Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever review – A suffocating picture of stardom

Fri, Jul 30, 2021, 10:24

   
 

Album:
Happier Than Ever

Artist:
Billie Eilish

Label:
Darkroom - Interscope

Genre:
Pop

Vanity Fair has a video series that asks Billie Eilish the same questions every year. It began in 2017, when she was 15. Now, older Billie each time looks back on younger Billie and guffaws at how much she’s changed in 12 months. Fame is a baffling affliction, so it’s no wonder the now 19-year-old puts celebrity, power and abuse under the microscope on her second album.

The lead single, My Future, introduces us to a sunnier side of Eilish – who channels Amy Winehouse in her delivery – but before this sunburst she has to wade through the storm. “Things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now,” she sings on the opening track, Getting Older, immediately dismissing the album’s sentimental title. Like her 2019 debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, which Eilish also coproduced and cowrote with her 23-year-old brother, Finneas O’Connell, this is a sugar-free zone.

With gentle guitars, Your Power tricks us into a sense of safety while unravelling an emotionally abusive relationship between a young woman and an older man. In what seems to be a battle with her own psyche, she plays her vulnerabilities outright but frequently slips into the role of the villain, highlighting the tipping point of a person under pressure.

Bordering on mania on Oxytocin, she wails, “You and me are both the same, you should really run away”. Using hymnal chanting on Goldwing, she casts a dark spell, warning the listener that people are “gonna claim you like you a souvenir, just to sell you in a year”. On the industrial NDA she is a prisoner, locked up and too afraid to leave the house she bought when she was 17, watching as “pretty boys” sign nondisclosure agreements as they leave and stalkers lurk at the gates. 

There are moments when Eilish sounds older than her years, but the title track ventures down a heart-breaking avenue that feels relatably teenage: “I could talk about every time that you showed up on time, but I’d have an empty line, ’cause you never did.” But the bitter taste of fame seeps back in when she asks, “Do you read my interviews?” already knowing the answer.

With unpredictable production that twists narratives around R&B melodies, dread-inducing techno beats and breezy jazz vocals, Eilish paints a suffocating picture of the confinements and exploitations of being a celebrity and a teenager. With remarkable artistry, Eilish (and O’Connell) compare those absurdities, creating a horror show that presents lack of control as the real thing to fear.