HAPPIER THAN EVER: A RELIABLE SEQUEL TO 2019

By George McMillan

Happier Than Ever – now released just over two months ago – shows Billie Eilish hitting new strides personally and professionally, despite a jerky flow. Eilish hops through genre, narrative and timely messaging, leaving in its wake a string of tracks that are both interesting in its experimentation and history. This is by no means a value judgement upon Eilish as an artist, but rather this album specifically with her ability to select and craft a tracklist that feels cohesive. Eilish definitely understands her current aesthetic and her evolution away from the ‘baggy-emo-SoundCloud-era’, which would, to some hardcore 2017 OG’s, would appear as “selling out”. Yet, the album is underscored by a foreboding sense of naivety. A classic adage, which in this case could not be further from the truth.

The new album is clearly drawing from the better beats of Eilish’s debut LP. The dark and bass-filled breakdown in ‘Bad Guy’ has its fingerprints scattered across this record. The music’s dabbling with electronic backings and sampling marks a noticeable uptick in upbeat sounds coming from her discography. Perhaps the excitement to experiment and level up while maintaining her famous hushed and breathy style is the culprit for the album’s inconsistency. That being said, tracks such as ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’, ‘Oxytocin’, ‘GOLDWING’, ‘NDA’ and ‘Therefore I Am’ are examples in this turn of production aesthetic. Albeit perhaps repetitive on this record, it certainly marks an exciting advancement. Comparatively, her more ‘classic’ Eilish tracks are highlights without a doubt; in particular, the titular song ‘Happier Than Ever’ is in perfect resonance with both her previous hits and the work of her alt-rock/pop contemporaries; notably, Olivia Rodrigo. It’s clear that tracks ‘Not My Responsibility’ through to ‘Happier Than Ever’ are the side of the album that represent Eilish right now as a performer and artist.  

‘Not My Responsibility’ splits the record and operates as Eilish’s artist statement and voice box for the social-media-tabloid-pop-star image she reluctantly has assumed. Her angst and disdain towards the media and even her own fans are evident. The track is presented in spoken word form, and its intimacy and directness are jarring. Yet, it addresses the elephant in the room with her aesthetic and persona.

Even as I write, listening to her strident words, “Do you know me? Really know me? You have opinions about my opinions. About my music. About my clothes. About my body”, the meta-feeling of responding to her words, especially in this form, is undeniable. Are my acute critiques of her album only further bolstering the culture of criticism towards her? To what extent is this the case with just about all forms of reviewing and pop culture opinionating? Does picking apart the execution of the production on my behalf mean I am just another senseless and unempathetic consumer of creative work? Perhaps.

Listening to this piece is provocative; her questions are rhetorical, the song sounds like it is ready to engage in some form of dialogue, but her words are really statements behind a veneer of questions.

Billie Eilish is in new terrain now, with two albums behind her and personal feelings on the table; you can’t help but feel excited about the future of Eilish’s music to come, and her cohort’s also. Despite its spotty flow and production ticks, this record is entirely enjoyable and undoubtedly interesting. Exactly like its predecessor, audiences are now patiently waiting to hear the next round. Let us hope that time may not reach into Lorde territory, but you can be safe in knowing that Billie Eilish is happier than ever.

 

George McMillan
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