BILLIE EILISH HAPPIER THAN EVER // ALBUM REVIEW

Billie Eilish's sophomore release is finally here and I'm happier than ever about it! In some ways, the album is quite a departure from her debut, but in the best way possible. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? set the stage for what this decade in music is going to be because it was truly unlike any other modern release in recent memory, one whose success and impact will likely never be fully replicated again. She has never tried to be anyone other than herself, which makes her journey of monumental success at such a young age so much more inspiring. 

With that being said, the idea of a follow-up release must have come with a lot of pressure to make something just as good, if not better, than the last one. Happier Than Ever is a chronicle of the events that followed her meteoric rise to fame since 2019, from her perspective. There has always been so much talk in the media about the way she dresses, her body, her relationships, whether or not she "deserves" all of the success she has, etc. - so in that sense this album is a way of her reclaiming the narrative and telling her own story, her way.  There are many dark and emotional themes that are discussed lyrically throughout Happier Than Ever, which kind of juxtaposes the title in that way. Recurring themes that are prominent throughout the sixteen tracks on the album include; growing up, abusive relationships, body image and dealing with immense fame at a young age. 

Just like Billie's debut, Happier Than Ever was completely written, produced, and performed by only her and her older brother Finneas at their home studio. The music has such a timeless sound, one that I can see transcending generations and becoming a classic in her discography looking back years from now. 

The opening song "Getting Older" is the perfect way to start the album because it is an honest and vulnerable look into her life for the past two years involving her growing up, having to deal with more responsibility, and deep reflections on past actions and trauma. The simple production and deep honesty within the lyrics very much sets the tone for the rest of Happier Than Ever

In an interview with Spotify Billie says, "'Getting Older' was tough to write ‘cause it’s a very revealing song talking about things that I only at the time had just felt I realized about myself and felt insecure about and wanted to talk about. I don’t know, I think that that happens a lot and it should be completely welcomed, is realizing stuff years later. You sometimes don’t realize what’s going on around you until a really long time later or realize what you feel until years later." 

A line from this song that stands out to me is, "I'm happier than ever, at least that's my endeavor" - I find that particular lyric so interesting because with a title like Happier Than Ever, one would expect it to be overwhelmingly positive and happy, which it is at some points, but there are some heavy moments throughout too. It's almost as if she titled the album Happier Than Ever as a way to manifest and work toward that mindset for herself, which later comes to fruition by the end of the album. Even though that's just my interpretation of the album as a whole, she did say in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, "Almost none of the songs on this album are joyful...I went through some crazy shit, and it really affected me and made me not want to go near anyone ever." She later shares something her mom told her, "When you’re happier than ever, that doesn’t mean you’re the happiest that anyone’s ever been. It means you’re happier than you were before.”

The song ends with the line, "I've had some trauma, did things I didn't wanna, was too afraid to tell ya, but now, I think it's time" - which is the perfect transition into the rest of the record. 

The second track is "I Didn't Change My Number", which is one of my favorite songs from the album. It opens with the line, "I didn't change my number, I only changed who I reply to," which is honestly a great motto to be living by! Lyrically it reminds me of her song "party favor" from Don't Smile At Me, which was written as if she was leaving a voice-mail to someone she no longer talks to. It transitions into "Billie Bossa Nova", which is a fun and jazzy song about a secret love affair. In an interview with Spotify, Billie called it a  "...fantasy, romanticized, glorified, dream." It reminds me of Finneas' solo music, which generally has some influences of jazz music in the way it is composed. 

The fourth song is "My Future", which was the first to be released from Happier Than Ever last summer. In many ways it set the tone for what this current era of Billie's music is sonically and thematically. It was also released at the height of the pandemic, during a very divided and uncertain time for this country - so it also gives an extra layer of meaning behind the lyrics when thinking of the context of which it was released. It connects to the album's opening song "Getting Older" in the way that she is trying to gain perspective on her past, while looking forward to her future. 

"We wrote this at the very beginning of quarantine. It’s a song that’s really really personal and special to me," Billie wrote in her newsletter last year. "When we wrote this song, it was exactly where my head was at – hopeful, excited and a craaaazy amount of self reflection and self growth. But recently it has also taken on a lot of new meaning in the context of what’s happening in the world now."

I was initially surprised that this song was included on the album and doesn't exist as a stand-alone single in the way "Everything I Wanted " does, but it does actually fit so well into the rest of the album. It is a song that is so culturally relevant and important for the time in history we are living through right now. While I don't necessarily dislike any song on this album, a few of the other slower songs are more forgettable than others, but I would definitely consider "My Future" to be one of the best ballads on the album.

"Oxytocin" is another favorite and one I consider to have potential to be one of her next big hits from this album! It was the last song to be written, specifically with the intention of it being "insane live" as Billie said herself. It is most reminiscent production-wise of  "bad guy", which of course has become an iconic and record-breaking song for her that really solidified her status in the music industry.

The next song, "GOLDWING", opens with Billie singing a verse of an ancient Hindu poem that was translated in 1907 by Gustav Holst, an English composer. She sings about a gold-winged angel, a metaphor for a young woman who is pure of any exploitation or harassment. The song transitions from the angelic choir intro into a darker, heavier sound, where she says "They're gonna tell you what you wanna hear then they're gonna disappear, gonna claim you like a souvenir, just to sell you in a year". She warns "you better keep your head down", because "there you are to tear a part". It's actually the shortest song on the album, but gets it's point across so powerfully and succinctly. 

Her personal experience with body shaming, objectification and exploitation are explored in more detail on the tracks "Not My Responsibility " and "OverHeated". "Not My Responsibility" is a spoken-word interlude, one that was initially played in a visual format at the few concerts she performed in March of 2020 before the rest of the tour was inevitably cancelled. In the beginning she says, "Do you know me? Really know me? You have opinions about my opinions, about my music, about my clothes, about my body. Some people hate what I wear, some people praise it. Some people use it to shame others, some people use it to shame me."

In an interview with Spotify she says "...these are some of my favorite words that I’ve ever written and I feel like nobody listened. It’s about body image and all the things we are trained to think about bodies and it just makes me laugh because I put it out and everyone was like 'Yes, queen! Body positivity!' And then like three months later there’s a picture of me in a tank top and the whole internet was like “fat!'"

Her appearance and the way she dresses has been, for some reason, a big topic of conversation online since the early days of her career when she was only about sixteen years old. The constant discussion about the way she looks, or anyone else, online is absolutely unwarranted behavior. It was a very powerful move on her part to call out those people that are relentlessly judging her for her appearance, it is a very important message that a lot of young people will be able to benefit from hearing. 

She finishes the interlude by saying, "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?"

"Not My Responsibility" then transitions into "OverHeated", where she specifically talks about a situation that went viral last year when the paparazzi took pictures of her outside her house wearing a tank top. These photos became a trending topic on Twitter and tons of articles were written, as if the topic of her body is something up for discussion or any type of criticism in the first place. In the song she sings, "Did you really think this is the right thing to do? Is it news? News to who? That I really look just like the rest of you." Toward the end she sings, "And everybody said it was a letdown, I was only built like everybody else now, but I didn't get a surgery to help out, 'cause I'm not about to redesign myself now, am I?" It is so admirable to hear a young woman speak up for herself in such a public and candid way - especially in a digital world consumed by unrealistic standards of beauty and perfection. 

"Your Power" was the lead single for Happier Than Ever when the album was officially announced earlier this year. The song details the damaging effects a young woman went through after being taken advantage of by an an older man. In an interview with British Vogue she says, “I would like people to listen to me. And not just try to figure out who I’m talking about, because it’s not about that. It’s really not at all about one person." When the song was released, she also shared on Instagram, "I feel very vulnerable putting this one out because I hold it so close to my heart. This is about many different situations that we’ve all either witnessed or experienced. I hope this can inspire change. Try not to abuse your power." 

She sings, "I thought that I was special, you made me feel like it was my fault you were the devil," and continues later in the verse, "And you swear you didn't know, you said you thought she was your age. How dare you?" When such a huge artist like Billie who has millions of people anticipating her next release, it was a very bold choice to have a song with this message to be projected from one of the biggest platforms in the world. 

The next two songs, "NDA" and "Therefore I Am" are two of my absolute favorites from the album!

"NDA" is mainly fanaticizing about how life would be if she made different choices, as well as an incident with a stalker outside of her house, and trying to keep her personal life under the radar. She sings, "Had a pretty boy over, but he couldn't stay, on his way out, I made him sign an NDA". She actually references many lyrics from the rest of the album on this song, notably in the second verse when she sings, "I've been havin' fun, gettin' older now. Didn't change my number, made him shut his mouth. At least I gave him somethin' he can cry about. I thought about my future, but I want it now."

"'NDA' is very all over the place and up for interpretation," Billie said recently. I especially love the line, "You couldn't save me, but you can't let me go". The vocal effects paired with the heavy bass and the kind of dizzying, haunting production makes this song stand out as one of the best. Her recent YouTube performance of  "NDA" is what originally made me fully obsessed with this song, you can watch it here if you're interested! 

The transition between "NDA" and "Therefore I Am" is truly one of the best moments on the entire album, if you listen to those songs back-to-back you'll know what I mean - it's so insane! 

"Therefore I Am" is probably what most would consider to be the most quintessential example of a Billie Eilish song. It incorporates the same kind of sharp and clever songwriting that has always made her work stand out to me, along with the very specific style of alternative pop production her and Finneas do so well. It's such a fun song that I've had on repeat ever since it was first released last year! 

The title track "Happier Than Ever" is without a doubt the best song on the entire album, as well as her best song that she has ever released! It starts off sounding almost like a 1950s ballad, likely in reference to Julie London, whom Billie has said she has taken inspiration from in many aspects for this album. She sings, "When I'm away from you, I'm happier than ever, wish I could explain it better, I wish it wasn't true". It's lyrically very simple and beautifully written. 

The second half transitions into a loud, crazy, rock song - which was so unexpected the first time I heard it and still gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it! One of the best lines of the song is, I don't relate to you, 'cause I'd never treat me this shitty, you made me hate this city". It's like all of the frustration and anger that has been building throughout the entire album is finally coming to this intense conclusion. Toward the end she is screaming the lines, "And I don't talk shit about you on the internet, never told anyone anything bad, 'cause that shit's embarrassing, you were my everything, and all that you did was make me f*ckin' sad". Finneas' guitar solo at the end is also incredible!

It's so different than any other song Billie has ever released and makes me hope one day she releases a full rock album, which is something I never thought I would say before I heard this song! The music video is also so well done and brings all of the emotions and symbolism to life in such a beautiful way. I can't even imagine how this song would sound live! 

Even though "Happier Than Ever" feels like a conclusive ending, I actually love that she ended the album with "Male Fantasy" instead. In an interview with Spotify she said, "'Happier Than Ever' was actually gonna close the album and then we wrote 'Male Fantasy' and it actually felt better to close it with that. Not ending on a angry note, I think, was important ‘cause nothing should end on a bad note..." The song is about her coming to terms with and reflecting on past relationships, whether it is in a romantic sense or with friendships ending. She sings, "I worry this is how I'm always gonna feel, but nothing lasts, I know the deal". The album closes with the final lyric, "I know I should, but I could never hate you". 


Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! 

-Melissa ♡


Photo Credit:

Billie Eilish, Kelia Anne MacCluskey, Interscope Records, Darkroom Records


Related Posts:

Comments

Popular Posts

LANA DEL REY CHEMTRAILS OVER THE COUNTRY CLUB ALBUM REVIEW

FEARLESS (TAYLOR'S VERSION) ALBUM REVIEW