Billie Eilish‘s impressive rise to fame at the young age of 17 speaks to the pop singer’s talent and hard work. Eilish stopped by Jimmy Kimmel Live last week to discuss her career and six Grammy nominations. But rather than only focusing on her career, Kimmel decided to test the singer’s knowledge of pop culture from when he was 17.
During the bit, Eilish admitted she hadn’t heard of Van Halen and the internet was up in arms. But many took the side of Eilish, pointing out that it’s reasonable for a 17-year-old pop singer to never have listened to a classic rock band that formed almost thirty years before their birth.
Kimmel prefaced his questions by giving her props for her success at such a young age. “You are 17-years-old, which it’s crazy that you’re this successful at 17-years-old. And of course, I think back to myself at 17, not as successful at that age. But I was 17 in perhaps the greatest year in American history—1984. Experts agree, right?” Eilish interjected with a joke about his age. “Is that your way of reminding me how close I am to death? Do you know who Madonna is?” Eilish responded in the affirmative. When Kimmel asked if Eilish could “name a Van Halen,” her response was, “Who?”
Eilish also didn’t know Run DMC and had never heard of a Cabbage Patch Kid, but the internet really stuck with her response about Van Halen. While the intent of the questions wasn’t malicious, the internet began reacting aggressively. Some pointed to subtle — and not-so-subtle — sexism in the angry responses.
Billie Eilish didn't know who Van Halen was, I'm sobbing. pic.twitter.com/tX6xrs7cIE
— Mack (@_Kenziepuff) November 29, 2019
Who is Billie Eilish and why does he (or she) not know who Van Halen is? pic.twitter.com/awFXsDb38l
— Ray Takes Pictures (@RayTakesPix) December 2, 2019
My take: you should definitely know who Van Halen is even if you’re 17.
— Todd (@Todd_J) December 2, 2019
But many Twitter users came to Eilish’s defense and pointed out the subdued sexism in some responses.
if billie eilish was a dude no one would care that she didn't know who van halen was, but she's young and a woman and successful and wears baggy clothes and defies conventional beauty standards. its like punk rock never happened you idiots
— Caryn Rose (@carynrose) December 2, 2019
Lil Nas X didn't know who Nirvana was before he sampled them, and everyone treated it like it was a cute detail and a sign that Generation X was getting old. No one was mad at X about it.
— Michael Tedder (@mtedder) December 2, 2019
If you're surprised Billie Eilish has never heard of Van Halen, I would love to ask you what music you were listening to as teenager from 40 years ago.
That's listening to music from the 1930s when you grew up in the '70s, and the 1940s if you grew up in the '80s.
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) December 2, 2019
now let's ask Van Halen if they know who Billie Eilish is and get performatively mad about that
— maura quint (@behindyourback) December 2, 2019
Even Smash Mouth agreed.
— Smash Mouth (@smashmouth) December 2, 2019
The bit was originally meant to be lighthearted and Kimmel himself even admitted that he wouldn’t know about popular music before his time. “You’re making me look so dumb,” she said. “It’s not a matter of being dumb,” Kimmel responded, “If you ask me questions about 1943, I probably wouldn’t know the answers either.”
Watch Billie Eilish’s interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live above.