In February 2018 Billie Eilish covered Michael Jackson‘s ‘Bad’ on Australian radio. In March the following year came the joyous frenzy of breakthrough pop single ‘Bad Guy.’ On the momentum of this single alone, Eilish could have launched a career as an international pop sensation. Instead, the song was followed by the era-defining album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
When We Fall Asleep vs. Happier Than Ever
Michael Jackson released Thriller in 1982. After creating the most successful album of his era, pop’s eminent genius was confident his next release would be even bigger. The album, Bad was not. It destroyed him.
Like Jackson, Eilish is another unadulterated pop genius. One who now has to live up to the legacy of one of the most enduring and influential records of the decade. Her solution, at first glance, is a simple one. Not giving a f***.
She’s Getting Older
As an honest songwriter, Eilish cannot help but sing what is on her mind. Documenting the lockdown year of the coronavirus pandemic, the lead singles of Happier Than Ever projected a very gloomy feeling indeed. The album continues to express the heavy mood with the opener ‘I’m Getting Older.’ The jazzy ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’ then introduces listeners to one of the album’s core themes, the fallout from a massive breakup.
Some tracks, such as the industrial leaning ‘Oxytocin’ and playful ‘Billie Bossa Nova’, stray towards filler. Any weaker numbers are, however, redeemed by ‘Lost Cause’, ‘NDA’, ‘Therefore I Am’ and ‘Your Power’. Capturing many of Eilish’s best vocal performances to date, the singles offer the album’s high points. ‘My Future’ remains one of the greatest examples of Eilish’s ultra-minimal style.
‘NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY’ is another powerful moment. Eilish embraces her potential to write one of the most telling songs about fame and living in the public gaze. She is constantly questioning. It is clear that what she struggles with is not simply what people think of her but how she can make others think about themselves. When Billie is able to align her musical ability with these big ideas and emotions, she is capable of producing timeless songs.
Billie Eilish as a cultural hero
Billie Eilish rose from obscure origins to become a social phenomenon. Why that is will be a matter of discussion of years to come. One reason without question was the joyous frenzy of ‘Bad Guy.’ The pre-coronavirus world of ‘Bad Guy’ seems like a universe away. Nothing makes this more clear than Happier Than Ever.
At times it feels like the pressures of fame and coronavirus pandemic have created too great a burden for Eilish to recreate the ecstasy of her first album. And herein lays the album’s greatest disadvantage. It documents life’s troubles at a time when many music fans are desperate to escape them. It is without question, a more cerebral and introspective record. In this sense, its heavy lyrical questions, alongside Eilish’s evisceration of fan culture, can at times make Happier Than Ever a bitter pill to swallow.
Fame. As much as Eilish derides it, surely it is something she also craves. As with ‘Everything I Wanted’, Happier Than Ever reflects this complicated relationship. The Strokes inspired piano ballad ‘Halley’s Comet’ was probably written about real-life romances. Eilish, however, could just as easily about her own success.
Where Billie Eilish succeeds
As problematic as Michael Jackson became he also gave the world ‘Beat It‘. On ‘OverHeated’ Eilish proclaims her own indestructible will to survive. Despite what life or others may place in her way she will persevere.
As mercurial as Happer Than Ever is, the album is also the most remarkable we have heard this year. It requires a flash of genius to get out from an album such as When We Fall Asleep‘s shadow. With the climatic ‘Happier Than Ever’ Eilish does, if only for a moment, achieve it. “Just fucking leave me alone,” she screams.
There is a lot of unhappiness on this album. Despite this, ‘Male Fanasty’ Eilish refuses to leave things on a bitter note. Love, for former lovers, other people, and the public at large, triumphs over hate. As confusing and terrible as it may be, the world is a beautiful place.
Final Thoughts on Billie Eilish
‘Male Fantasy’ goes to the heart of Billie Eilish. She is not afraid to express contradictions or even the frustration she feels watching another woman perform in a pornographic video. She hates, she loves. As much as she does not give a flying f***, she also cares a lot. There is a lot of humanity in her music.
And it is with such twists of expectation that Eilish succeeds. Happier Than Ever has depth. Billie wants fans to question how much they think they know her. And, on a deeper level, themselves.
Billie Eilish 'Happier Than Ever'8
Singles remain strongest material
May be too challenging for casual fans