With a triumphant Saturday Night Live appearance, Billie Eilish sends a message that misery isn't ever-lasting

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      With nothing to prove to anyone, Billie Eilish stepped well outside her comfort zone this weekend to show she’s exactly the pop star the world needs right now.

      The 19-year-old made her second appearance on Saturday Night Live, this time not only as the musical guest but as the host. As she noted in her opening monologue, acting isn’t exactly her thing. That was made clear to Eilish in 2013, when her actress/screenwriter mother Maggie Baird wrote a semi-autobiographical film called Life Inside Out. Playing the role of Baird’s child was her real-life son Finneas O’Connell, who, of course, happens to be Eilish’s brother and main musical collaborator.

      For whatever reason, Baird saw no need to let the world know she had a daughter. Based on what we saw on SNL, she should have.

      A decade from now—which is to say about the equivalent of about 10 days in Internet-time—Eilish’s hosting gig will be remembered as a triumphant reinvention.
      That she was flat-out great from the moment she walked out on stage for her opening monologue was, no matter how big one’s fandom, something of a surprise. Hitting one’s lines isn’t always easy when you’re live on national television, as past hosts like Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber have shown in the most painfully uncomfortable of ways.

      Being funny is even harder when your day job doesn’t consist of making folks laugh.

      And God knows that Eilish’s public persona hasn’t exactly been built around endless mirth, merriment, and a sincere belief that it’s good to be alive. Do a Google image search and you’ll get endless shots that suggest funerals, rainy days, existential angst, and soul-sucking depression are just a few of the singer’s favourite things. Eilish doesn’t just look like someone ran over her dog, she looks like someone ran over her dog, threw the Hummer in reverse, and then ran over it again just to be sure.

      But that public image has been a welcome departure from the way that pop stars—from Britney Spears to Katy Perry to Ariana Grande—have traditionally been packaged. Assuming you’re not the prom queen or captain of the football team, being a teenager isn’t easy. The genius of Eilish is that she looks like a freaks-and-geeks lunch-table lifer—someone born with black nail polish, a Nine Inch Nails hoodie, and an expression that says everything isn’t, in fact, going to be okay.

      As she’s said at various times in interviews, she’s a hard-core believer that shit’s messed up (Rolling Stone), being hurt and scared is okay (Billboard), and depression is sometimes a way of life (Vogue). This has, of course, all manifested itself in the anti-pop darkwave songs she writes with Finneas—hits which have taken home a boatload of Grammys, shipped multi-platinum, and made her a post-Prozac Nation icon.

      The great thing about SNL then? That would be Eilish making it clear that she’s got more to offer than 13 flavours of doom. Much, much more.

      Her opening monologue made an against-type statement that sometimes it’s okay to be happy. Eilish strode out in a ruffled white dress that was Harajuku anime meets Mrs. Claus on New Year’s Eve, and then proceeded to happily riff on everything from her penchant for baggy clothes to the pressures of teen stardom.

      If you were paying attention, keeping a straight face wasn’t always easy for her, the singer occasionally cracking herself up—even when recounting how her mom never saw fit to include her in Life Inside Out. Shining through it all—especially when her mother joined her onstage wearing a Finneas T-shirt—was love, gratitude, and genuine happiness.

      A wise career move? Not exactly. But at this point in the never-ending fucking pandemic that messed with us all, world-beating positivity is a little more welcome than wallowing in one’s own misery.

      From there, Eilish gave every indication that, if the whole music thing doesn’t really work out, she might have a future on stage or in the movies. You know how SNL has often given outside-the-box hosts like Bieber, Hilton, Lance Armstrong, and, ug, Donald Trump, little more to do than stand around and grin while chipping in a line or two? That wasn’t the case Saturday, where she was mostly front-and-centre—playing a middle-aged white woman giving Chris Redd booty-shaking hip-hop lessons for a holiday pageant, and unleashing her inner high-school psychopath in a Christmas-card segment.

      If one of the marks of a great actor is doing a lot without a lot of dialogue, Eilish passed that test swimmingly in a digital short where a kind-hearted teen reaches out to an elderly—and batshit crazy—neighbour one building away. 

      On the music side of things, Eilish—accompanied by Finneas on guitar—started out quiet and introspective on “Happier Than Ever” and then shifted into full-blown catharsis. “Male Fantasy” then made a good case that there’s power in subtlety.

      The greatest moment in the show came late, with Eilish and Kate McKinnon touting the endless pleasures of the fantastically depressing “Business Garden Hotel & Suites & Hotel Room Inn”. As they rattled off the perks of a place where “rooms provide every comfort required by law” (including tiny soap in plastic, band-aid coloured blankets, and a “short glass wearing a hat”) we got true, unscripted comedy gold.

      Some of the greatest-ever Saturday Night Live bits have been ones where those on stage end up breaking character because they can’t stop laughing. Hello, David Spade and Christina Applegate losing it to Chris Farley’s triple-caffeinated motivational speaker Matt Foley in “Van Down by the River”.

      Billie Eilish still does hopelessly sad better than anyone else filling stadiums and topping the charts. But SNL showed she’s more than capable of looking into the light.

      Halfway through “Business Garden Hotel & Suites & Hotel Room Inn” McKinnon had Eilish laughing to the point where delivering her lines took a Herculean effort. And it was amazing. Over the course of five minutes, the post-millennial pop Princess of Darkness was having so much fun on Saturday Night Live that it sent a message: no matter how bleak things get, there’s hope for us all. Right now, the world couldn’t need that more.