Billie Eilish, 17, doesn’t know Van Halen and why would anyone expect her to?

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There’s a weird subset of people who get off on judging people for not “knowing” who or what certain pop culture references are. I have fallen into that trap too – I recently got irrationally mad at Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who is 34 years old) because I saw an interview where she described never having seen any of the Star Wars movies, not even before she AUDITIONED for a Star Wars movie. That bugged me, honestly. It’s not just the “I’ve never seen this enormous pop culture phenomenon” thing, it’s that she walked into an audition knowing nothing about the franchise whatsoever. GRRRR. This subject is often applied the garbage youth generation, especially the teens who have grown up on social media and who think Kylie Jenner invented lipstick. Billie Eilish is only 17 years old. She doesn’t know what the hell happened in the 1980s. About a week ago, she confessed, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, that she had no idea who Van Halen is. I’ve cued up that moment:

I honestly don’t think Kimmel was trying to make Billie look stupid, and again, she’s 17!! She was born in the 2000s. It’s crazy. Personally, I’m not mad that she doesn’t know a Van Halen, but apparently some people on the internet were making fun of her for being young and not knowing this stuff.

Enter Wolfgang Van Halen, the 28-year-old son of Eddie Van Halen and bassist for the almost entirely defunct band. Wolfgang tweeted this:

Super-classy, actually. Of all the people and things to yell about, why yell at Billie for not knowing Van Halen? Especially since a second later, she said she had never seen the original Ghostbusters!! DAMN IT, BILLIE. To make her feel better, I’m trying to think of some shocking generational blasphemy/confessions to make… I saw Reality Bites in the theater and I f–king hated it. I’ve never seen Titanic from start to finish. I’ve never seen Avatar, or Wolf of Wall Street, or The Revenant. Tupac was more talented than Kurt Cobain. I liked Frasier more than Friends. THERE.

47th American Music Awards - Arrivals

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78 Responses to “Billie Eilish, 17, doesn’t know Van Halen and why would anyone expect her to?”

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  1. DS9 says:

    Do you know how many bands were active in that era? How many careers overlapped?

    I don’t expect Billie to know the ones who have done so little to cultivate their own legacies or keep themselves at least nominally in the public eye.

    Def Leppard played the iHeartRadio festival. What the hell has Eddie done recently?

    If your old school band doesn’t have a cameo in an enduring movie or a tee shirt in hot topic, how do you expect them to hear about you?

    • SamC says:

      I think Eddie has been a bit busy lately fighting cancer again.

      • DS9 says:

        Sorry, by lately I mean since the 90’s.

        A lot of those olds bands show up for things, even if it’s just appearances and not music. Reality shows, cameos in movies, licensing music and imagery, I love the 80’s bits, etc.

        It’s work and Eddie hasn’t done much of it.

        He also spent a lot of time on the outs with the two men who have done this stuff and would have done it on behalf of the band were in not for the hot and cold nature of their relationship.

  2. Mumbles says:

    Never heard that about Phoebe Waller Bridge (I liked Fleabag fine, think she’s really talented, but she comes off as a little lah-di-dah jolly hockey sticks for me, and it’s obnoxious not to do research before an audition.)

    I loved Wolf’s tweet, very gracious and cool.

    Billie Eilish comes off as very try-hard to me.

  3. Insomniac says:

    I thought Wolf Van Halen’s Tweet was just about perfect.

    • lucy2 says:

      Me too. He handled it so well, and reminded people what music should do.

      • horseandhound says:

        very classy. you can’t know everything, especially that young. however, I do think kids nowadays are so focused on ‘their music’ and lack the curiosity to explore other decades. a couple of years ago I met a girl, she was 15 at the time. I asked her who she liked and she said justin bieber. I asked her what she though about some of my favorites like springsteen, whitney houston and billy idol and she said she had never heard those names before. I was shocked.

  4. Mar says:

    Van Halen was probably one of the top 5 most successful bands in the early eighties so I’m surprised.

    I am a huge music lover and I know much older music than that. If you are musician I think that’s kind of shameful not to know who they are.

    • holly hobby says:

      If you love music you will know artists from other genres and decades. I was born before big band but yes I know who Sinatra and Martin are. I have listened to Doris Day too. Being young doesn’t give you an excuse to not know who these people are – especially if you are in that field.

      My kids know who the Bee Gees are! They are (forced) to listen to Broadway musicals too. Forced because that’s what’s on when I cook.

      • Mar says:

        Especially when you at in that field trying to be a rocker or whatever she’s doing. Thank u

      • Gingerly says:

        It’s impossible to know every band from every decade, give me a break. I’ve heard of Van Halen, but I couldn’t name one song of theirs. I’m 31. I think it’s ridiculous to say it’s shameful that A SEVENTEEN year old might not know a semi popular band in the 80’s. It’s not like she said she didn’t know any artist before 2000. I can’t believe these comments.

      • Megan says:

        The way we consume music has been revolutionized since the days of Van Halen. Streaming services give you what you ask for, satellite radio stations are built around genres, and record stores are almost extinct. There is so much good music being made today, why does she need to know about a hair band from the 70s/80s?

      • Raina says:

        Yes. I mean as a musician with parents who are musically inclined how is that possible. At her age I knew many musicians from previous errors. Has she not taken a road trip with the radio on ever?? Actually she probably is the type that outs her head phones on and stays insulated.

    • Becks1 says:

      yeah that’s why I’m surprised. Van Halen was one of the biggest bands of the 80s. Maybe she doesn’t know “van halen” but I’m kind of assuming she has heard their songs? Maybe not though.

      I don’t get the whole “of course she wouldn’t know bands from the 80s.” I know bands from the 70s, 60s, 50s – I don’t think its insane that she doesn’t know Van Halen but I don’t think its crazy to expect that she does, either. I think both extremes are annoying (the people who are SO SHOCKED that she doesn’t know them and the people who are like “meh, why should she know them.”)

      • Mar says:

        They have sold 80 million records and are in the top 20 most successful bands of all time – that is a statistic actually-

        When I was 17, I knew all of the classic rock bands that were way before my time. As a real music lover, that’s expected.

        Like I said – as a musician- she needs to polish up her musical library .

      • Megan says:

        Commercial success does not mean something is worth listening to three decades later. Kenny G is in the top 30 most successful bands of all time.

      • petee says:

        I was brought up around alot of music.I was a 60’s baby.I heard her interview with her brother on Howard Stern and she was brought up with music.Her brother is a guitarist.How can they not know who Van Halen was or Eddie?I don’t care if she is young but but my first album was the Beatles White Album before I even started school.I still have all my albums and Eddie Van Halen’s impact was huge!.I was only 14 but you knew he was someone really gifted.He changed guitar as we know it.Sad to see these young people not knowing the elders of music.Don’t get me wrong she is talented but I don’t see her changing a genre of music anytime soon and this interview is all over the internet so she is not coming off well for her.

    • LadyMTL says:

      I was a kid in the 80’s and still knew who the Supremes were, the Jackson 5, the Beatles, the Byrds, the Doors, Joplin, you name it…my mom loves music so I grew up listening to all kinds, not just what was on the radio.

      Now, am I super shocked that a 17 year old doesn’t know much about bands that were before her time? Nope. I do hope she will explore, though, because there is so much fabulous music out there, and it’s fabulous regardless of how long ago it was released.

      • Gingerly says:

        @Mar, I don’t know why you want a pat on the back so badly for knowing EVERY SINGLE classic rock band EVER at age 17. I’m really happy for you. Doesn’t mean every 17 year old should, even if they’re in the industry. Billie seemed to have a pretty sheltered childhood, so I’m not surprised she might not know a band from decades before. It’s really not that big of a deal, and she shouldn’t be shamed for it.

    • Jenns says:

      Well then, fingers crossed that a 17 year old girl will succumb to her shame and take the time to look up “Hot for Teacher”…

    • lucy2 says:

      I knew a lot of older music too, I listened to my parents’ stuff and have always liked 60s/70s music even though I grew up in the 80s.
      But I don’t think it’s “shameful”, especially considering she’s only 17, their music isn’t quite as prevalent in pop culture as some other 80s performers, and her own stuff is very different, so she was likely listening to other kinds of music growing up.
      If she had 20 years in the music industry and had never heard of them, then I’d shake my head at her, but she’s 17. Give her time.

  5. Megan says:

    Completely agree with all of Kaiser’s “confessions.” For all of the talent in Reality Bites, why did it have no bite?

  6. MrsBanjo says:

    I get salty about people auditioning for or taking on roles for long-standing franchises and not having watched (or read) the originals. This is your job. Do the research. Like Michael Gambon proudly talking about how he never read or seen Harry Potter before taking on Dumbledore – that’s how we got Dumbledore violently yelling at Harry about the Goblet of Fire.

    That said, there’s zero reason or need for Billie Eilish to know every band that came out 20 years before she was born. I’m a younger Gen-Xer. I know those bands and bands from the 60s & 70s because of who my parents listened to. Doesn’t mean I know or even like all of them. It would be a bit different if she were going to cover their songs, but she’s not, so why the need to hound her about it?

  7. Jenns says:

    As someone who was a teen in the 90s and still loves that era, I never watched Reality Bites because I couldn’t stand Ethan Hawke.
    Frasier being better than Friends is not an opinion. It’s a fact.
    I’m jealous of people out there who didn’t spend two plus hours watching The Revenant.

    • Lightpurple says:

      Or the three hours of Wolf of Wall Street.

      Frazier was definitely better than Friends. The episode when they ran the restaurant is probably one of the greatest 30 minutes of TV of all time. Daphne with the eel is probably one of the greatest scenes of all time. Cherries flambé!

    • horseandhound says:

      yes it is an opinion. not a fact. people have different criteria about that stuff.

  8. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Yes to all of this. Billie is essentially a kid still. There are LOTS if things we grew up with that kids dont know about or havent seen. Let’s not all become the old man yelling “get off my lawn”.
    Also I want to play as well so here goes (gird your loins): The Rolling Stones and The Beatles are BOTH overrated. Avatar was crap. Friends is funnier than Seinfeld. That felt good! Lol.

    • MrsBanjo says:

      OMG YES to the Beatles and Rolling Stones. There are a few of their songs that I like but they are so overrated.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Blasphemy! 😉

    • lucy2 says:

      I love the Beatles and the Stones, but I’ll wholeheartedly agree with you on Avatar – I hated that overrated movie, and I can’t believe he’s trying to make more.

    • CCfor50 says:

      @Valiantly Varnished I agree! She is young and still figuring it out. And co-sign on Avatar, 2 1/2 hours I’ll never get back 🙄

  9. Casey says:

    I’ve never seen gone with the wind or miracle on 34th street or it’s a wonderful life and I’m 44 but I really like Eilish, she’s so creative and cool, and I like Van Halen. There’s sooooo much art out there for us to enjoy and experience that it’s impossible get through even a tiny fraction if it in our lifetime and we each have the good fortune to pick and choose which ones we will observe. It’s funny how your own tastes and reactions to a particular art can be construed as an insult to someone else who’s opinion differs. For example, I detest Frasier and Mrs Maisel. Do you take offense to that? You shouldn’t!

  10. Jerusha says:

    The original Ghostbusters was not that special, never seen Titanic, never seen Avatar, hated WOWS, loved The Revenant. Frasier was/is a great show.
    And I’ll be honest-for the past many years whenever SNL’s musical guest comes on that’s the time for a potty break, either for me or my dogs. But that’s okay. I’m not their demographic. They were featuring my bands back when they first started.

  11. Lucy says:

    When I was little, I couldn’t tell Seinfeld and Mr. Bean apart. Same thing with all the male latin popstars from the 90s (Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Chayanne, Luis Miguel). I thought they were all the same. Not anymore, of course. I, too, have never seen Titanic in full. I love, love, love Billie and Wolfgang’s answer was awesome.

  12. Sean says:

    She’s a teenager and Van Halen hasn’t done anything since 2015. I consider them one of the most iconic and influential American rock bands ever but the VH brothers have done zilch to stay relevant even in a “heritage” type way.

    Also, while Fraiser is better than Friends, is it better than its predecessor Cheers?

  13. Lightpurple says:

    I think people were having fun with it for the most part. Valerie Bertinelli definitely was. It then switched over into memes using Van Halen to describe other things or people with Van in the name.

  14. HK9 says:

    My first piano teacher told me that one of the most important things I should do is listen to music. The radio was always on in my house and I was forced to listen to music from 1920s to present day. So, I was introduced to a lot by osmosis. That being said, I also know it takes effort to get out of the stuff you normally do. I expect this from the average 17 year old, but if you’re a musician, I think you should know a bit more.

    • Valiantly Varnished says:

      Someone made a very similar comment on Twitter about Billie and I asked him how much HE knew about Gospel, R&B, Country, Rap, Jazz and Blues. Needless to say he had no response to that. People listen to the things that inspire them. Most kids today don’t listen to the radio – they listen to Spotify and SoundCloud.

      • HK9 says:

        Truth. Unlike the person on Twitter tho, I can discuss those genres, simply because I love music. I mean my Jamaican mother introduced me to Willie Nelson & Kenny Rogers so I’m not saying something that I don’t do myself.

      • Valiantly Varnished says:

        @HK9 the crux of your comment is that you grew up in a home that listened to Willie Nelson & Kenny Rogers. Perhaps Billie’s parents don’t listen to rock music or music at all. We don’t know. But most people’s early tastes and exposure to music stems from what they grew up listening to. Clearly her parents didnt listen to Van Halen. And that’s okay.

  15. SamC says:

    Frasier over Friends, anyway you look at it. And on the flip side of the demographic, if it wasn’t for this site I would have no idea who Billie Eilish, is and still have no idea why she is famous.

    • Astrid says:

      Yup, I’m guilty of not knowing her music either. And I some how no longer listen to mainstream radio. So I guess I can’t really blame her for not knowing who Van Halen is.

  16. lobstah says:


    (I love Frasier)

  17. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    It’s all perspective. I’m a music lover so I carry decades of music in my brain. The game changers. The shifts. I also get great satisfaction knowing about a musician’s influences — those are great conversations. And fusions too! Like Strut’s lead singer being Mick Jagger and Freddy Mercury’s love child.

    Not sure I’d combine Star Wars with Van Halen on the scales of justice. Star Wars is…prolific. Van Halen was superb in spite of front man arguments and musical chairs lol. Eddie will always be responsible for indelible riffs which defy time. But I’d be hard-pressed to choose which 70s, 80s rock gods were better than others. Perspective. Zeppelin, in my mind, outstrips others through musical intelligence alone. All of this though leads to modern day ignorance. If I were a musician, I certainly wouldn’t voice not knowing particular musicians lol. I could never stand Lawrence Welk, but I know who he was. Billie could be my daughter, but there are two of her songs on my YouTube playlist full of songs spanning decades. And it doesn’t take classwork to exhibit a modicum of intelligence or interest. But it does take a few moments to look away from the mirror.

  18. Zantasia says:

    Wasn’t she home-schooled? I’ve never listened to any of her music because my kid wants to listen to Disney music exclusively. But come on—when you are sheltered, you only listen to the music your parents listen to. I didn’t hear current pop music until I was 16, and I wasn’t sheltered. I was shocked when my husband had never heard of Joni Mitchell or Cat Stevens when I met him in college in 2003. Sometimes you don’t know what you are missing until someone shows it to you. And one might argue that no one thought it was important to show her Van Halen. Just as I will never show anyone Oasis.

    • DS9 says:

      My first serious boyfriend introduced me to Cat Stevens when I was 19 in the late 90’s.

      I’d heard of Joni Mitchell but couldn’t name a song until Love Actually.

  19. DS9 says:

    I’m not sure why so many are assuming that not knowing who Van Halen is means they don’t know any 80’s rock.

    Van Halen in a specific band from a particular subgenre of a very large and varied genre.

    There were a ton of acts in the 80’s and they overlap with 70’s acts that were still working and shared airspace and media with 90’s acts that came right behind them.

    Queen, Zep, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Metallica, GnR, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, the Foo, the Stones, White Snake, Poison, Motley Crue, etc were all sharing time and media in certain eras but we’re mad Billie doesn’t know Van Halen?

    And those who are listing everyone you do know from previous eras as proof of how immersed you are, are you really confident you know everyone?

    And think about how you know them. I know some oldies because of Dirty Dancing and Sleeping With the Enemy. I discovered Muddy Waters and Etta James because of the Cadillac Records movie, but I knew who Chuck Berry was before that. Queen is my favorite band ever but I didn’t know who they were until Wayne’s World.

  20. Amelie says:

    Never saw the OG Ghostbusters movie. And if I did I must have been very young and don’t remember it. I know the song of course, everyone does. But flipping through channels if it’s on I try to watch for a few seconds and get bored. I did watch the female reboot but it was so bad it made me never want to watch the original ever.

    Never seen The Revenant either. There are so many “culturally iconic” things I am not familiar with especially when it comes to music. I know big band names from the 80s but if you ask me to name any of their songs or any individual artists in the band I’d come up blank. I wouldn’t be even able to hum any that’s how out of touch I am.

  21. Darla says:

    Fraiser is funnier than Friends, but Friends is funnier than Seinfeld.

  22. Adrien says:

    I don’t understand this. People are sharing and quoting on twitter that one guy getting pissed at Eilish for not knowing Van Halen and suddenly it’s Boomer vs. Gen Z thing. Huh?! It was just one dude. If you scroll the trending Van Halen you will see everyone was defending Eilish (from that one, not even verified, dude).

  23. Trillian says:

    I made sure my 16yr old son saw all the cool 80ies movies when he was younger. Plus he loves 80ies music. And doesn’t like Billie Eilish. I wouldn’t know who she was if I hadn’t read about her here.

  24. Dee Kay says:

    Pop music is supposed to be of its time. It soars to popularity at a certain moment and then fades. Van Halen’s music has definitely faded since its peak excitement years (the 80s). Billie Eilish’s music will fade one day, too. In 30 years’ time, a famous teen singer will say, “Who’s Billie Eilish?” I think that’s fine, that’s how it should be, it’s the nature of the game. Every generation should enjoy “their” pop idols to the max because no other gen will appreciate it as much. Of course there are singers and bands from previous eras that I love with all my heart, but I chose to study them and listen to their entire catalog, the way I read everything Jane Austen ever wrote. If you’re that kind of kid, it’s easy to go back into the historical record and pick out cultural texts to love. But the more common approach to popular culture is to take in what’s around you *right now.*

  25. Jerusha says:

    Spotify just named the most streamed song of the ENTIRE DECADE. The Shape of You.🤢🤢🤢🤢

  26. JanetFerber says:

    She’s young. I just met an 18 year old who didn’t know who Diana Ross is. It’s the way of the world. And I don’t think she needs to know who they are.

    • petee says:

      She is in the music business now.She should know.After all this I doubt her career will last much longer.

  27. Tulip says:

    There’s so much to explore with music that I think anyone needs years to build up the catalogue in their mind.

    I suppose she could just make it like a homework assignment and check off what she’s “must” know, but music is emotional and it must be loved- so it’s going to take awhile.

    If she’s a musician she won’t stop exploring hopefully. And also she’ll be on her own journey (and that might not include Van Halen, but might include, say, Josephine Baker).

  28. minx says:

    I’ve never seen one Star Wars movie, they’re just nothing I’m interested in. I would, though, if I were auditioning for a movie.

  29. Kristen says:

    Something happening before you were born is not a good excuse for not knowing something.

    And it makes no real difference if she doesn’t know 80s pop culture stuff like Cabbage Patch Kids, but as a musician she should 100% know who Van Halen and Run DMC are, even if she doesn’t listen to them religiously.

  30. JanetFerber says:

    I’d add Billie Holiday to songstresses she should listen to– a truly great Billie for 17 year old Billie.

  31. Me says:

    I hated The Revenant and I only made it 5 minutes into wows before my anxiety kicked it. It’s a terrible movie. If you meet a man who says he liked it, run.

  32. Bread and Circuses says:

    Rob Pattinson admitted he didn’t know anything about Twilight, which was already a phenomenon, when he auditioned to star in it.

    Do women get held to a different standard? They do, because a lot of men get a little power rush from smirkingly demeaning women for not measuring up to some standard the man invented just that moment to make himself look good.

  33. Elle says:

    I think it was more like an admiration that a kid is so famous, rich, and talented done the wrong way. Like, look at you, the phenomenon, you have done so much without even knowing that person, because basically you were not even born then. Well meaning but extremely badly executed.

  34. tom says:

    We of the older generations had Television to educate us. Information just found it’s way into our brains. I’ve never watched one Episode of Hazel or My Mother the Car or Even MASH… but I’m aware of all of it. While we waited for Cheers or the Brady Bunch or Sesame Street to come on we would just absorb all of that other shit. Whether is was an infomercial advertising some old DOO-Whop compilation or a guest appearance from some grave-dodger on Loveboat, we got an education. Those raised on the internet are only seeing what they want to see.

  35. bobafelty says:

    Don’t worry everyone, Drake is texting Billie to teach her about all these older bands and musicians! He only texts pre-teens to help them! Nothing to see here…

  36. SJR says:

    I am 58 and I will admit that I know of Billie because of her popping up in celeb gossip sites like Celebitchy.

    I do not know most of the Grammy noms of the new generation, I would not expect any 17 y/o to know music from before they were born unless their Parents listened to it around the house.

    And just for the record Van Halen w/David Lee Roth in the early ’80’s Ruled!
    Yeah, I said it. A young DLR great frontman, VH great rockin’ music when I was young.
    Always Van Halen not Van Hagar! Hot for Teacher, Panama, Jump all great tunes with pretty good videos too. At one time, MTV was a constant rotation of vids by VH, Bowie, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Duran Duran, Whitesnake, Poison, Journey ’80-’86 were great years from my generation and MTV.

    Btw, Pink Floyd over Zep.

  37. Sparkly says:

    I’ve never seen Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Frozen, or pretty much any 80s “classic” other than Ferris Bueller when I was a kid. Oh, I finally did watch Lost Boys this year…and wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be with everyone telling me I MUST see it.