Album of the Week: Billie Eilish, 'Happier Than Ever'

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Billie Eilish, 'Happier Than Ever'
Billie Eilish, 'Happier Than Ever' (Interscope Records)
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More than a decade before #FreeBritney became a trending public outcry and embroidered onto tote bags, Britney Spears released Blackout, an album where she detailed her experience with the cruelty of the media. On the song "Piece of Me," she lays out the contradictory criticism she faces with lines like "She's too big / no she's too thin." It's a comment on the scrutiny young women in the spotlight were subject to at the height of the paparazzi craze of the aughts, and it's echoed on Billie Eilish's new album Happier Than Ever. Lines Eilish sings like "If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman / If I shed the layers, I'm a slut," stand in parallel to Britney's experiences in a social landscape that hasn't shifted as much as we might like to think it has. With this album, Eilish is dissecting the same sort of hypocritical expectations filtered through the perspective of a new generation, and as a popstar who never aimed to fit the mold.

Most the time when the second person is used in lyrics, the listener is looking on as the singer addresses some unreachable "you": a lover, a friend, someone on the periphery of the song. With Happier than Ever, Eilish uses the second person to address the listener directly, interrogating the audience on their role in the churning machine of fame. In the middle of the album, Eilish takes a deep breath for "Not My Responsibility" and asks the listener in a low, gravelly whisper, "Do you know me? / Really know me?"

When she rose to stardom in her teens, Eilish became synonymous with her electric green hair and baggy layered clothes, and as she grows and continues to morph her image, she scoffs at the public obsession with the way she looks. On "Responsibility," she goes on to directly address the listener in saying, "So while I feel your stares, your disapproval, or your sigh of relief / If I lived by them, I'd never be able to move," shedding the weight of public opinion in a calm declaration.

Eilish pulls these broader societal themes into her own experiences on songs like "Your Power," which speaks directly to an older man who has used his position to take advantage of a younger girl. The song oscillates from speaking about the victim in the narrative in the third person with "You said you thought she was your age," to pulling it into the personal with lines like "You made me feel / like it was my fault." Alongside tracks like "Didn't Change my Number," the society-wide issues are made digestible and individual. Fame is not a new topic for famous people to write about, but it's made fresh by the realness and relatability Eilish weaves it into. One of the most compelling moments in this thematic world comes on the soaring title track — a part-heartbroken, part-angry breakup ballad where Eilish asks "Do you read my interviews?" in a tender intersection between her status and her relationships.

Happier Than Ever follows Eilish's 2019 debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. With a shelf full of Grammys and a collection of broken streaming records, Eilish created Happier with her brother Finneas's production. The album ebbs and flows between beat-driven electronic tracks like the steamy "Oxytocin" and warm acoustic sounds on display on the aptly titled "Billie Bossa Nova," a flirty dance with a lyrical allusion to Frank Sinatra. After constructing a dark sonic world in shadows on Fall Asleep, Eilish finds experimentation in moments like these where she nods to tradition.

Happier Than Ever is a new chapter in Eilish's life and career, one that builds upon the fiercely independent persona that first earned her monumental success. With a career built around a hit single that had the world singing along to her sneering the word "Duh," Eilish didn't have anything to prove as a songwriter or star on this album, and that's exactly why it stands as a testament to the lifetime of continued evolution and artistry that is only just getting started.

External Link

Billie Eilish - official site

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