Of all the pop stars you don’t want to be in whose skin you don’t want to be in, Billie Eilish is right at the forefront. Since she is considered the messianic-earthly representative of her generation, she can do, say and be what she wants, a faction will raise her work in meaning and scope to heaven in such a way that the counter-faction can only find her more cynically shitty. That’s why their second album is now just dripping with discourse, with which it has to interact. In view of all the heaviness, it seems like an album that retreats from being a pop star. It denies the prophethood, analysis and master plan attributed to it. Instead, “Happier Than Ever” a silent album that thinks about being seen in many facets and forms.
“Not My Responsibility” gives the most concrete statement to elicit from the album. This spherical spoken word interlude speaks directly to the listener and asks what Billie could do right, what step she can take to escape the constant over-analysis: “If I wear more, if I wear less / Who decides what that makes me? What that means? / Is my value based only on your perception? / Or is your opinion of me not my responsibility?” she completes her monologue and gets a deserved mic drop moment for it.
The paradox of pop star life shapes “Happier Than Ever“. The fantasy of their role, the publicly available general knowledge about their person – all this invites us to formulate opinions. Perhaps the most important function of “Happier Than Ever“, to evade precisely this mechanism. Maybe songs like “Not My Responsibility” even the weaker of the mission, because the more directly Billie deals with the pop circus, the more she establishes herself as part of it.
“Articles, articles, articles“, she groans “Therefore I Am” – and one would like to agree with it. She is obviously not an analyst, not a buffooned academic who is intellectually above things. Damn, the woman is 19. It should not shock anyone that their attempts to deal directly and dissectingly with the issues sometimes end up in generalities. “Overheated” remains powerless to properly determine what is good or wrong in terms of self-optimization, the second verse on “NDA” is quite banal escapism and the realization on “Male Fantasy” that women are portrayed in pornography in favor of a male fantasy, despite all the truth, is not exactly the holy grail of knowledge. These are all moments when Billie tries to recall the social criticism attributed to her – and seems a bit clever in the process. Ironically, she is most likely to fall into the role of the pop star. Because she fights against attribution, but only with the means attributed to her. At the end of the day, nothing smells like industrial more than someone who is obviously immersed in industrial from head to toe.
The first half is really liberating: Here Billie and Finneas simply write songs, regardless of how they are actually perceived. “Getting Older” riffs melancholically about the healing of trauma, the melodies build up a bit beatleesk, the mood is dense and warm. “My Future” was already last year a beautiful single full of attention to one’s own future, which puts Billie’s great strength in building larger-than-life atmospheres in the foreground. “Lost Cause” really shines in the album context as the pamphlet banger that he is. The headiness untightence loosens the knot, away from all the discourse towards what it can actually do.
All songs open up their own little musical worlds, none of them are loud, but each of them is full of details and characterized by unique grooves and moods. Perhaps the best surprise is the Advent of the uncompromising Jam Billie. The gloomy, magnetic number “Billie Bossa Nova” only hints at this when she speaks of an anonymous meeting with a lover in a gloomy hotel lobby. The absolute album highlight “Oxytocin” but makes explicit why schon to the Bossanova every inner eye behind the lobby has seen the elevators to the bedrooms. “Cause I like to do things God doesn’t approve of if She saw us / She couldn’t look away, look away, look away / She’d wanna get involved, involved, involved” she sings on a dark, beating electro bass, which hopefully will soon blast at four o’clock in the morning in deserted club cellars.
The cool thing about this is that Billie doesn’t argue what she can and can’t do, but just does. As true and exciting as it may be to philosophize half an album that the eyes of the public limit their radius of action, it is so much more liberating to simply show song by song what you want to do and be and then let every alienated listener happily go his way. The other album highlight also succeeds virtuosically: The title track lulls one and a half minutes into another melancholic break-up ballad before the beat tilts to the center in an aggressive rock piece and she mercilessly makes hell hot for her ex-partner for a minute. By the way, it is the object of some songs. Implicitly, the single “Your Power” her 23-year-old ex, with whom she was together three years ago. “She was sleepin’ in your clothes / But now she’s got to get to class“she slaps him there. And rightly so.
“Happier Than Ever” is a very specific album. An album that is very specifically colored by Billie’s current career situation and suffers a bit from the fact that it wants to ignore her with one hand and address her with the other hand. The result is a silent record on which there is a lot of fantastic songwriting and a lot of empathetic introspection, but which you have to actively explore. She deliberately shies away from delivering a big pop album to take the time to explore her current status quo.
The first eight songs are a great freestyle and a liberation blow against imposed borders. In the second half it becomes quieter, slower and increasingly heady. Maybe you would have the run between “Not My Responsibility” and “NDA” can melt down or compress, because here the record really drags a bit between heavy-footed beats and strained self-referential industrial talk. If you get over the slow pacing, you will find “Happier Than Ever” many things that are still clearly ahead of the curve. It is quite possible that the record is acutely a small disappointment for the fans, which actively shrinks its huge hype healthy, but in the long run can only grow in its reputation.