In October 2020, paparazzi shots of then-18-year-old Billie Eilish in a tank top and shorts hit the net. As they were dissected all over social media, I saw a young girl on Twitter experiencing possibly her first incredulous reaction to body-shaming trolls. She simply didn’t understand, and her emotions were going off: it wasn’t FAIR, it didn’t make SENSE. Billie had literally JUST SAID she deliberately wore baggy clothes because she didn’t want people to sexualise her, so WHY was everyone doing what she had JUST SAID she didn’t want?
In her reaction, I recognised my own early-stage response in the life-long journey that every woman navigates – the one about the policing of her body – that can variously include disbelief, rage, defeat, acceptance, activism, and so on and on and on.
Happier Than Ever revolves around a few big themes, but Billie Eilish mostly ruminates on and around this issue – and how bonded to her celebrity it is for her – with so many clever, candid lines it’s impossible to single out just a few to put on a pedestal.
Opener Getting Older employs minimalist, pulsing keys behind lyrics that burst with Billie’s sagacious personal observations – did we forget she’s the poet laureate of confessional bedroom pop!? – and shows that brother FINNEAS (who produced, as he did for 2019 debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?) is still maestro of making a small detail do a ton of atmospheric lifting with seemingly no effort at all. The spoken-word Not My Responsibility floats like an ominous cloud as a clock-beat ticks through its mist; NDA investigates a specific example of how assiduously the musician must protect her privacy; and Your Power is chilling, hewing as close to the bone of Billie’s experiences with abuse as we’ve ever heard. (She has described the track as an “open letter to people who take advantage – mostly men.”)
It’s a feat that even though she constantly drops little references to remind us that the protagonist of these songs is truly one Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell (she’ll mention her brother, or doing an interview, or her music, or paparazzi), the tracks’ sentiments remain completely relatable.
There are some undeniable bangers: the assured I Didn’t Change My Number begins with a ferocious dog-snarl – a snippet of which FINNEAS then uses percussively throughout the track – and Eilish gets up close to the mic with her barely-moving-the-lips delivery and phrase-end vibrato. Billie Bossa Nova is a sexy and gorgeously sauntering samba, previously released single My Future‘s sophisticated electric piano is matched with a rad funk beat (imagine this live with Anderson .Paak behind the kit!), and Oxytocin most closely resembles her hits Bury A Friend and Bad Guy, with creepily angled gang-whispers and an electro-industrial drive, like boots mashing up metallic stairs. But it’s the songs that take it down low, simmering with sincerity, that make this a truly excellent record.
Happier Than Ever‘s centrepiece is its title track, and despite the apparently paradoxical juxtaposition of the album title and its coverart, Eilish isn’t being sarcastic with the phrase. It references time spent away from someone who was her “everything,” but whose true nature she can now see. The gargantuan, scream-washed climax is every disappointment you ever had in a controlling ex coming home to roost.
In her official VEVO interview for the album, Eillish said: “The main thing that I would hope is for people to hear what I say and then go, ‘Oh God, I feel like that. I didn’t know that I felt like that, but this is how I feel.’ And maybe make a change in their life that makes them happier.” All I can say is, I’m so glad that that young girl from Twitter is listening to Happier Than Ever right now, and is feeling seen.
Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish is out now, including on JB-exclusive pale blue vinyl (pictured above), via Universal.
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