By Mira Sripada (‘22)
Billie Eilish, at just 19-years-old and with the help of her older brother Finneas O’Connell, constructed a completely unique and inventive genre of music meant only for her exceedingly soft and breathy voice. Through her career, which began at age thirteen with the release of the song “ocean eyes”, Eilish has been a nonstop risk-taker, constantly redefining her sound and pushing the boundaries of ‘alternative music’. Since 2017, Eilish has debuted one EP and two albums, respectively: dont smile at me (2017), WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (2019) and Happier Than Ever (2021).
While Eilish’s 2019 album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? was haunting, scary and tackled the mysteries of sleep paralysis, lucid dreams and the subconscious mind, this album is much different (Apple Music). On Happier Than Ever, Eilish employs both an emotionless and emotional tone, deviating from the soft and melancholy sounds of dont smile at me and the disturbing nature of her previous album. Instead Eilish sounds angry, sarcastic, sexual and mature, and for her audience it feels like one giant exhale. Not only this, the singer is much more ‘lovey dovey’ than in previous albums, singing about fantasies and love with ease and confidence. Her sound in this album sometimes transforms into EDM and club music which results in danceable and hard-hitting moments for listeners. Most impressively though, Eilish uses this album to call out toxic masculinity and diary her evolution into adulthood.
Specifically on the track “Not My Responsibility”, Eilish directly communicates the difficulty in living under the public eye. This track lacks any musical elements and exclusively features the singer’s voice against an ominous background track. In this song, the artist says, “ . . . but i feel you watching . . . and nothing i do goes unseen / so while i feel your stares / your disapproval . . . if i lived by them / i’d never be able to move”. Here, the artist wastes no time in addressing the unreasonable criticism placed upon celebrities at all times (especially from men) that, if listened to, stifles the artist’s growth and places them in a confined box from which they can never escape. Billie Eilish specifically has dealt with immense scrutiny for her stylistic choices in music videos and songs and her unique fashion sense: “the body i was born with / is it not what you wanted? / if i wear what is comfortable, i am not a woman / if i shed the layers, im a slut”. In these lines, Eilish identifies the paradoxical nature of being a woman in the spotlight: every choice and every action comes with an arbitrary and incorrect social stigma originating from men and their perceived superiority. The song is a rejection of body-shaming and objectification of women. These ideas are further developed on the song, “Your Power”, which discusses the symptoms of an abusive relationship. Softness and innocence bleed through a song that is at the same time accusatory and desperate for answers heard when the singer says, “I thought that I was special, you made me feel / Like it was my fault, you were the devil . . .” and “How dare you? / And how could you?”. Eilish indicates an alarming problem with the manipulation and exploitation of young women by older men – a virus that has radiated throughout Hollywood and the music industry.
Also included in this album is a stray from creepy, low-fi beats to an EDM-ish instrumental and sensual sounding vocals demonstrated in the track, “Oxytocin”. “Oxytocin” is alive with fervor, sexual ferocity and a danceable and clubish sounding beat. It moves quickly but when the song pauses for a moment, the inhales and exhales of Eilish fill the silence and build the intimacy and desire. Later in the song, “GOLDWING”, a peculiar introduction of Eilish angelically reciting an excerpt from a translated Hindi poem prefaces a fast-paced track overlaid by the singer’s spiritless voice which advises a women to “keep her head down” in order to avoid the music industry’s notorious ability to exploit female singers and actors (Moreland). The poem at the beginning of the song coupled with Eilish’s angelic voice may represent the angel and the shift to the emotionless and detached vocals is the industry, characterized as an entity capable of sucking the life out of the angel only to “. . . sell you [the angel] in a year”. Possibly the strongest track on the album is the title song “Happier Than Ever”. This song is twofold: the first section contains a delicate and saddened vocal performance underlaid by the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar. Eilish remarks, “when i’m away from you / i’m happier than ever”. Initially the track feels old-timey and quaint, however when listeners make their way to the end of the song, it becomes clear that Eilish is suppressing intense feelings here. The strumming of the first section intensifies as the artist’s voice follows suit, transforming into a vibrated, angry and whining outcry, exclaiming how “ . . .you were my everything and all that you did was make me f****** sad”. What the second part has that the first does not is energy and an imperceivable musical boost that prompts listeners to burst out of their chair and feel what she is feeling. The instrumentation in the second half also parallels the singer’s voice, showcasing an electrifying guitar and a hard rock drum beat. Oozing out of every line is the voice of a depressed rockstar yelling, screaming and crying out the words “just f****** leave me alone”. It’s cathartic, alleviating and unprecedented. Holistically though, “Happier Than Ever” is a controlled and calculated masterpiece, with each lyric representing a different flaw in a failed relationship. The song is not messy, it’s mature and real, indicative of the growth that Billie Eilish wants her audience to recognize and absorb.
Growing up in the public eye from the age of thirteen is life-altering and with it comes some of the highest highs and equally low lows. For Billie Eilish on the track “Getting Older” it means that “things [she] once enjoyed just keep [her] employed”. Eilish is candid about having “more on [her] shoulders” and how she hopes she is “somewhere laughing”, ironic considering her album is called Happier Than Ever, potentially indicating that the album title suggests more of a wish than a reality (Moreland). Later in the song, “I Didn’t Change My Number”, the artist channels sass overtop a mellow and synthy background beat as she sarcastically remarks, “I didn’t change my number, I only changed who I replied to”. This song proves her confidence and maturity, further developed on “my future”. “my future” explores self-satisfaction, loneliness and self-love. This track is immersed in a pond of zen and mellowness as listeners softly soak up the lines “i’m in love with my future, can’t wait to meet her”. The singer dismisses the societal pressure to find a partner and embraces her hesitant enthusiasm to investigate herself: “know i’m supposed to be unhappy without someone / but arent i someone?”.
Speaking of hesitancy, Eilish communicates that she is definitely so when it comes to falling in love heard on “Halley’s Comet”. “Halley’s Comet” marks the archetypical love song in Happier Than Ever demonstrated by its slow pace, waltzy feel and soft vocal performance. The artist sings how, “ . . . i dont want to want you / but in my dreams, i seem to be more honest” – conveying her apprehension. Moreover, she sings, “halley’s comet / comes around more than i do”, referencing a real comet that is said to appear twice in a human’s lifetime, “coming around” more than Eilish seems to do in her love life.
WHAT SONGS SHOULD I ADD TO MY PLAYLIST?!?
- “Happier Than Ever”
- “Billie Bossa Nova”
- “my future”
- “Halley’s Comet”
Happier Than Ever, Billie Eilish’s second studio album is impressive for its realness and ability to connect to her own personal struggles. The exploration of body positivity, slut-shaming, manipulation, abuse, self-love and overworking bombard the sweet/sarcastic and emotional/emotionless sounds of the 19-year-old singer’s voice. In 2019, listeners took in an overdose of eeriness, disturbia, and ominosity that now, in 2021, takes the shape of sex appeal, fantasy, maturity, satire, electricity, and jazz. Eilish doesn’t push past her limits, she actually lives past them and it is there that she and her brother continue to cultivate their unique genre of music that is just as lowkey as it is a loud and blunt investigation of the social issues that Eilish sometimes finds herself entangled in.