The Meaning Behind Billie Eilish’s Subconscious “What Was I Made For?”

Billie Eilish unintentionally wrote about her life in “What Was I Made For?” The piano-driven ballad is featured on the soundtrack for the 2023 blockbuster film, Barbie, and plays during a pivotal scene between Margot Robbie’s Barbie and the creator of Barbie, Ruth Handler, portrayed by Rhea Pearlman.

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Eilish and her brother and frequent songwriting collaborator Finneas O’Connell were tasked to write a song for the film by director and script co-writer Greta Gerwig and Mark Ronson, the latter of whom scored the film and orchestrated the soundtrack. Eilish recalls how she and her brother—the Grammy decorated duo behind Eilish’s groundbreaking albums When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? and Happier Than Ever—were in a creative rut when Gerwig and Ronson approached them about writing a song for the film.

“It was as if this song was a tiny creature inside of me for years, scratching the inside of me. As soon as we got that prompt, the creature was like, ‘Okay, I’m out,'” Eilish explains to Allure. “We wrote it in a period of time where we couldn’t have been less inspired and less creative. That day we were making stuff, and were like, ‘We’ve lost it. Why are we even doing this?’ And then those first chords happened and I used to float / now I just fall down came out and the song wrote itself.”

[RELATED: Watch: Billie Eilish Debuts “What Was I Made For?” Live at Lollapalooza]

The superstar says that the song fell out over the course of two hours and managed to get them out of the serious case of writer’s block they were experiencing. At first, the writers were thinking solely of the character of Barbie and the singer was, “Purely inspired by this movie and this character and the way I thought she would feel and wrote about that,” she shared with Zane Lowe of Apple Music. She says she didn’t think about herself at all while writing. But when she listened back to the song days later, she realized that she had subconsciously put her own story to music.

Takin’ a drive, I was an ideal / Looked so alive, turns out I’m not real / Just something you paid for / What was I made for? she sings with breathtaking vocals over soft orchestration. “I’m writing for myself and I don’t even know it,” Eilish observes to Lowe, calling it the “trippiest” experience. “This is exactly how I feel and I didn’t even mean to be saying it. I absolutely was writing about myself and I was thinking about myself from a third person and I was thinking about myself objectively, which also made me feel really connected to her [and] me…Every single lyric is exactly how I feel. It’s about my life.”

“What Was I Made For?” charted around the world, topping the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart and peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song earned five nominations at the 2024 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Song Written for Visual Media, and Best Music Video.

The video, directed by Eilish, casts her as a Barbie look-alike, complete with a yellow dress and high blonde ponytail. Throughout the video, the singer organizes doll-size clothing replicating outfits she’s previously worn on a tiny rack when out of nowhere, a rain and wind storm tears through, destroying all her efforts. “I wanted the world to change and things to change around me,” Eilish describes of the concept. “The world is falling apart as I’m trying to keep these old versions of myself safe.”

The Grammy Awards air live from Los Angeles on February 4 on CBS.

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

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