»Happier than ever« is the second album by Billie Eilish. And the very first song gets to the heart of the matter. “Getting older” is his name. And the 19-year-old sings this and that to low-frequency synth humming. That it is difficult with the ex, love, life. Well. The problems you have at 19. You suffer. And in the title track she sings: »When I’m away from you / I’m happier than ever«, and you immediately notice: She is not really happier than ever. She’s just very, very brave because she broke up with her toxic boyfriend. And that’s okay.
You hear songs like that as a teenager. And they then stream it billions of times. “The majority of the billion-dollar streams came from teenagers because they recognized something or perhaps even themselves in Eilish’s songs,” writes “Zeit” reviewer Daniel Gerhardt. The rest (of the streams) were worried by people who didn’t want to see that they were actually too old for that.”
And “too old” is a good keyword. I think that a middle-aged person (i.e. me) is not enough to review the album, so I bring in my twelve-year-old child. A brainstorming session on Billie Eilish reveals: »Bad Guy« is quite good, the video for the one song with the black tears is disgusting, and the James Bond song is okay, but not as good as »Skyfall«. We watch the video for »Happier than ever«, in which Eilish ends up standing on the roof of a house in the flood plain. But natural disasters as metaphors for the soul life of young celebrities feel somehow inappropriate for us right now.
The second song »I didn’t change my number« is about a typical celebrity problem: people talk things about the private life of the star. In the song, she mentions her personal assistant Laura, who tells her to be nicer to the callers. And the musically appealing »Billie Bossa Nova« is also about keeping secrets: »Some information not for sharing / use different names at hotel check-ins«. In terms of music, it’s a bit reminiscent of the French band Nouvelle Vague. “I don’t know,” says the child, bobbing along. With »NDA« she even turns a »Non-Disclosure Agreement«, i.e. a silence agreement, into a song title.
Actually, the album is a concept album, which could also have been titled »My life as a young celebrity«. All the songs are somehow about it. Apart from that, there are a few other niceties. In the cuddly hormone song »Oxytocin«, Eilish turns God into a »she«. And in »Therefore I am« she quotes the French philosopher René Descartes. The child and I then discuss the Bible verse, which says that God created human beings in His image, and I explain to Descartes.
In »Male Fantasy« there are confessional verses: »Home alone, tryin’ not to eat / distract myself with pornography«. I don’t translate that to the child. My theory with the »Celebrity Suffering Album« takes it with a shrug of the shoulders. » But she wanted to be famous, didn’t she?” it asks. It’s not so easy with being famous, I say. Best song? We skip through it again: »Oxytocin«, »Therefore I am« and »Happier than ever«.
Halfway through the album at the latest, I can’t cope with Eilish’s wistful vocal style. And then there’s Autotune. Phew. Already at the Oscars, Eilish had made »Yesterday« a near-death experience performed with closed eyes. The child rolls his eyes: “Why, that was quite good, wasn’t it?! You always and your holy Beatles.”
“Anything else you want to say?” I ask the child. Answer: “Olivia Rodrigo was somehow better.”
Billie Eilish: “Happier than ever” (Interscope Records)