Van Halen was trending on Twitter on Monday night. Did a member of the band die? Was one of their songs featured on some popular TV show? Did Eddie Van Halen or David Lee Roth show up as The Masked Singer?
No, none of that. The reason for that is that pop singer Billie Eilish appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live the week before and made it clear that she wasn’t familiar with Van Halen’s music.
Crazy? Not necessarily. Eilish, after all, is only 17 years old. She was born in 2001, which was several years after the band last put out popular music of any consequence. Their last hit album, after all, was For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which was released in 1991 – a decade before Eilish was even born. That album’s biggest single, “Right Now,” was used to sell Crystal Pepsi, in case you’re old enough to have a conception of how long ago Crystal Pepsi was.
The reaction, however, was curious. Most people’s viewpoint was not “how dare Billie Eilish not know Van Halen,” but rather anger that “people are saying it’s bad that Billie Eilish doesn’t know Van Halen.”
The problem, however, was that it was hard to find anyone who actually expressed outrage about Billie Eilish not knowing Van Halen. It was a backlash to the backlash, when the first backlash never actually happened in the first place.
Eventually, Wolfgang Van Halen, the son of Eddie who joined the band as their bass player in 2011, drew praise for stating that both Van Halen’s music and Eilish’s are “pretty cool,” and that recommending that those unfamiliar check out both.
There were some humorous jokes, however:
The same thing happened earlier this year, back during the final season of Game of Thrones, following the episode in which Arya Stark killed The Night King. Social media was filled the following day with the notion that “Arya is a Mary Sue,” and fans of the show pushing back against the “people” and “bros” who were making such an argument. The problem was, no one could seem to find any examples of anyone with any large audience having raised that objection.
It’s certainly been an issue in the recent past when older people have gotten smug about their musical tastes, especially when it comes to rock. Rock ‘n’ roll, once the music of youth and rebellion, is now often the music of bitter middle-aged men, upset that the youth of today don’t respect the music of their youth.
But the reaction to the Eilish/Van Halen affair has been reassuring. Most people understand that it’s perfectly reasonable for a 17-year-old, even one who’s a pop star, isn’t familiar with music of a different genre from years before she was born.