AOTY 2021
Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever
Aug 7, 2021 (updated Aug 17, 2021)

American pop superstar’s sophomore album is an expansive follow-up for her groovy, atmospheric, and even terrifying debut. It has some flaws and things that could have been done better –any experimentation can partly go wrong– but still is among the best pop music released this year.

What I think is the most impressive thing about ‘Happier Than Ever’ is Billie’s vocals. Her almost whispered singing was what distinguished ‘When We All Fall Asleep…’ from the rest of the pop landscape. Even though I liked it a lot, I was afraid that she would stick to that formula forever and become a boring artist, since it not only meant for her to reach superstardom (and winning five Grammys), but also a widespread critical acclaim. Happily, she stepped out of her comfort zone and delivered louder, and incredibly powerful and confident vocals, especially in the title track, ‘Everybody Dies’ and ‘NDA’.

There were vocal mistakes made too, the autotune in ‘NDA’ was not necessary, and doesn’t really sound good. The production in ‘Getting Older’ is terribly monotonous (boring), it genuinely scared me because I thought the whole album was going to be like that; so is that of ‘Your Power’.

Now, those were small details or individual points that I think could have been so much better, but the main weakness in ‘Happier Than Ever’ is its lack in a sound of its own. Most songs sound good on their own, but since there are so many different styles coexisting throughout the album, I find it hard to conceive them as a whole, full-bodied project. That happens usually when an artist steps out of their comfort zone in very different directions: we have the insanely sensual ‘Oxytocin’, a bossa nova track, a rock switch in the title track, a spoken word interlude; all of them coexisting with what we are used to hear from Billie, like ‘GOLDWING’, ‘Your Power’ or ‘Therefore I Am’.

Still, the production is mostly well achieved. Here are some of its best moments. ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’ and ‘Oxytocin’ have something about their production that’s incredibly sensual (even erotic) and textured. The synthetisers in the verses of ‘NDA’ remind me a lot of Björk’s ‘Enjoy’ (though Billie never said that, I am sure that Björk was a big influence for her). The spoken word interlude, ‘Not My Responsibility’, creates a whole atmosphere around me, like I was in a dimly lit room with some speakers playing her monologue. Then the choral intro used as a beat in ‘GOLDWING’. And the transitions… All of them are impeccable, and unexpected at least for me. Finally, I liked the idea behind ‘Billie Bossa Nova’. I always expected her to make a bossa nova track, but that song is not how I wanted her to. I would have preferred a ‘purer’ bossa nova, not just a beat on the background of a pop song.

But the main strength of this record is Billie’s smart and, at times, poetic lyricism. In ‘Happier Than Ever’, she discusses different aspects of her fame and heartbreak. I must say that, besides its inconsistent sound, the album has a solid concept, there isn’t a single song that drifts thematically away. Back to the lyrics, we have some tongue-in-cheek phrases, but also poetic takes. Anyways, those poetic moments are not really as outstanding as they could be.

Halley’s comet
Comes around more than I do – ‘Halley’s Comet’

I like that metaphor, but I feel the phrase could have been better constructed if the comparison was more direct, like personifying the comet as Billie herself.

Anyways, that was (fortunately) an exception. Most of the lyrics are solid and even funny. Here is some of the best cuts:

The strangers seem to want me more
Than anyone before
Too bad they’re usually deranged – ‘Getting Older’

That’s what I call a gentle, smooth way to complain about stalkers.

I didn’t change my number
I only changed who I reply to
Laura said I should be nicer
But not to you – ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’

Was there a better way to say, ‘fuck off, just stop texting me’?

I used to think you were shy
But maybe you just had nothing on your mind – ‘Lost Cause’

These lines make me kind of insecure because I’m a little (too much) shy…

You think that you’re the man
I think, therefore I am – ‘Therefore I Am’

This phrase just saved my life.

Well, this was ‘Happier Than Ever’, a step out of Billie’s comfort zone, that finally establishes her as one of the biggest and most influential pop artists of these years.

BEST TRACKS: ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’ ∙ ‘Oxytocin’ ∙ ‘Everybody Dies’ ∙ ‘Therefore I Am’ ∙ ‘Happier Than Ever’

WORST TRACK: ‘Getting Older’

Review #6
Genre(s): alternative pop, r&b, pop, art pop

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