STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Did you hear the news? Singer-songwriter Billie Eilish hasn’t heard of the band Van Halen.
It’s lighting up the Internet. It’s all over Twitter. It’s on every news site.
This is what we’ve come to. And here I am, adding to it all by writing about it.
But I do have a point.
As Rolling Stone reported, it all started when Eilish was on Jimmie Kimmel’s TV show a few weeks ago and Kimmel asked her to name any single member of the band Van Halen.
“Who?” Eilish said. “No, who is that?”
Said Kimmel, “I’m gonna start crying.”
Legions of Van Halen fans were ready to join him. How could anyone not have heard of the mighty Van Halen???
First of all, who cares, right? Who cares that some singer who’s currently having her 15 minutes of fame hasn’t heard of some dinosaur rock band that had the best years of its career back when zebra-striped spandex pants were all the rage?
But we’re way beyond saying “who cares” when it comes to anything that goes viral on the Internet, right? There’s an audience for everything on the Internet, no matter how meaningless and insignificant some opinion or disparate monad of information might be. There’s always a fight worth having.
But let’s be real: Is it so inconceivable that Eilish, who won’t turn 18 years old for another couple of weeks yet, wouldn’t know about the band Van Halen?
Van Halen was a very popular hard-rock band way back when, with their peak being from around 1978 to 1986. Eddie Van Halen has long been acknowledged as one of the top lead guitarists of all time. Onetime front man David Lee Roth also has his place in rock history.
But it’s been a while since Van Halen moved the market. They’ve put out exactly four records of new material since 1991, their most recent being 2012. They’ll always have their fans, and they toured as recently as 2015, but their better days have been behind them for decades. They’re not filling stadiums anymore.
In other words, this is not the Rolling Stones or the Beatles that we’re talking about. Those bands have been hugely successful and influential for decades. They’re ubiquitous in popular culture as well as in music. When the Stones come around, they sell out Giants Stadium. It would be beyond belief for anybody who works in popular music to have not heard of those two bands.
But Van Halen? It’s easy to see why an 52-year-old, frat boy type like Kimmel deifies them, but I can easily give Billie Eilish a pass. She’s more likely to know that Eddie Van Halen played on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” song than to know that the band Van Halen had a number-one hit of their own called “Jump” a million years ago. My expectations of cultural literacy go only so far.
But, hey, this is the Internet. Let’s make some noise about the fact that Billie Eilish has never heard of Van Halen. Because the Internet is all about division and confrontation. And holding people up to ridicule. And feeling superior to other people. Throw in a dash of “kids these days don’t know nothin’ about nothin’,” and it’s the perfect social-media storm, a great diversion on a snowy Monday. Nothing better to do.
You know what? I’ve heard of Billie Eilish, but I couldn’t name a single song of hers. I’d be unlikely to recognize a song of hers if you played it for me without telling me who it was first. I’d probably fail to recognize her if I saw her on TV or in the newspaper. Or on the Internet, for that matter. I’ve had to check half a dozen times while writing this commentary to make sure I’m spelling both her names correctly.
And while she may never have heard of Van Halen, she’s no doubt giving the band the most publicity they’ve had in a while. Eddie and the boys should be grateful.