Billie Eilish’s Apology for Mouthing a Racist Slur Is a Reminder of How Different Things Were Not Long Ago

The singer was "13 or 14" when a video of her mouthing an anti-Asian slur was filmed

Billie Eilish attends the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards at Los Angeles Convention Center on March 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Billie Eilish at the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2021
Getty Images for The Recording A

Billie Eilish has issued an apology after an old video in which she talks in what she describes as a “silly gibberish made-up voice” and mouths along to an anti-Asian slur from Tyler the Creator’s 2011 song “Fish” surfaced online. The clip, which made the rounds on TikTok, was reportedly filmed when Eilish was 13 or 14 years old.

Still, the fact that she was just a kid at the time doesn’t totally excuse her behavior, but it does add some context. Eilish issued an apology on her Instagram Stories on Monday night, noting that she was unaware at the time what the word she was mouthing meant.

“I love you guys, and many of you have been asking me to address this. And this is something that I WANT to address because I’m being labeled something that I am not,” she wrote. “There’s a video edit going around of me when I was 13 or 14 where I mouthed a word from a song that at the time I didn’t know was a derogatory term and used against members of the Asian community. I am appalled and embarrassed and want to barf that I ever mouthed along to that word. This song was the only time I’d ever heard that word as it was never used around me by anyone in my family. Regardless of my ignorance and age at the time, nothing excuses the fact is that it was hurtful. And for that I am sorry.”

“The other video in that edited clip is me speaking in a silly gibberish made up voice… something I started doing as a kid and have done my whole life when talking to my pets, friends, and family,” she continued. “It is absolute gibberish and just me goofing around, and is in NO way an imitation of anyone or any language, accent or culture in the SLIGHTEST. Anyone who knows me has seen me goofing around with voices my whole life. Regardless of how it was interpreted I did not mean for any of my actions to have caused hurt to others and it absolutely breaks my heart that it is being labeled now in a way that might cause pain to people hearing it. I not only believe in, but have always worked hard to use my platform to fight for inclusion, kindness, tolerance, equity and equality. We all need to continue having conversations, listening and learning. I hear you and I love you. Thank you for taking the time to read this.”

All in all, it’s a pretty decent apology for what was undoubtedly a dumb move, and the fact that she felt compelled to apologize in the first place is arguably a sign of how far we’ve come in just a matter of years. White people — young white men, especially — have historically hidden behind the “I was just quoting song lyrics!” defense after being called out for repeating racial slurs. Eilish is claiming ignorance here (which seems somewhat plausible, given that she was homeschooled and only 13), but she also is careful to emphasize that “nothing excuses the fact that this was hurtful” and take accountability without any defensiveness or fear of getting “canceled.”

Of course, this particular scenario is more complicated than the age-old “no, white people, you can’t say the n-word even if you’re quoting song lyrics” issue due to the fact that the racial slur in question is an anti-Asian one, meaning Tyler the Creator shouldn’t have said it in the first place either. (And we don’t have the time or space here to delve into the track’s misogyny; the line young Billie Eilish was mouthing along to, “Slip it in her drink and in the blink of an eye, I can make a white girl look ch–k,” refers to putting roofies in women’s drinks to presumably sexually assault them.) So yes, it’s great that society has evolved to a point where the majority of people now recognize that it’s disrespectful and wildly inappropriate for a white person (or any non-Asian person, for that matter) to repeat those words, but perhaps it’s time Tyler the Creator has to answer for them as well?

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.