On Monday, Grammy-winner Billie Eilish made her US Vogue debut, earning the coveted honour of being the magazine’s cover star for its upcoming March edition. In the accompanying story, Eilish opened up about her unique path to stardom and her struggle with mental health, but her off-the-cuff comments about the state of rap music has the internet in a rage.
In conversation with Vogue writer Rob Haskell, Eilish discussed the authenticity of her music. Though the subject matter of her work is fictional, Eilish maintains that there’s a difference between storytelling and straight up lying. Songs like “Bury a Friend” and “Bellyache” — which feature ”characters” that she and older brother/collaborator Finneas dreamt up in the studio — are tales that aren't comparable to much rap music today, which the singer says are “lying.”
“There are tons of songs where people are just lying,” Eilish told Vogue. “There’s a lot of that in rap right now, from people that I know who rap.”
“It’s like, ‘I got my AK-47, and I’m fuckin’ ...’ and I’m like, what? You don’t have a gun. ‘And all my bitches...’ I’m like, which bitches? That’s posturing, and that’s not what I’m doing.”
Upon reading the snippet, many fans of rap and hip hop were put off by Eilish’s broad generalisation, venting their frustrations on Twitter:
Worst part about popstars like Billie Eilish talking about rap is that they always act like it's a monolith. Like there's not more to it than what they describe.— Doomsday Hausen (@JoeyDoomsday) February 4, 2020
Criticism of the singer’s comments about rap game are, in this circumstance, warranted. Hip hop has existed for decades, born from the creativity of black people in the Bronx in the 1970s. Over the years, the genre has evolved and grown to include a wide array of sub-genres (like trap, go-go, and chopped and screwed rap), and each sub-genre comes with its own set of unique and culture-specific nuances.
As an artist, Eilish clearly understands the necessity of following her own creative process. So why does she feel comfortable dictating the rules to artists in a different genre? Trying to police rap music from the outside of its very wide, very loose parameters is not only impossible — it’s also problematic.
Eilish’s sweeping statements about the genre are, as many Twitter users were quick to point out, reminiscent of the problematic comments that Miley Cyrus notoriously made in 2017. While talking to Billboard about her sixth studio album Younger Now, Cyrus made an effort to distance herself from rap music.
"I can’t listen to that anymore," she told Billboard. "It was too much 'Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ — I am so not that."
Ironically enough, Cyrus had in fact been that. Described by the Tennessee singer as “dirty south hip-hop,” her fourth album Bangerz relied heavily on elements of rap and hip hop. It was produced by legendary trap DJ and producer Mike Will Made It, and featured a number of rappers known for being especially raunchy like Big Sean, French Montana, and Future. Stage performances of Bangerz were equally lascivious, so NSFW that audiences had a difficult time adjusting to Cyrus’ toned-down, zen Cali-girl vibe for Younger Now.
The negative feedback to Cyrus’ Billboard statements was swift, with fans calling out the clear hypocrisy of her words, and the singer issued a heartfelt apology: "I own the fact that saying ... 'this pushed me out of the hip hop scene a little' was insensitive as it is a privilege to have the ability to dip in and out of 'the scene.'"
Like Cyrus, Eilish is commenting on something that isn't exactly her place to speak on. Eilish may have borrowed some of her aesthetic from hip hop culture — where do you think she got her obsession with streetwear and audacious Cardi B-esque nails from? — but that doesn't mean that she has the range to speak on rap music. Perhaps she should take a page out out Cyrus' book and sit this one out.