The last “Saturday Night Live” of the year is always a special occasion, and 2023 was no exception: Billie Eilish performed the television debut of “What Was I Made For?,” written and recorded for Greta Gerwig’s summer blockbuster “Barbie,” as well as a torchy interpretation of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She also appeared in a long sketch with host Kate McKinnon that closed out the show.
The musical performances showed off Eilish’s rapidly growing range as a singer: she brought a deep yearning in the first song and a sultry jazz flavor to the second, with a depth and nuance only hinted at earlier in her career.
“What Was I Made For?” was introduced by Gerwig who appeared on stage alongside host (and “Barbie” costar) McKinnon in a joyful embrace. Eilish appeared in a simple pink polo shirt, jeans and silver-lame hightop sneakers. Her performance was accompanied by a backdrop paying homage to the film’s powerful montage scene, but with childhood home-movie clips and personal photos from Eilish, plus past and present “Saturday Night Live” cast-members Chloe Fineman, Heidi Gardner, Punkie Johnson, Molly Kearney, Ego Nwodim, Kate McKinnon, Maya Rudolph, Sarah Sherman, Chloe Troast and Kristen Wiig.
For her second song, Eilish chose the holiday chestnut “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” popularized by Judy Garland in the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis.” In closing, faux snow fell on the stage around Eilish and her accompanists, brother/collaborator Finneas and jazz bassist Christian McBride, as well as a six-piece string ensemble.
“What Was I Made For?” is up for five Grammy Awards (including song of the year and record of the year) as well as a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award; an Oscar nomination seems likely as well. Eilish, Finneas and the song were also honored at Variety’s 2023 Hitmakers ceremony earlier this month, receiving the film song of the year award for “What Was I Made For?” They were introduced with a moving speech by Elton John’s longtime songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin.
Watch Finneas describe the song’s creation on Variety‘s video series, “Behind the Song,” here.