Billie Eilish’s new album has told us that she’s got a lot to say. Every track on her sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, introduces new emotional layers, because, obviously, she’s growing up. And in that process, she takes us on a journey through her traumas, fears, and revelations, and by the end, there is no telling which way is up (in a good way).
The title of the first song is a fitting introduction into the collection. “Getting Older” is about how much it sucks to realize you aren’t a kid anymore (currently going through it myself...it’s jarring). Yeah, being a celebrity seems great and all, but what needs to be sacrificed? In “Getting Older” she says the “things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now.” And although she expresses gratitude for the opportunities she has received, she notes how “it’s different when a stranger’s always waiting at your door.” This theme is echoed in her song “NDA”, which was released a few weeks ago. Transparency runs this album, and part of that transparency as a 19-year-old in the industry includes the lack of freedom. Like many others, it seems like she’s been able to reclaim the power of celebrity by using her platform to vent through music. When you look at it one way, it might seem dark and twisted, but after looking at how Billie was able to tap into a new side of herself that includes being open as a celebrity, emotions, and growing up, I can only see this as a liberating experience that we get the privilege to watch unfold.
“Oxytocin” goes for it. It’s sexy, mysterious, and surprising. Twitter went crazy for this track’s daring lyrics, breathy adlibs, and impressive musical production, as did I. The only other song I can think of comparing this one to is “Bad Guy”, but even that is just a testament to how much she’s matured. “Lost Cause” also has that sexy vibe to it, and since that one came with a music video earlier this summer, we got to see Billie embrace herself like she said in her feature for Vogue. She’s learning to love the skin she’s in without caring about what the hell anyone else thinks. In “Oxytocin”, she’s the Oxytocin. In “Lost Cause”, the dude is the lost cause because they’re missing out on being with her. Notice a theme? She’s done putting the blame on herself, and is growing into the confidence she has found in herself.
“Not My Responsibility” is a spoken piece she used as part of her concerts. Unfortunately, only a few live audiences were able to see the concert video before the tour was cancelled because of the pandemic, so putting this in the album was a good call. Overlaid with swelling musical notes and a single steady beat, she speaks about how her personality, clothing, and body has been scrutinized by the public:
We make assumptions about people based on their size
We decide who they are
We decide what they're worth
If I wear more, if I wear less
Who decides what that makes me? What that means?
Is my value based only on your perception?
Or is your opinion of me not my responsibility?
The magic of it all is how she was able to make it relatable to anyone who has felt like they’ve been body-shamed. Billie has spoken about how she has had to unpack the pressure she has felt with how she was perceived when she wore baggy clothes. People were either using her as a way to slut-shame others, or to shame her. Even more concerning was how people would perceive her when she decided to wear clothing that matched her personal growth, which we are seeing now. For the record, I’m happy she said f-ck the haters and started playing around with her style. Here’s her look at her album party:
While confidence is coming through as she grows up, there’s also that “what is life?” stage too. “Everybody Dies” is one of those moments for her, and honestly, same. The simple song accompanies her soft register with a simple piano in the background. The softness reminds me of a dream state which may represent the thoughts we’ve all had at night.
Billie and Finneas outdid themselves with production. They're known for taking risks, but this album is a new level for them-- even to a point where some songs only come alive when you hear it in the track order. That may be something that will affect some songs’ ability to make it to the radio, but I think Billie and Finneas were thinking outside of the box over anything else. After “Getting Older”, a sweet, musical-like song, plays, we are startled by dogs barking aggressively at the top of “I Didn’t Change My Number”. We’ve also got some blending between some tracks, and my personal favourite is how “NDA”’s sharp drum beats effortlessly glide into “Therefore I Am”. It’s kind of fun to figure out where the last song ended and the first one started. Another pattern that happens in these tracks is the style change in the middle of songs. “GOLDWING” starts with an angelic choir that sounds like a hug, and about a minute in, we are hit with a steady drop-beat that transitions us into an alternative-punk genre. The same idea happens in “Halley’s Comet”, which starts as a sweet ballad you’d hear at the end of a Grey’s Anatomy episode, and ends with a haunting recording of Billie’s voice underwater that you’d hear at the end of a Pretty Little Liars episode. She’s giving us whiplash, and it’s 100% on purpose.
Billie gave everyone the biggest whiplash of the album with the title song, “Happier Than Ever”. When I watched the promo videos for the album, I was a little disappointed to hear the first few seconds of this song because it sounded like other songs she’s done in the past. If her whole thing this era was about shaking things up, why make that song the lead? Little did I know it would end up being my favourite song. Here’s the music video (directed by Billie, of course!):
What makes this so impressive to me is how she was able to represent her growth in such a concise way. Transitioning from the feathery, vocals and lights strings, into this INSANE belting anthem we’ve seldom heard from her before is a flex. The song about leaving a narcissistic lover:
You ruined everything good
Always said you were misunderstood
Made all my moments your own
Just f-ckin' leave me alone
The message is relatable and the rock influence makes it impossible to not want to scream along with her. Now that we have some insight on rapper, Brandon Adams, who is likely a subject on the album, it makes us feel for her more as we listen.
Overall, this album may not be for the mainstream audience, but it is by no means a “flop” . Billie is adapting and, most importantly, she’s trying new things. She’s staying true to her theme of maturing in her style in sync with her age, and is saying everything with her whole chest. She isn’t sticking to what worked back when “Ocean Eyes'' blew up in hopes of playing it safe, and she isn’t trying to grow up too fast either. Everything she has done since her big hair bleaching moment has been calculated in an organic way. Although it sounds like an oxymoron, it’s her magic touch.