In a surprise appearance at the ASCAP Awards in Beverly Hills Thursday night, Julia Roberts introduced Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, the 17- and 21-year-old brother and sister team who were being honored with the performing rights organization’s Vanguard Award.
“When I started this shit, I did not think anyone would give a f—, so thank you for giving a f—,” said Eilish, who expressed gratitude for “being appreciated for not just being a brand or being just a name and a face, but appreciated for actually creating something and writing it, especially when we wrote it for nobody except us. Especially by Julia Roberts? Geesh! The baddest bitch around.”
In her introductory speech, Roberts pointed out that Eilish and O’Connell “have written and created most of their collaborations in a small bedroom in Highland Park. Well, to be a fly on the wall where Finneas and Billie compose indelible words, again and again. It is thrilling to be here tonight to help celebrate these two people who are so uniquely gifted, such inventive wordsmiths, such wondrous musicians. And that they are in fact brother and sister is pretty darned special. Together they have built universes of chaos, heartbreak and humor that we never realized we longed for and now we will never leave. They’re like dancers, really, weaving their verses and music around each other and us, knowing just when to turn this way and that and to move away and move closer and closer still. … I personally am completely taken with both of them. They’ve shown themselves to me to be down to earth and humble in their talents.”
Roberts further remarked that “they have been given a sense of family from their parents that serves them infinitely.”
Said O’Connell, “I want to thank our touring family for leaving their real families at home and traveling the world with us and spending a lot of time microwaving Rosarita Beans for Billie at our shows. And our real family — I love you mom, I love you dad, I love you, Claudia. When I was 16, for Christmas my mom gave me a ticket for the ASCAP Expo and it changed my life. So it’s unbelievable to be here right now and to be in a room with so many people who’ve written all my favorite songs.”
“Let’s have them play for us now,” said Roberts, introducing a three-song set which began with a solo O’Connell playing his new single, “I Lost a Friend,” on piano. This was followed by Eilish joining him for “I Love You,” perhaps the tenderest and most vulnerable song they co-wrote for her recent smash debut album, as the boisterous crowd became pin-drop silent. Their mini-set ended with a song O’Connell wrote for Eilish’s album that also follows in the balladic singer/songwriter tradition, but a more wounded one, “When the Party’s Over.”
“Old souls, Billie and Finneas, they have old souls,” said ASCAP president and chairman Paul Williams after their performance. “Mesmerizing. I thought I would (try to) say something other than ‘mesmerizing,’ but it’s absolutely mesmerizing. God, I love good music.”
Also receiving special honors in the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom ceremony were Jeff Lynne of ELO and Blondie. The performing rights organization named “The Middle” as the most-played song of the year.