Billie Eilish and her brother and collaborator Finneas O’Connell have received Grammys, an Oscar and just about every award and honor and tribute and kudo young recording artists can imagine in the six years since her debut EP in 2017, but even they can still be awed by a tribute from a respected influence. That happened at Variety’s Hitmakers celebration in Los Angeles on Saturday, when Elton John’s lyricist of 56 years, Bernie Taupin — who has written the lyrics for everything from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” to “Bennie and the Jets” and “Candle in the Wind” — paid tribute to their songwriting partnership when rewarding them with the Film Song of the Year honor for “What Was I Made For?,” their song from the summer blockbuster film “Barbie.”
Before an audience that included Boygenius, Joan Baez, Olivia Rodrigo, Victoria Monet and many others (SZA hadn’t arrived yet), the following exchange took place: Taupin’s tribute and Eilish’s response (Finneas just said “Thanks guys!”) follows in full.
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A lot of great people can write a lot of great songs with a lot of outside help. But not many find their one true songwriting partner that can cut through the noise and drive straight to the heart with a simple idea of melody and lyrics that can lift the world and touch us or in a way only a really great song and songwriter can. Much like I’ve been blessed with my songwriting partner of the last 56 years, and others that come to mind:
Everyone from George and Ira Gershwin to [Burt] Bacharach and [Hal] David to [Motown legends] Holland-Dozier-Holland and [Gerry] Goffin and [Carole] King.
These two, Billie and Finneas, have each other and have that gift of songwriting,
though songwriting teams are a dying breed. And these two thankfully have resurrected that. There’s no outside tinkering from a single soul besides them, what they have done equipped with an idea, a pen and paper, and a piano. What they’ve managed to achieve already in their young lives is nothing short of astounding.
And I’m really, really delighted that you’re awarding them best song for a film today.
“What Was I Made For” has been described by [filmmaker] Greta Gerwig as “Barbie’s heart,” when Margot Robbie’s brilliant portrayal of Barbie is confronted with her own existential crisis. The overwhelming empathy that is evoked from the viewer is undeniable. Her pain is felt in an extraordinary way, thanks to this delicate, heartfelt and understated song. And I might add that understated is a key word for songwriters.
Like all great songwriters, they have tapped right into the psyche, into the heart, and made us feel something and understand things about ourselves and others that we might not have had before. A brilliant song and songwriter will do that. They can unpack a bag of complicated emotions and make them easier for us to process and understand. And that is why they are unique, and why this song and their catalogue will last for generations. So on behalf of Elton and myself, Billie, Finneas, it is a great pleasure to be awarding you with this hitmaker award today please come and accept it.
[They come to the stage and accept the award]
EILISH: Hi guys! Bernie, man, that’s too much to say, thank you so much. You know, this is a hitmakers event, or whatever that means. And I feel like you are the fucking hitmaker, dawg! You’re the guy, you’re the fucking guy.
This is so cool. You know, I walked in here today, and I just saw all your faces and so many people that I’m such a fan of, and have been since I was a little kid. And it’s so cool to be in a room with all of you. And I think no matter how many events I go to where you’re all here, I always very feel very lucky and feel very grateful to see everybody. So I wanted to give you a little round of applause because you guys rock. [Applause]
This is Finneas, my brother [laughter]. I want to thank Greta Gerwig for being such a fucking pro and being the most talented bitch in the world. And I just feel very lucky that we were even thought of to make this song, and I thank God that it happened at all, because I feel like it really saved us from like a creative meltdown. I think that when we were asked to make this song, it was like just what we needed in our writer’s block or whatever.
I wanna thank Greta, [coproducer] Noah Baumbach, [music producers] Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, my team, my label Darkroom, Mattel, Warner Bros., Margot Robbie for being such a star, Ryan Gosling for being also such a star… and, I don’t know, I didn’t write any [remarks], really, there’s some words here [in front of her], but I just feel very fucking lucky. I feel really lucky and you guys are cool. This is really cool. So… [to Finneas] do you wanna talk?
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