Billie Eilish went through a minor but impressive pop-culture rite of passage this weekend on Saturday Night Live: After appearing as musical guest in September 2019, she returned to the show for double duty, hosting and serving as musical guest. This isn’t exclusively the specialty of young, female pop stars—Justin Timberlake has famously done it, as have Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and a bunch of others—but it does feel like a particular proving ground for that demo, especially in the past decade-plus. Double-duty gals have included Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Miley Cyrus, who (like Britney) has done a double-double, with two separate host/guest stints. (Cyrus must have been on hand to advise Eilish; she actually appeared in a sketch before Eilish herself did.)
Though Eilish is undeniably popular, she approached the SNL gig from a somewhat different vantage than Cyrus or Grande or Swift, whose images very much project a desire for J.Lo-style multihyphenation. Eilish, by contrast, jokingly noted in her monologue that she was not encouraged to act, despite her family’s interest in it. So how did this rawer, more confessional movie star fare in her sketch-comedy debut? Here are some of her best performances from this week’s episode—musical and otherwise.
This season, SNL has quietly been working with its hosts to craft more personal and less gimmicky monologues, where the non-comedian hosts (which is to say, the majority of them) can crack a few Friar’s Club Roast Lite jokes amidst a quick look at who they actually are as people—something a little more polished than a chat-show anecdote but a little looser and funnier than other press ops, without the pressure of asking them to sing, or field questions from the audience. Eilish was a good fit for that format, coming out an a dress that she likened to “Mrs. Claus going to the club” or someone “getting married in an anime,” and explaining that her trademark baggy outfits were the result of her being “two kids stacked on top of each other trying to sneak into an R-rated movie.” She mixed in some Fun Facts (her birthday is in a week! Other members of her family enjoy acting!) and pivoted into an earnest speech about self-acceptance.
Many of this season’s more memorable SNL sketches have emphasized relatability (think of that tour-de-force about the pain of canceling cable)—sometimes in an elbow-in-the-ribs sort of way. This anthology of quick-hit characters populating a couple’s fridge full of holiday cards leaned a little too heavily on that quasi-familiarity, but it was a chance for a bunch of the cast to do zippy commentaries on certain personality types. This was also where Miley Cyrus appeared before Eilish, who was a little halting as a former high school mean girl who… actually pretty much is still a high school mean girl. Not a particularly auspicious performance, but a spirited one.
Following the similarly quick-hit Christmas cards bit, this rapid-fire scroll through a bunch of TikTok parodies felt like something out of the at-home episodes from Spring 2020—in a good way. Eilish was again eased into the show, appearing a few seconds at a time in a running gag as a nurse doing coordinated dances and possibly neglecting her patients. Of the evening’s two sketches that assigned Eilish primarily to gyrate, this was funnier than the Hip-Hop Nativity bit.
Lonely Christmas ad
Probably Eilish’s best performance of the night, this filmed piece took the tone of a holiday-themed ad, with Eilish as a young woman communicating via written messages with her across-the-way neighbor (Kate McKinnon, who made her belated Season 47 return in this episode). The format of this sketch put a lot on Eilish’s face—there were “lines” written on paper, but she had to do a lot of reaction work here as her neighbor reveals increasingly disturbing details about herself. Eilish understood the assignment, as the kids say.
“Happier Than Ever”
Some performers don’t necessarily gain much from SNL’s increased range of sets and staging for the musical performances. (I’m old enough to remember when no one was allowed to bring props or set dressing. You know who’s probably not old enough to remember that? Billie Eilish, because she’s apparently the first person born after the year 2000 to host the show!) Eilish, though, was ideally suited to this freedom. Her performance of “Happier Than Ever” started with an unusual reverse shot, with Eilish gently crooning “Happier Than Ever” (which almost felt like a lonely Christmas ballad in this context), slowly revealing that she opened the song on a set that was closed off from the live audience. The household surroundings fell away in time for the song’s rocking second half—and the crowd was audibly pumped at this development. The sound system at SNL is not always friendly to quiet-loud dynamics, but this performance pulled it off.
“The Night I Met Santa”
In between the two official Eilish musical performances, she stepped in for a song-sketch that felt like an obvious bid to be included on future compilations. As far as “making it weird” with Santa goes, the classic “Santa’s My Boyfriend” opener was the standard-bearer; it wasn’t quite at that top tier (isn’t “making it weird” kind of a hack phrase by this point?), and Eilish couldn’t help but near-break, which didn’t exactly aid the verisimilitude of this old-timey-style carol. But her amusement was infectious, and she received great backup from McKinnon and Ego Nwodim.
This performance literalized the bedroom-pop side of Eilish’s work; she performed cross-legged on a patch of carpet in front of drawn shades. It was another great use of a set change, and a lovely complement to the fiercer “Happier Than Ever.”
Business Garden Inn & Suites & Hotel Room Inn
For a classic ten-to-one bit, Eilish served as co-pitchwoman for a perfectly undistinguished hotel chain, alongside Kate McKinnon, with an assist from Aidy Bryant, recommending a daytrip to “the cave.” Late-period McKinnon can be a little trying—it’s hard when a performer knows they can get big laughs more or less just for showing up—but it was fun to see the super-polished pro alongside a sketch-comedy newbie, especially when Eilish started to break again, and McKinnon literally prodded her to keep going (or possibly to actually crack up). This episode started out feeling like her participation was more incidental than a true showcase, but by the end, Eilish owned this difficult gig.