Billie Eilish addresses sexuality rumors at Variety Hitmakers event: ‘Wasn’t it obvious?’
When Variety’s seventh annual Hitmakers brunch — which recognized the artists, writers, producers, and music executives behind the 25 biggest singles of 2023 — took place Saturday at NYA West in Los Angeles, previous multiple honoree Billie Eilish and her brother/collaborator Finneas accepted the Film Song of the Year Award for their Barbie ballad, “What Was I Made For.” Eilish, who wore a blue satin Dodgers jacket presumably in honor of the category’s presenter, Elton John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, kept her acceptance speech short and sweet. However, on the event’s red carpet she opened up, and confirmed that she did indeed come out in Variety’s recent “Power of Women” issue.
In her November cover story, Eilish had told Variety journalist Katcy Stephan, “I’ve never really felt like I could relate to girls very well. I love them so much. I love them as people. I’m attracted to them as people. I’m attracted to them for real. … I’m physically attracted to them. But I’m also so intimidated by them and their beauty and their presence.”
On the red carpet Saturday, Variety correspondent Tiana DeNicola asked Eilish if she’d intended to come out as queer in the Variety profile, to which the indie-pop star gigglingly answered, “No, I didn’t! But I kind of thought, wasn’t it obvious? I didn’t realize people didn’t know! I just don’t really believe in [coming out]. I’m just like, why can’t we just exist? I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I just didn’t talk about it.”
Eilish was most recently romantically linked to the Neighbourhood’s frontman, Jesse Rutherford, but has hinted about her fluid sexuality in the past — most notably in her slumber party-themed music video for “Lost Cause,” which had some fans accusing her of queerbaiting and others congratulating her for seemingly coming out at that time. Shortly after the premiere of the “Lost Cause” video in June 2021, Eilish posted a behind-the-scenes photo from the shoot with the Instagram caption “i love girls.”
Barbie dominated another memorable segment of Saturday’s Hitmakers ceremony, with surprise presenter Ryan Gosling introducing this year’s Soundtrack Award recipient, super-producer Mark Ronson, by joking that “Kenergy” is just “a word I made up on a press junket, so I didn’t have to answer questions, that’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.” The Barbie actor and “I’m Just Ken” singer then applied the term to Ronson, calling him “a man who has been Kenning with extreme Kenergy since before there was a word for it.”
“It’s a noun, and I’ve come to understand it as the strength and vitality required to sustain a period of Ken,” explained Gosling. “What is ‘Ken,’ you asked? You didn’t ask. Well, it’s a verb. ‘To Ken — to be more than is necessary or required to reflect so that others might shine.’ I don’t know a better way to describe Mark Ronson than that. I can tell you from firsthand experience that up until six months ago, the entire world gave zero f***s about Ken. He was just this 70-year-old, crotchless doll with no house, no car, no job, no voice. And look at him now! He has a Grammy-nominated power ballad and the voice of an angel. And what happened? It’s simple: He met Mark Ronson and his life changed forever.”
Ronson was so flustered by the greatness of Gosling’s speech — and by the presence of legendary singer-songwriter Joan Baez’s greatness in the audience — that he promptly knocked his Hitmakers trophy right off the podium in the middle of his own endearingly awkward speech. (Thankfully, it didn’t break.)
Baez later presented boygenius’s emotionally overwhelmed Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus with the Group of the Year Award, calling them “three women who have personally and musically stolen my heart” and joking that she’d happily join their “throuples therapy” sessions to make it a quad. In another girl-powered moment, Changemaker Award winner Maren Morris addressed her recent decision to “step away” from the increasingly conservative country music community due her political beliefs, explaining that “facets of the system drained me” and she’s “still in the throes of that journey” to “figure out why I love making music again.”
Morris then shouted out Taylor Swift, the Chicks, Sinéad O’Connor, and Billie Holiday, saying, “It was in these moments of backlash I endured that I found solace in the stories of my musical heroines. They were brave. They were oftentimes alone in their fight or lonely in their fight, and to the system, they were massive pains in the a**. … I would never be silly enough to compare myself or my story to these women, but I have found deep inspiration in their courage. … So, thank you to Variety for this honor, and to my fellow honorees to who inspire me to keep going, to keep fighting, and to keep being a pain in the a**.”
Saturday’s Hitmakers event seemed to serve as a preview of sorts for next February’s woman- and Barbie-dominated Grammy Awards. Olivia Rodrigo, who like Eilish and boygenius is nominated in six categories at the upcoming Grrammys, won Hitmakers’ Storyteller of the Year Award, presented by St. Vincent (who described Rodrigo as a “precious baby angel muffin, but if a precious baby angel muffin were also tough as nails and cool as hell”). And the 2024 Grrammys’ top nominee, SZA, won Variety’s biggest honor, Hitmaker of the Year — an award she proudly accepted with her young goddaughter Nova by her side.
“I just think it’s really ironic that I’m considered a ‘hitmaker,’ because punching up for so long, the whole conversation was: I don’t make radio music. I don’t have any radio hits. I don’t have a sound,” SZA remarked during her ceremony-closing speech. “I realized the biggest thank-you is to those who saw me as a hitmaker before that. … Thank you for taking the time to break it down for me and just give me patience and encourage me to believe that, ‘It’s OK. There will be a time for you to do your thing and they’ll play you [on the radio] one day.’ And that day did come. And I’m so grateful.”