The Year of Billie Eilish. Also, Who Is Billie Eilish?

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Danny Moloshok/Reuters
Danny Moloshok/Reuters

This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.

This week:

  • The return of Mrs. Maisel

  • Learning so much about Billie Eilish

  • Dakota Johnson vs. Ellen DeGeneres

  • The Mulan trailer is so good!

  • God bless Nicole Scherzinger, forever and always

Billie Eilish, Van Halen, Myself, and a Lot of People Not Knowing Each Other!

It’s been an incredible year for 17-year-old recording artist Billie Eilish.

She is the youngest artist ever to score nominations in the Grammys’ “Big Four” categories: album, song, record, and best new artist. Her album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was the most-played on both Apple Music and Spotify in 2019, and it topped Billboard’s end-of-year chart. She is apparently close to a deal with Apple TV+ for a documentary about her life that comes with a reported $25 million price tag.

And with each passing week, I am closer to actually knowing who she is.

That’s hyperbole, of course. I obviously know who Billie Eilish is. She is the person with that song that’s in every movie and TV show trailer, which I know because everyone on Twitter is like “of course that Billie Eilish song is in that trailer.” That song, “Bad Guy,” is so good! If I were to walk down the street and Billie Eilish crashed into me, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea! Sorry to this man!

There comes a time when everyone just has to admit they’ve gotten too old for things, and between TikTok and Billie Eilish, 2019 was that year for me. But the reason this is all relevant, other than to celebrate her success—good for you, Billie Eilish, who is 17 years old!—is that she was the subject of a fleeting microcontroversy this week when it came to light that she did not who Van Halen is.

She was on Jimmy Kimmel Live! To make a point about her young age, the host grilled her on a number of older, classic artists and whether she knew who they were. When he mentioned Van Halen, she replied, “Who?” This started trending, first with people in disbelief that she wasn’t familiar with the “Jump” band, which then morphed into a collective trashing of their output. You know, any opportunity to be cruel and pile on!

The whole thing is silly, as most things that happen on Twitter or are described using the phrase “trending” are. It is not strange that an artist who was born in the year 2001—my heart hurt typing that—does not know a band whose only No. 1 single was released in 1983. Life is about discovering things, whether you’re 17 years old and went home after a slight appearance on Kimmel and sought out 1984 by Van Halen for the first time, or if you’re me finally listening to When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? in its entirety while writing this.

It’s a great album! You all are right. Congratulations, Billie Eilish! Your youth terrifies me.

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Dakota Johnson on Ellen

This happened over Thanksgiving weekend and is technically a little old, but the laughter it triggers from the depth of my soul when I think about it is fresh each time. Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith and famous for being a far better actress than anyone who only knows her from Fifty Shades of Grey gives credit for, appeared on Ellen.

DeGeneres was doing that thing she always does, where she’s all playful-prickly thinking she’s about to “gotcha” a big celeb about some innocuous slight. In this case, that’s Johnson’s star-studded 30th birthday party, to which DeGeneres feigns offense at not being invited. Cue Johnson’s unexpected response, the most wonderful sentence of the year, the gift we all deserve this Christmas: “Actually, that’s not the truth, Ellen.” (Watch it here.)

DeGeneres looks stunned. Johnson rallies producers to confirm that yes, in fact, she did invite the host after she had bafflingly given her “a bunch of shit” the previous year despite the fact, Johnson says, “I didn’t even know you liked me.” DeGeneres says she was probably out of town. Well, folks, it turns out that she was... at that football game with George W. Bush. It’s all too good.

My favorite take on all of this is from Connor Goldsmith on Twitter:

It must be said, the Ellen producers likely would never have let the segment air in this way if the exchange was really as savage as the internet has drummed it up to be and there were hard feelings. I prefer to imagine a brawl, but fine.

In any case, while this glorious mess was going on in daytime television this week, over at The Kelly Clarkson Show, our Pop Culture Lord and Savior performed a cover of the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme song in honor of the new film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. (Watch it here.) It was beautiful. I cried. If you didn’t, I don’t know...get help? Anyway, this newsletter is basically a Kelly Clarkson fan forum at this point. Hello to my fellow Kellebrities.

The ‘Mulan’ Trailer Is So Good!

Disney purists and nostalgia fetishists seemed to have qualms over the news that the Mouse House’s next live-action remake of one of its animated classics, Mulan, would not be a musical comedy but, instead, essentially an action drama. But they should fear not, because the film’s trailer arrived this week and, as far as these things go, this one is pure excellence. (Watch it here.)

We’ve seen enough of these Disney remakes to learn that those which use the original property as a jumping-off point to tell the story in a fresh, visually interesting way are eons better than the ones that settle for shot-by-shot recreations of the originals.

Mulan doesn’t seem to be neglecting the Disney familiarity we crave—a sequence definitely inspired by the “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” training montage is in the trailer, and the orchestral arrangement of “Reflection” gave me straight-up chills—but seems to be deepening the material in exciting ways.

The TV Moment of the Year

The Pussycat Dolls reunited and it was a very important moment in my life. (Watch it here.)

What to watch this week:

Marriage Story: The year’s best acting, now on Netflix.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Even while only marvelous-ish, still great.

Work in Progress: Extremely unexpected, poignant, and funny.

What to skip this week:

The Aeronauts: “Women don’t belong in balloons!”

Truth Be Told: A show not based on, but about a podcast. No, thanks!

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