Is Billie Eilish really ‘Happier Than Ever’?

Happier Than Ever, Darkroom/Interscope Records

“Would you like me to be smaller, weaker, softer, taller? Would you like me to be quiet?”

When Billie Eilish, the latest teen pop sensation to grace the contemporary pop music landscape, embarked on her When We All Fall Asleep world tour in 2019, she asked these questions. Accompanied by a visual of the singer stripping down as she speaks more vulnerably, Eilish quietly ushered in the next chapter of her career.

Slowly but surely, the singer introduced a new sound and musical universe through which she expressed herself within the traumatic and often suffocating world of intense fame she now inhabits. Now, years later, the project is sewn together in the form of Eilish’s second album, Happier Than Ever, entirely written and produced with brother Finneas.

The languid, introspective LP is a representation of where the singer is in her world today.

On Happier Than Ever, Eilish reflects on trauma, abuse, power imbalance, fame, body image and healing. The sweeping album of 16 tracks touches upon this plethora of themes, all glued together with the intent to heal. Eilish isn’t happy, per se, but she is growing and evolving beyond the dark angsty teen the world came to know and obsess over in the last year pre-pandemic.

Happier Than Ever is most adequately described as an album of healing through self-relfection. It delves into the cyclical nature of life. Beginning with “Getting Older,” Eilish illustrates how singing and her artistry has gone from a motivator and driver of reaching for success, to a lifeline to plateau and stay afloat. The track encapsulates the themes of the album and teases the sonics to be heard throughout.

At the album’s center is an obvious break-up. Perhaps, unimportantly, that from the relationship featured in Apple TV+’s The World’s a Little Blurry documentary. The main narrative begins on “I Didn’t Change My Number.” The funky mid tempo banger is the first inkling of the more confident mood that appears sporadically on the record, in between the moments of grief and vulnerability.

Eilish has clearly had her last straw on the track. This attitude continues in waves throughout the remainder of the album. Tracks like “NDA,” “Lost Cause,” and “Therefore I Am” solidify Eilish’s apathy towards a once thrilling relationship.

The thrills are present as well as Eilish dives into her psyche and reviews her journey. “Billie Bossa Nova,” “Oxytocin” and “Halley’s Comet” blend together to illustrate Eilish’s emotional process of falling in love. At times confident, sensual, and completely lacking control.

That lack of control is further illustrated from Eilish’s newfound realization and perspective on a relationship where the power was all in her partner’s hands. “Your Power” is the crux of this, acting as a cautionary tale and delicately retelling the heartbroken feelings she has in reminiscing on the relationship. “GOLDWING” offers an omniscient narrator perceiving the teen Eilish was prior to this painful and toxic relationship.

This toxicity and loss of innocence extends beyond merely a romantic relationship. Beginning the second half of the album is the spoken word interlude, “Not My Responsibility.” Taken from the live tour interlude, the track is a revealing look into the way culture builds and destroys women, especially young women. There’s no winning, and Eilish expresses that before diving into one of the album’s best tracks exploring femininity and body image more universally on “OverHeated.”

Perhaps the strongest moments, though, are the album’s final two tracks. “Happier Than Ever” summarizes the album’s themes flawlessly, with an acoustic front half and all out brawl of a climax. It shows Eilish finally free of the traumas that have plagued her.

Only until the epilogue, though, in “Male Fantasy.” Closing the album on a both somber and thoughtful note, she’s healing, but will remain forever changed by the experiences detailed throughout this sophomore LP.

Sonically, the album is of course impressive. It’s incredibly commendable for an artist at the top of the game to take risks and move into another direction, experimenting with sounds and not limiting herself to a particular sound, image or expectation. The experiments don’t always work. Songs like “Oxytocin” and “Everybody Dies” are interesting but flawed. That said, the decision to swap the bangers of her debut for more laid back, subdued sounds and textures is jarring and impressively allows the record’s narrative and Eilish’s vocal performances to take center stage.

With only a few missteps, Happier Than Ever is an undeniable showcase of the continued status Eilish holds in the modern music. Her resistance to norms, brother at the helm of her sound, and refusal to sell out is what ironically makes her the most successful name in pop right now. Her artistry will undoubtedly continue to evolve and inspire those in her wake.

So, is Billie Eilish really happier than ever? Maybe, and what an exciting road to be on.

Author: Kieran Sweeney

Writing about entertainment for the better part of a decade and consuming it twice as much, Kieran Sweeney is "the" pop culture aficionado. A connoisseur of the intersection of art and commercialism, the USC Annenberg graduate has earned his reputation as an empathetic and thoughtful writer with his insightful and challenging analyses of entertainment and pop culture. His resume includes USC's The Daily Trojan, USC Viterbi News, and personal assistance for publicity and marketing companies from Drill Down Media to This Fiction Management both based in Los Angeles. His intersectional experience in the industry has helped inform the writer's quick wit and sharp perspectives.

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