitter.com/tX6xrs7cIE
— Mack (@_Kenziepuff) November 29, 2019
This exchange was taken from a segment in which Kimmel quizzes Eilish on some prominent figures from the 1984, the year Kimmel was 17 — the same age Eilish is now. In addition to being unfamiliar with Van Halen, she also responded in kind when asked about Huey Lewis, Cabbage Patch Kids, Gremlins and Run DMC, but she was familiar with Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.
Twitter was set ablaze with hot takes and criticisms from all sides, from “Who is Billie Eilish?”, ostensibly from those who willingly oppose the popular music of the day and wish to earn kudos for their stubbornness, I suppose, to “actually, Van Halen sucks so who cares?’.
Here’s a reasoned and sensible take from Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s son and Van Halen’s bassist.
Music is supposed to bring us together, not divide us. Listen to what you want and don’t shame others for not knowing what you like.
— Wolf Van Halen (@WolfVanHalen) December 2, 2019
Generational divide is a thing, sure, but what good comes of this nonsensical mud-slinging over … what, exactly? Somebody being younger than you are and understandably disconnected with your own personal experience from decades ago?
Here’s another valid take from Smash Mouth, of all sources, delivered with a bit of self-deprecation:
— Smash Mouth (@smashmouth) December 2, 2019
It’s become a big argument on the social platform as people from all over the world mash their keyboards in support of Billie Eilish or Van Halen, but to this entire mess I ask: Can’t we have both?
Billie Eilish is SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD (she turns 18 on Dec. 18). 2001, the year she was born, Van Halen’s 1980 debut album was 21 years old, its hit singles decades removed. That’s a long time, and Van Halen hasn’t exactly been in the limelight for much of her life, save for a few tours and the 2012 album A Different Kind of Truth, which probably didn’t have much of a demographic in the form of 10 or 11-year-old-girls, which Eilish was at the time of its release.
This whole “Who is Van Halen?” question is loaded from another angle, too, as it suggests that the band’s legacy isn’t enough to warrant universal acclaim, praise and remembrance. But — and this cannot be understated — it’s inevitable that there are people out there who don’t know who the Beatles are in 2019. They definitely exist, somewhere, and they’re probably young.
But so what? All this means Billie Eilish probably gets to experience Van Halen for the first time now that this has blown up in such a ridiculous manner, and that’s pretty cool. Imagine not hearing “Panama” and then being able to watch this for the first time:
Or hearing this for the very first time:
It also must be pointed out that maybe — just MAYBE — Van Halen’s cultural reach is in need of refreshing, the type that a full-on comeback (however unlikely it may seem given David Lee Roth’s recent comments) could remedy?
After all, Roth crashed a Las Vegas bachelor party earlier this year because the bros inside the hotel room were blasting Van Halen songs … and nobody recognized him.
And this past fall in Los Angeles, a Tool fan asked a stranger to take his photo after the band’s show at Staples Center. That random person was Eddie Van Halen, to the obliviousness of the Tool fan in question:
A guy asked my dad if he could take a picture of him with the stage behind him, having no idea who he just asked, and that was my favorite moment from the @Tool show last night. pic.twitter.com/tA1lywM0yf
— Wolf Van Halen (@WolfVanHalen) October 22, 2019
All of this to say: Time is a treacherous thing! What once was exciting, hip and “cool” can change, the more removed we become as a society from its era of origin.
It doesn’t need to be a reason to pile on those who might not be familiar with what we like and am innately familiar with — it’s a chance for them to maybe experience it themselves and, potentially, become a fan of their own.
So go listen to Billie Eilish and Van Halen, won’t you? It’s not an either/or situation. That’s not what music is about.