It’s raining outside. You’re sitting in your car, it has good boxes. You sit back, close your eyes and turn up Billie Eilish’s new album. This is how the singer and sports car driver imagines the ideal listening situation for “Happier Than Ever”.
In a recently published video interview, the 19-year-old quickly pushes back “Listen whatever you want”, but her recommendation is likely to lead to thousands of her loyal young fans immersing themselves in her factory in parking lots – if they have access to cars with good facilities.
Songwriting felt fulfilling for Eilish for the first time
If you sit back and turn up, you will immediately hear the familiar. Billie Eilish opens the almost hour-long record with her typical marble singing, which is initially accompanied only by a discreetly pulsating synthesizer. Only after the first chorus of “Getting Older”, placed exactly in the middle, a delicate beat and further keyboard tracks are added.
This directs all attention to the lyrics, which introduce a central theme of the album: what it’s like to be a superstar as a teenager, to feel a lot of weight on your shoulders and to have a stalker standing in front of the door. The fun seems to fall by the wayside: “Things I once enjoyed/ Just keep me employed now” are the first chorus lines. Making music is just a job.
Billie Eilish asserts in the aforementioned video interview that writing songs was much easier for her this time than before. If she once felt anxious, not good enough and under pressure, she now found the process fulfilling.
Just like her debut album “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go”, which was streamed billions of times two years ago, Billie Eilish has resumed the follow-up with her brother Finneas, who is five years older. However, in his new basement studio instead of in his parents’ house on the outskirts of Los Angeles. “I feel much more confident in my craft now,” Eilish said, which could already be heard on the pre-release singles “Your Power” and “My Future”. Also on the rest of the album she dares to take off more often with her soprano, to put him more clearly in the foreground than on the debut.
This is particularly evident in reduced-arranged ballads such as “Everybody Dies” or “Halley’s Comet”, which reflect Billie Eilish’s goal of making a timeless album and reveal her role models Julie London, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee. Although these quiet titles may not be among the most exciting on “Happier Than Ever”, also because the effort to sound mature is a bit too strong, Billie Eilish’s talent as a lyricist still makes them worth listening to.
She not only knows how to snag teenage anxiety in a concise way, but can also write universally valid lyrics – even appealing to adults. For example, “Halley’s Comet”, accompanied by a piano and a restrained beat, is about the curse of simply not being able to forget an old love. “I was good at feeling nothin’, now I’m hopeless,” she sums up this feeling with one of her typical Dark lines.
[„Happier Than Ever“ erscheint bei Interscope/Universal]
Heartbreak and its overcoming occupies Billie Eilish on “Happier Than Ever” again and again. Most clearly in the title track, which turns from a longingly crooned acoustic guitar ballad into a distorted rock song with fat electric guitars. That pops out of the record, doesn’t quite fit into the quiet overall picture, but maybe this is the catharsis song with which Billie Eilish can finally exorcise the old demons. At the end she sings: “You ruined everything good/ Always said you were misunderstood/ Made all my moments your own/ Just fuckin’ leave me alone .”
The lyrics are peppered with allusions to her ex-boyfriend Brandon Q Adams, who calls himself rapper 7:APM. He is known from the Apple documentary “The World’s a little Blurry” as the man Billie Eilish constantly calls after and who makes her deathly unhappy by his absence after her appearance at the Coachella festival.
A scene in which she discusses drunk driving with him on the phone reappears in the billing song “Happier Than Ever” – as a starting point for her tantrum. The album title is therefore highly ambivalent, which is already signaled by the tears that roll down Billie Eilish’s face in the cover photo. Actually, she is happier today than ever, if it weren’t for this damn love – and sexism.
She makes her lover scream
Billie Eilish has already denounced the latter in May 2020 with her brilliant spoken word track “Not My Responsibility”, he is now also on the album. It is about being affed and the constant evaluation of their style: “Some people hate what I wear/ Some people praise it/ Some people use it to shame others/ Some people use it to shame me”. At that time, Eilish was still wearing the long claw nails, the green-black hairstyle and wide-cut clothes that her figure hid. In the video there was hardly anything to see of her.
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Eilish’s oversize outfits fulfilled a protective function. They relieved the singer to a certain extent of the beauty standards that apply to women in the pop industry. A lot of skin, little fabric is still the motto. Whether stage, video or photo shoot – singers of the top league have a standardized form of sexiness to perform. The fact that Billie Eilish, who was still a minor, evaded this, unlike Britney Spears, who was sexualized at an early age, made her stand out from the monotony. It was also an identification offer for all those pubescent fans who feel most comfortable even in baggy clothes.
Meanwhile, Billie Eilish has dropped the XL style. With a “Vogue” cover, she presented her new classic blonde look including corsages and high heels. Which, of course, you can find a bit unoriginal. But in the end, the singer only follows her “I-do-what-I-want” motto – and joins US pop icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and Lady Gaga. In terms of self-empowerment, she can already easily take on the two New York women.
She demonstrates this in the song “Oxytocin”, which is named after the so-called cuddle hormone. Billie Eilish sings about how she wants to make her lover scream in bed and then explains to him that more than sex is not possible, she only needs it for her hormone balance: “You know I need you for the oxytocin/ If you find it hard to swallow, I can loosen up your collar”.
Finneas has built a forward-pushing dance sound that reminds a little of Timbaland productions of the noughties. “Oxytocin” is one of the best pieces of the somewhat too long album, which, in addition to the new acoustic elements – there is even a bossa nova piece – again lives strongly from the well-known goth-pop formula. A second “Bad Guy” is not on the record, but many strong, touching moments. The car bodies will vibrate and hearts will beat faster.