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Billie Eilish at the Grammys: the singer’s reaction to her success has underlined a major issue

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Lauren Geall
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Billie Eilish holding her five Grammy awards

Billie Eilish made history last night with her five Grammy award wins – but why did she feel the need to apologise for her success?

Last night, Billie Eilish made history. Twice.

Alongside claiming the award for album of the year for her debut, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (an achievement which sees her replace Taylor Swift as the youngest person ever to win the award), she triumphed in all of the Grammys “big four” marquee categories: song of the year, record of the year, album of the year and best new artist. She is the first person to achieve this feat since Christopher Cross in 1981.

As is only to be expected when you win five awards at your first Grammys, Eilish was visibly overwhelmed as she made her way up to the stage to accept her growing number of awards. But what you might not expect was her apology – for winning.

“So many other songs deserve this, I’m sorry,” Eilish said during her acceptance speech for Song of the Year. “This is my first Grammys. I never ever thought this would happen in my whole life.”

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And this wasn’t the only time Eilish was seen apologising for or playing down her incredible success – as the prestigious Album of the Year award was announced, the singer was seen begging under her breath not to win, mouthing “please don’t be me, please.”

Taking to the stage to accept the award, she also took the time to acknowledge fellow nominee Ariana Grande, saying she felt that Grande’s album Thank U, Next deserves the award “more than anything in the world”.  

While many have argued that this behaviour is indicative of Eilish’s humble nature – and probably came as a result of her embarrassment at having won so much – there’s something else to be said about her inability to accept her incredible success. Because Eilish’s reaction isn’t unique to her – in fact, it’s a feeling many women can relate to: imposter syndrome.

70% of women will deal with imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. The condition, which tends to make us feel like we don’t belong, that we’re not good enough or that we’re a fraud, is surprisingly common, and men are 18% less likely to experience this form of self-doubt that then their female counterparts.

Why? Traditionally, women have been taught not to shout about their achievements. While confidence in a man is often interpreted as strong, attractive and admirable, in women, it’s often described as a sign of bossiness, vanity and arrogance. 

So seeing Eilish embarrassed by her achievements – or going to extreme lengths to be humble – isn’t an encouraging thing. As an incredible female artist making history at the age of 18, the Bad Guy singer should feel free to shout about her achievements – or at the very least, not feel the need to apologise for them.

Then again, historically, when a female artist has embraced their achievements – and performed with confidence – they’ve been criticised for doing so. This was the case with former X-Factor contestant Grace Davies, who was described as “smug” and “cocky” for her unwavering confidence, while her fellow contestants Rak-Su were praised for the same qualities.

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It’s a worrying sign of how women are still being taught to – or shamed into – downplay our achievements. To be ashamed of success. To feel uncomfortable about blowing our own trumpets. And if Billie Eilish, who just made history at her first ever Grammys ceremony, has been left feeling guilty about her own brilliance, it is indicative of a much bigger problem in our society.

Going forward, let’s make a concerted effort not to downplay our achievements. Because hopefully, in doing so, we will change this toxic narrative – this narrative which teaches us that women must always be modest, and humble, and never ‘smug – because it forces women like Eilish to make themselves smaller than they are.

As Stephanie Yeboah once told Stylist: “Don’t minimise or dismiss compliments by attributing your successes to outside factors or people. If somebody gives you a compliment just say ‘cheers fam!’ and keep it moving.”

You can learn more about imposter syndrome, and how to combat it, here.

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