During Billie Eilish’s headlining performance at Coachella, the Gen Z pop star paused her parade of hits to invite a special guest to join her on stage. It was none other than Damon Albarn.
“This man changed my life in a lot of ways and changed my complete view of what music could be, and what art could be, and what creation could be,” she gushed when Damon Albarn sauntered out to perform the 2005 single “Feel Good Inc.” “This man is literally a genius.”
It should have been a triumphant victory lap for the songwriter behind Gorillaz and Blur — clear evidence of how his three-decades-long career has inspired the generations that have followed.
However, speaking with Exclaim! about it during a Zoom call from his Studio 13 in London, UK, he remembers the night a little differently:
“I completely cocked up a tune,” he says, cutting me off before I even finish my question. “That was because I’m not used to [in-ear monitors]. Everyone in this generation uses in-ears, and it was really tricky. In fact, both weekends — because I played with Flume the next weekend — I had the same problem, even though I had tried to make sure. And I did get my lyrics mixed up. Anyway, there you go. That was that.”
It has been noted that Eilish didn’t hold any of Albarn’s perceived flubs against him:
“She’s fantastic, so she embraced it with a sense of humour, which is appreciated,” he adds humbly.
Eilish’s admiration for Gorillaz is just the latest example of the band’s enduring popularity among listeners of all ages and Albarn’s concerns about the quality of the performance reveal just how devoted he remains to his craft.
More than two decades have passed since their 2001 self-titled debut and the virtual band founded by Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett have resisted becoming a legacy act: they’ve continued to release well-received new material, and their streams far surpass those of Albarn’s other projects — including his solo albums, as well as his explorations of dub in the Good, the Bad & the Queen and funky Afrobeat in Rocket Juice & the Moon. Even his zeitgeist-defining ’90s band Blur (who are set to reunite this year) struggle to match the continuing crossover appeal of Gorillaz.