What Billie Eilish learned from her own ‘Barbie’ song, ‘What Was I Made For?’
Director Greta Gerwig asked the singer-songwriter for 'Barbie’s heart song — the song that is deep inside her core that she doesn’t even completely know is there.' The result made her cry.
It's kind of dark," says Billie Eilish, "but recently I was reading Kurt Cobain's Suicide Notes."
The 21-year-old pop superstar is snuggled on a sofa at a Los Angeles studio — black pants, black and red hair — and sets the acai bowl in her hand to explain.
"It's horrible. I mean, it's all the saddest—I've ever heard of it. He was such a genuine person and a genius," she said of the late Nirvana frontman, "and I'm so deep for him and his life and where it went. , felt deep, deep sadness. In the letter, he wrote, 'I have everything in the world, and I absolutely hate it.' He was so ashamed that he was not enjoying it.
"And I understand why he felt that way," she adds. "It's not what you think."
Eilish didn't wake up this morning wanting to complain about being a world-famous celebrity, ever since her 2019 debut, "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" went quadruple-platinum and made him the youngest person in history to win all four major categories at the Grammy Awards in one night. Even as someone praised for bringing a welcome element of glam to the bubbly Top 40, he knows that shouting from a place of privilege can be a bad look.
But since I asked her, Hilda's latest single, the vaguely gorgeous "What Was I Ready For?" Describing emotional situations, where he forgets how to be happy and sings chords on the saddest-sounding piano in the world. Cobain, who died in 1994, emerged as an artist he and his brother-producer, Phineas O'Connell, looked to frequently for his understanding of the loneliness of success.
"It's that existential-crisis vibe where you can be sitting in a room with people you love," she says, "and you're like, oh, my God, what's going on with my life?" Read More high functioning depression
Should it be surprising that this song about a young woman's disillusionment came as part of the Hollywood juggernaut that is "Barbie"? Greta Gerwig's Pretty-in-Pink is packed with blockbuster songs, including streaming hits from Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and the duo of Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice. Most of the film's songs share its frothy soul and smooth surface; Still "What was I made for?" Different: smaller, slower, infinitely more introspective.
Gerwig said she asked Eilish and O'Connell to write "Barbie's heart song—the song that's deep in her core that she doesn't fully know but starts to hear more clearly throughout the film." The director recalls getting the Sibling demo with just Hilsa's voice and O'Connell on piano. "It completely destroyed me," Gerwig said, adding that she immediately played it for her partner Noah Baumbach, with whom she wrote the movie, and others involved in the production. Their verdict? "We all cried."
They’re hardly the only ones with whom the song has connected. A nine-week No. 1 smash on Billboard’s alternative music chart, “What Was I Made For?” has racked up more than half a billion streams on Spotify and YouTube and just earned five Grammy nominations including for record and song of the year. Now it’s in the running to compete for original song at the 96th Academy Awards in March. Read More depression help
Turns out it's become huge,” said Eilish, who won the original song Oscar in 2022 with “No Time to Die,” her and her brother's sublime and melancholy theme from the James Bond film of the same title. Accepting the award that night at the Dolby Theater, the singer seemed genuinely thrilled to have earned one of show business' highest honors — "We promise not to lose these," O'Connell joked as he hoisted his statue — so many from Dodger Stadium today. Away, I wonder what some of the more bright spots of pop stardom might be. Did he go to a ballgame and have his face splashed on the giant video screen?
"Yes!" screams the LA native. "I love it. It was literally my dream as a kid. It's really cool to go to things like this when you're famous, I have to be honest." She laughs. "Fame can be so scary, but there are parts of it that rock."
Eilish, who as a SAG-AFTRA member was barred from discussing “Barbie” on this day weeks before the actors’ strike was resolved, contends she didn’t have herself in mind when she wrote “What Was I Made For?” earlier this year. “I was thinking about a character from her point of view,” she says — Barbie, in other words, who over the course of Gerwig’s film comes to realize that perfection isn’t real (and that she wouldn’t want it even if it were).
Says Gerwig of the song: “It became a theme for Barbie’s whole awakening.”
“But then I was listening to it with a friend, and she was literally sitting there side-eyeing me — like, ‘Dude, this is your life,’” Eilish says with a laugh. What the singer can see now is that the external validation she received as a celebrated teenage phenom did a real number on her sense of self-worth after an adolescence marked by depression. Read More tips for physical and mental health. Regular exercise