The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #39/250: What Was I Made For? by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to The Barbie Movie

I went with my family to see The Barbie Movie this summer, and I have to say that I came away from the experience pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful and creative it was. Like many who went in that initial wave of attendees, I assumed that we would be watching a light comedy which would, essentially, end up being a children’s movie. Boy was I in for a surprise! What we ended up watching was a poignant treatise on the promise of feminism and the impact of our perceptions of gender on our society. We laughed a lot. We learned a lot. At the end, many people in the theatre cried a lot, too. As we left the theatre and walked back to our cars, we did so with the mindset that we had just seen a movie about a toy that, daresay, might actually warrant being deemed as important.

While this post is meant to act as a music post, it is difficult to discuss the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish without first placing the song in some sort of context. To do so requires a brief account of the film. If you haven’t seen the movie and wish to at a later date then you may wish to stop reading right now because some SPOILER details are soon to come. If you have seen the movie then feel free to enjoy this brief summary, or else skip on ahead to the next paragraph. Here we go.

Growing up, I always took the presence of Barbie dolls for granted. They were just a toy that my sister played with. No different than any other toy that came and went from our home. However, from watching The Barbie Movie I learned that the original Barbie doll was created by a lady named Ruth Handler who worked at Mattel and that the doll was created to act as a feminist alternative to the traditional “baby” dolls that acted as a training tool geared toward motherhood. While there is nothing at all wrong with the idea of motherhood, society at that time (the 1950s) was only just beginning to accept the notion that women could expect to have a future that extended beyond the home. Thus, Barbie dolls were created so that young girls were able to imagine themselves being astronauts, scientists, doctors and even the president of the United States. This is where the movie begins. In Barbieland, all of the various iterations of Barbie over the years live in blissful happiness. Every day is perfect. There is laughter and sunshine all of the time. The Kens exist on the periphery and only play a meaningful role when needed by a Barbie. As the movie opens, Margot Robbie’s character, “Stereotypical Barbie”, dances and hangs out with her other Barbie friends until one day when she gets a weird feeling that manifests itself in thoughts of mortality. She then develops cellulite and flat feet. In a panic she seeks help from “Weird Barbie”, who takes care of all the other Barbie dolls who are misshapen and/or who never fit in. From her, Robbie learns that whoever is playing with her in the “real world” is having issues that need to be addressed. So, Robbie (and Ken…Ryan Gosling…,who hides in her Barbie car) head to the real world to meet this mystery person. Once in the real world, Margot Robbie’s Barbie discovers that the promise of feminism hasn’t quite taken root there. She is ogled and touched without her consent. Meanwhile, Ken is admired for his buff physique and is introduced to a concept known as the Patriarchy. A young teenage girl berates Barbie for having created generations of women who feel badly about their body image because they can’t compete with Barbie’s sexualized figure. Finally, Robbie meets the person who had been playing with her. It was America Ferrera, who plays the mother of the teenage girl who gave Barbie such a scolding. As it turns out, Ferrera’s character had grown tired of trying to find her way in a “man’s world” and had been viewing her daughter’s Barbie doll with a mixture of emotions that were potent enough to have reached Robbie’s Barbie all the way in Barbieland. In the midst of all of this, Mattel executives become aware that Barbie has crossed over into the real world and chase after her so that she can be repackaged and rebranded to their liking. Barbie ends up running for her life through the Mattel headquarters and beyond. In the course of this, she runs into a ghost-like figure played by Rhea Perlman who turns out to be Ruth Handler. As mentioned off of the top, it was a woman named Ruth Handler who created the original Barbie doll. So, when Barbie meets Ruth, it is akin to you or I meeting God. It is at this point that Handler has a motherly talk with a very confused and distraught Barbie. While this talk unfolds, a montage appears on screen of moments between mothers and daughters and between girlfriends and between sisters. Accompanying this ode to Sisterhood and all that is maternal, the song “What Was I Made For?” is played. It is not an exaggeration to say that the sobs emanating from the audience I was a part of were audible and unrestrained. Any critic can say anything they want about The Barbie Movie, but the fact remains that director Greta Gerwig touched the hearts and minds of a great many people with her work on this film.

One of the many things that work well in this movie is the way music is used. The soundtrack to The Barbie Movie is populated with many of today’s hottest stars such as Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and, of course, Billie Eilish. With her brother Finneas, Billie Eilish wrote “What Was I Made For?” after having been given a sneak peek at the movie by Gerwig before it was released. According to Eilish, she was greatly moved by what she saw onscreen and immediately recognized herself in the character played by Robbie. Eilish understood the impact of being a woman and of body image and how all of that takes away from her work as an artist. Eilish has stated many times that it is one of her most fervent wishes that articles about her focus on her lyrics and her music and not on what clothes she is wearing or the colour of her hair. In the movie, her whispery song delivery is perfectly suited for the reflective nature of the grand talk between Barbie and Ruth Handler. This song resonates with so many who feel unfairly burdened and typecast by gender and appearance and societal expectations and traditions. That we live in judgie times is acknowledged and not shied away from in the movie, which to its credit, does not seek tidy solutions to the plotline of this film. The world is a complicated mess and it is, indeed, difficult to know what one’s purpose is at times. You don’t have to be Barbie to understand that.

Here is something that you can take to the bank. If there happens to be an Academy Awards ceremony this coming year (and, with the screenwriters’ strike ongoing as I type this, that is not a given), I boldly predict that “What Was I Made For?” will win for Best Song in a Motion Picture. It was the absolutely perfect vehicle to pair with the onscreen visuals and dialogue. In any artist’s lifetime, if you can ever create work that touches the hearts and minds of those who encounter it, then you have really realized your own purpose. Billie Eilish and Finneas have done that with “What Was I Made For?”, just as Greta Gerwig has done so with The Barbie Movie. This movie was pretty amazing, and I am better for having seen it.

The link to the video for the official movie trailer for The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the lyrics video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the official video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***NOTE: There is no video released from the actual Barbie Movie that pairs this song with the visuals that are shown when Barbie and Ruth Handler have their chat. The video that accompanies this link shows Billie Eilish and is solely featuring her.

Just for fun, the link to a video from The Barbie Movie called “Just Ken” can be found here. This song is sung by Ryan Gosling who, as Ken, chews scenery left and right in a terrific comedic turn that should earn him Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor. In this song, Ken wrestles with his feelings about having no self-identity outside of his association with Barbie. Even though this video comes across as light-hearted, it carries the point that one of the keys to a fulfilling life is being true to yourself, no matter who you are.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40: Artist profile…Billie Eilish

This is what a recorded audio track looks like using Soundcloud. When I recorded my students reading, all of the pauses, tongue clicks, etc. would all be visible. It was a very helpful analytical tool for me in the classroom.

About a decade or so ago when I was still a classroom teacher, I used to record my students reading aloud once a term. Early in my career, I recorded their voices using an old-fashioned tape recorder. Once recorded, I could analyze each child’s reading tendencies in greater detail. I could share these insights with parents and develop strategies for improvement that could be worked on at school and at home. As my career rolled along technology changed. Toward the end of my time in the classroom everything became digitized. To record my students as they read I started using an app called Soundcloud. For my purposes, Soundcloud was a glorified computerized tape recorder. I clicked on the record button, my students read aloud and then I pressed the stop button. I also used Soundcloud to read simple stories online for my students so that they could access them at home or at school, holding the storybook in their own hands and following along to my words as they listened. At the time, I thought I was engaging in some cutting edge technological wizardry. Truth be told, my use of the Soundcloud app was as basic and rudimentary as it comes. Soundcloud was invented to allow anyone who wanted the ability to record sounds to do so and then release them for the world to hear. This meant that poets could share their poems and sound effect artists could record and share those noises for others to hear and/or use. But the biggest market for Soundcloud users turned out to be aspiring singers. Not everyone has access to a full-blown recording studio. But almost anyone can access a computer (desktop, laptop, phone) with a built-in microphone and use soundcloud’s mixing features to record multi-track songs and instrumental music. With the introduction of social media, every regular joe can now share their thoughts, feelings and ideas with the world. We live in an age of empowerment. Our homes manifest themselves into town squares with the power of our devices. Anyone can be a viral social media star these days because of technology. One who has become famous this way is today’s featured guest, Billie Eilish.

Billie Eilish

When Billie Eilish was only eleven years old, she started singing her own songs using the Soundcloud app. At the time, she and her older brother, Finneas, were being homeschooled by their parents who thought that Soundcloud was a useful tool to capture the creative expressions of their children. Finneas had his own band then and had already started creating his own music by the time his little sister Billie showed interest in doing the same. In order to help her out, Finneas began setting aside songs that he felt were better suited for her voice than for his. Consequently, when Billie Eilish was a mere thirteen years old, she released her very first professional song via Soundcloud called “Ocean Eyes”. The song soon became popular on the app and an instant audience for Billie Eilish’s music was created numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Such success caught the eye of Apple Music. Billie Eilish was signed to a development contract. In no time at all, she was the centre of a multi-tiered online marketing campaign. The teenage singer recorded a few other songs with her brother Finneas. One of these new songs was inspired by the literary character Sherlock Holmes and was called “You Should See Me In A Crown”. These songs were then taken by Apple Music and were remixed and re-recorded by other artists from their roster. These remixes were released in a coordinated campaign aimed at creating the sense that her music had gone viral and was being sung everywhere by everyone. In addition to her actual songs, Billie Eilish collaborated with graphic designers and animators to create Animé-style illustrations to accompany her music. So, not only were there multiple mixes of each song, there were multiple music videos online as well. By the time Billie Eilish turned seventeen, she released her first major album called When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? From that album came her first hit single called “Bad Guy”. This song went all the way to on the charts, making her the first singer born in the 2000s to reach the top of the charts. Her album also went to , selling millions of copies in the process. At the Grammy Awards that took place later that year, Billie Eilish won six Grammys, including Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Album of the Year and Record of the Year. As if that much success wasn’t enough, Billie Eilish followed that up by being signed to sing the latest James Bond movie theme song called “No Time To Die”. For that song, she won additional Grammys the following year, as well as the Academy Award for Best Song from a Movie. As she and her brother Finneas sang on that Oscar stage, Billie Eilish had yet to turn twenty.

Seeing as how it has only been the past few years that Billie Eilish has been on the music scene, there is still much that we are all getting to know about her. For starters, her last name is not Eilish. I always thought so. But, in reality, her legal name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. One of the things that first caught the attention of the public (besides her singing skills) was her appearance. Billie Eilish burst onto the scene with multi-coloured hair and bright baggy outfits. Initially, she stated that she wanted people to think she was weird because that made her slightly intimidating and gave her a sense of power in her personal relationships, especially with the media. But, as it turns out, the real reason she wore what she did was because she didn’t want to submit herself to the media scrutiny about her body and her appearance. Far too many young women find themselves packaged in a sexual way before they ever get a chance to be judged on their artistic merit. Once she won her Grammys and her Oscar and was noted for her music first, then she allowed herself to be seen in public in dresses and on red carpets the world over. Billie Eilish has managed that rare feat of seemingly being in control of her public image and has done so at a very young age. Finally, to complement her music and the physical image she presents to the world, Billie Eilish has championed several causes such as climate change, animal welfare and women’s rights. She has started using her public platform in ways that help to shine a light on these issues. This marriage of musical talent with intelligent, worldly thoughts makes Billie Eilish seem like a very well-rounded human being indeed.

Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas with some of the Grammys that adorn the bookshelves of their family home.

As I write these words, Billie Eilish is appearing more often in public as part of a duo with her brother. The pair go by Billie Eilish and Finneas. While Finneas may be her older brother, they are both still only in their early twenties. Both have accomplished much in these young lives of theirs. They appear to have their feet firmly planted on the ground and have so far managed to avoid many of the usual temptations that have tripped up so many other folks for whom fame and fortune arrived too soon. In the links below, I will take you through some of her discography. You can see how she (and Finneas) have evolved over time these past few years. Don’t worry if you are not overly familiar with her name because she is so new on the music scene. But make no mistake, Billie Eilish and Finneas are rapidly rising stars who, hopefully, have many productive and successful years ahead of them yet. Without further delay, here are Billie Eilish and her talented brother, Finneas. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “You Should See Me In A Crown” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***The lyrics version (which is also the anime-style version) can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “No Time To Die” from the James Bond movie of the same name can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for Billie Eilish can be found here.

The link to the official website for Soundcloud can be found here.

***All original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged,copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

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