“Who?” replied Eilish.
“Have you heard of Huey Lewis?”
Eilish strained. “Some … No.”
“Fill in the blank: Run DM …”
“What is that?” Eilish laughed.
When Eilish anxiously suggested Kimmel’s generation game was making her “look so dumb”, Kimmel, at least, turned the mockery on himself. “The point I’m trying to make is you’re younger than I am,” he says, joking. “If you asked me questions about 1943, I probably wouldn’t know the answers either.” Ageing dorks of the internet weren’t so forgiving.
“I am close to 60 and yet I still know who Mozart was … Know your art,” went one viral response (viral more for its outlandish comparison than its actual sentiment).
“The reason it sucks Billie Eilish doesn’t know Van Halen isn’t that she’s young. It’s that, as an artistic professional, she doesn’t know the basics of her business. That’s not a Millennial thing, it’s a dumbass thing,” went another guy – a real estate agent perhaps, intimately cultured on history’s mid-tier real estate agents.
It’s a fun time to be alive when one’s knowledge of Van Halen is considered the ultimate test of general trivia. Like most people who put on background music while casually cleaning the bathroom in pyjama-jeans on a Saturday morning, I’ve enthusiastically snake-hipped to Dance the Night Away.
But, as many others have pointed out, it’s unacceptable to assume Van Halen II has worked its way through any sociable, well-adjusted 17-year-old’s Spotify library.
For starters, it’s a suggestion that completely misconstrues the typical trajectory of teen musical discovery. The pathway, obviously, goes like this: boy bands, pop-punk and/or gangsta rap, Tori Amos (mainly girls), Fugazi (mainly boys), ’70s punk, ironic Mariah Carey, ’80s post-punk, alt-country, Fleetwood Mac, non-ironic Mariah Carey, pop-punk and/or gangsta rap (revisited, mainly for karaoke), about a week of Miles Davis, whatever’s playing on SmoothFM and then, maybe, you might finally reach Van Halen (it’s unlikely). After that it’s all Steely Dan and concerts held at wineries.
Fortunately, unlike Van Halen completists – in my head they all look like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, body-melded with The Simpsons‘ Comic Book Guy – much of the world seems awake to the realities of modern teenhood. Like, weirdly enough, Smash Mouth.
The late-’90s pop-rockers were among the first to come to Eilish’s defence. “We grew up listening to Van Halen and we’re old as fck so why would Billie Eilish know who they are?” the band wrote on Twitter, bravely entering the testy online debate.
In a touching gesture, even Wolfgang Van Halen – the 28-year-old son of Eddie and the band’s current bassist – urged his followers to calm down. “If you haven’t heard of Billie Eilish, check her out. She’s cool,” he tweeted. “If you haven’t heard of Van Halen, go check them out. They’re cool, too.
“Music is supposed to bring us together, not divide us. Listen to what you want and don’t shame others for not knowing what you like,” he added, a one-man Bill and Ted in a sea of senseless bickering. As we head into the 2020s (or as I call it, “the last decade”), it’s a beautiful message of musically fuelled unity.
I still can’t believe Eilish hasn’t heard of Huey Lewis, though. That’s just blasphemy. Does she even have ears?
Robert Moran is a culture reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age