Billie Eilish Opens Up About Surviving COVID and Hosting ‘SNL’
Singer-songwriter returns to the Stern Show along with her brother and longtime collaborator, FinneasDecember 13, 2021
Grammy-winning superstar Billie Eilish returned to the Stern Show studio on Monday, sitting down with Howard for a captivatingly candid conversation before performing two of her latest hits live on the air. The 19-year-old singer-songwriter was joined by her brother and longtime collaborator, Finneas, who played guitar and keyboard on the songs and shared several scintillating anecdotes of his own. It’s been a wild year for Billie who over the summer released her acclaimed sophomore album “Happier Than Ever” in the fall, starred in a Disney+ documentary, and just this past weekend made her “Saturday Night Live” hosting debut. While the “SNL” appearance seemed by all accounts a smash success, she told Howard the week leading up to the episode was both mentally and physically grueling.
“Preparing for ‘SNL’ was fucking nuts, dude. It was literally alien. I cried every single day of the week. No joke at all,” Eilish revealed, explaining she loves to act but wasn’t comfortable with the idea of doing it in front of millions.
She specifically recalled feeling overwhelmed during the mid-week table week alongside the show’s entire cast of celebrated comedians. “I went to the Green Room, cried, and came back,” she recounted. “I was just scared. It’s like, it’s ‘SNL’ … These amazingly talented actors are surrounding a table where, somehow, I’m the main course.”
Tears, unfortunately, were just one of the bodily fluids Billie shed. “I had a full body reaction,” she said. “I threw up on a plane coming here. I had crazy shits when I got here like you wouldn’t believe … you know, ones where you have to get fully naked on the toilet.”
“I’ve been anxious and nervous … just because it’s not my world and I’m so petrified of people thinking I suck,” Billie continued, explaining her fraught nerves only went away after she stepped out in front of a live audience at the dress rehearsal. “As soon as I saw the crowd and felt their joy, it was like I wasn’t nervous,” she recounted. “It was relieving, somehow … I was like, ‘Oh, this is actually really incredible, and I don’t have to worry. This is just for fun.’”
While talking about recent health issues, Billie also revealed she endured a months-long battle with COVID-19 over the summer.
“Fuck that shit, dude,” Eilish said of the illness. “It was bad. I didn’t die, and I wasn’t going to die, but that does not take away from how miserable it was. I mean, it was terrible. I still have side effects. I was sick for like two months almost.”
Sick though she was, she told Howard she was thankful to have been vaccinated before contracting the deadly virus. “I want it to be clear it is because of the vaccine I’m fine. I think if I weren’t vaccinated, I would have liked died because it was bad. When I say it was bad, I more just mean it felt horrible, but really in the scheme of COVID it wasn’t bad,” she explained, adding, “The vaccine is fucking amazing, it also saved Finneas from getting it, saved my parents from getting it, [and] saved my friends from getting it.”
On Pornography and Dating
In her new single “Male Fantasy,” Billie sings of distracting herself with pornography. In real life, she’s not exactly a fan.
“As a woman, I think porn is a disgrace. I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest. I started watching porn when I was like 11,” she said, telling Howard it helped her feel like “one of the guys.” “I think it really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.”
She frequently watched violent pornography, which she believes contributed to her suffering from sleep paralysis and night terrors. The “abusive” porn also led to problems in the bedroom once she was older and had become sexually active herself. “The first few times I, you know, had sex, I was not saying no to things that were not good. It was because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be attracted to,” Billie said.
“I’m so angry that porn is so loved, and I’m so angry at myself for thinking that it was okay,” she continued. “The way that vaginas look in porn is fucking crazy. No vaginas look like that. Women’s bodies don’t look like that. We don’t come like that.”
Billie later discussed how hard it can be for a celebrity to find romance. “I’m not a serial dater … I don’t go to stuff and flirt with people,” she said, explaining, “It’s really hard to meet people when people are either terrified of you or think that you’re out of their league.”
“Last year, I thought that I’d be single for the rest of my life. I genuinely couldn’t even picture myself in a relationship of any sort,” she confessed. “I got over that pretty fast.”
Billie and the Met
When asked about her attendance at this year’s Met Gala, one of the most exclusive social events in the world, the singer confirmed the experience was surreal. “It’s nuts. It’s famous people famous people-ing,” Billie noted. She made headlines herself with a Marilyn Monroe-meets-Barbie Oscar de la Renta gown, which she was only willing to wear in exchange for the designer’s promise to stop using fur in his fashion. “The main thing that night made me feel was how famous people are just like literally nobodies … and it’s so weird. I was like, ‘Wow, all these people are just somebody that’s in class with you’ … everybody’s embarrassed and insecure about what they’re doing and saying and it’s wild.”
While the experience was strange at first, Billie did eventually warm up and enjoy the evening. “I definitely felt really stupid for the first hour or so because I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” she recalled before discovering many of the other famous guests felt the same. “What’s nice about other people that are in the same kind of world that you’re in is they’re not getting their phone out and shoving it in your face because they don’t want that themselves and that is really relieving.”
Though Billie and Finneas wrote and recorded her debut, “When We Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?” in their family home, the siblings moving out required them to tackle her latest album elsewhere. While Billie might have initially been concerned about recapturing the magic of her first album, it quickly subsided. “I think that maybe I had that worry like when Finneas moved out, but as soon as we started … he built a studio in his basement and so it’s still a home studio,” she explained.
“We made it nice,” Finneas added.
The monster success of Billie’s debut not only allowed the talented siblings to leave the nest, but it also made Finneas a highly sought-after producer. When Howard wondered if Billie ever worried about her sound getting copied, she didn’t appear too concerned. “I also trust him,” she said of her older brother and collaborator. “I feel that I know pretty well that he’s not going to go make my music with other people … because [he’d] better not.”
“I can’t go make her music with other people because she’s her music … If you took out the Billie ingredient, I couldn’t do that,” Finneas noted before maintaining his sister remains his top priority. “Billie’s first always. Like, other people get Billie’s scraps.”
Elton John and the Circle of Advice
One of the benefits of the siblings’ success has been getting to hobnob with other giants in the music industry—including repeat Stern Show guest Elton John. “He’s so sweet and his house is huge and beautiful,” Billie said after revealing she and her brother were invited to the “Rocket Man” singer’s home for dinner.
A highlight for Finneas was witnessing Elton interact with his assistant, Bumble. “Over the course of the evening, he’d be in the middle of telling you a story and he’d say, ‘Sorry, one second—Bumble!’” he recalled, in his best impression of the singer. “And this very sweet man would scurry in … and Elton would go, ‘Can I have a cappuccino please?’ … It was great.”
Finneas went on to praise Elton, who has acted as a mentor to everyone from Brandi Carlile to Ed Sheeran, for doing the same for them. “He’s very smart. He gave really good advice and everything too — he’s cool,” he noted.
Sir Elton is not the first person to offer words of wisdom, as Billie was approached by everyone from Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift when she first broke through. Billie admitted she wasn’t always receptive to taking advice from others—though she did strike up a friendship with Justin’s wife Hailey Bieber—but after several successful years in the industry she’s found herself dishing out advice as well. “It’s important that people say things like that … [it] makes you feel comforted and not alone,” she said before admitting she’s specifically felt protective over people like pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo.
Globe. Golden Globe.
Howard interrupted his interview with Finneas and Billie to inform his guests of some breaking news: the award-winning musicians were now in the running for yet another major award as “No Time to Die,” their theme from the new James Bond movie, had just been nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture.
“No way!” Billie said before high fiving her brother. “That’s so cool!”
“Do you like going to award shows?” co-host Robin Quivers asked.
“I do. I have to admit, it’s fun,” Billie said. “Whether you win or not, it’s fun, it’s scary, it’s intimidating.”
Eilish hoped this season’s award shows could safely be held live and in person as she felt the pre-recorded ones from the early days of the pandemic just weren’t the same. “The 2020 Grammys were the most insane thing in the world, and not just because of the awards I received. The whole night … was just so scary when you performed,” Billie recalled.
“The adrenaline is cool.” Finneas agreed.
For the first performance of the morning from Billie and Finneas the duo kicked things off with “Everybody Dies,” a track about death found on her 16-song album “Happier Than Ever.”
“I’ve always been interested in death,” Eilish said at one point. “My parents used to worry about it because when we would go on a hike or a walk and there was a dead animal, I’d go over to it, and kneel in front of it, and stare at it for 10 minutes.”
“That is a topic that freaks me the fuck out,” Howard admitted.
Finneas played the keyboard on “Everybody Dies” as Billie sang the moving ballad’s morbid lyrics. As the song came to its conclusion, she gave Howard a shout out. “You are not alone. You are not unknown,” she sang. “You’re not unknown, Howard.”
“That was beautiful. I got the chills,” Howard said.
Before wrapping up for the morning, Finneas switched over to the guitar so he and Billie could perform “Your Power,” one of the biggest hits from her new album.
“This song is about a lot of things. It is mainly about statutory rape. I have wanted to write about it for a long time, I think without even really realizing,” Billie told Howard. “I’ve got a lot of stories I won’t tell and a lot of people’s lives I can ruin.”
“I don’t want to give them the attention … There’s a lyric in there: ‘I’d rather you remain unremarkable,’” she continued before performing the commanding and poignant tune.
“The two of you together, it’s dynamic,” Howard said after she and Finneas finished. “That song is beautiful.”