Photo by Kelia Anne MacCluskey
Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever.
At the age of 13, Billie Eilish and her brother dropped the single “Ocean Eyes.” What was initially supposed to be a song for a dance performance ended up becoming a global hit, and within a matter of weeks, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter was launched into the public eye. Eilish has practically grown up as a famous figure and, by now, she has been under public scrutiny for about a third of her life.
Undoubtedly, the pressures of stardom, especially during critical periods of growth in a person’s life, have significant impacts on their psyche. In her sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, Eilish laments about the impacts her career has had on her well-being. The album’s title itself is more of an ironic statement than reality for the 19-year-old. Eilish has always been outspoken about uncomfortable topics surrounding fame, and despite her outstanding success, she has remained relatable to many. Happier Than Ever is no different, offering a personal glimpse into her mind and career.
Beginning with “Getting Older,” Eilish quietly sings about the act of singing itself. “Things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now,” she sings. It seems to plague many when they turn passions into careers, but Eilish takes it even a step further against the light pulses of synths as she discusses what it has brought her — including feelings of isolation and stalkers. “Getting Older” is a desolate song about just that — the growing responsibilities and pressures of growing up.
In a more upbeat backing with plucky guitars, Eilish switches gears in the track “my future” as her airy vocals touch on the deeply intimate feeling of loving oneself, without needing someone else. It’s a challenge everyone has had or has to undergo. Being comfortable alone and shedding the notion of needing someone else to be complete is the type of acknowledgement Eilish reflects on in the song.
At the halfway point of Happier Than Ever, Eilish offers us a spoken word poem, with drawn out ambient notes accompanying the words. “Not My Responsibility” is one of the most poignant tracks on the album as it reveals Eilish in her most unbridled state. The teen’s fashion is something of an iconic and intentional look — baggy pants, baggy shirts and baggy jackets, all selectively chosen to hide her body. Yet despite this, she still underwent severe body-shaming. She wears the criticism on her sleeve, making a 180 to instead call out her criticizers.
The album’s eponymous song arrives as the second-to-last title on the album. In it, Eilish appears to actually internalize the feelings of being happier than ever. It directly addresses someone Eilish has had to leave in favor of her own happiness and health. While obviously hurtful, the young singer narrates how much better she is without this individual, citing particular incidents that culminated in her choice.
Throughout the album, Eilish sings with candor, reprising stripped down backdrops like she did in her debut album. Happier Than Ever is undeniably an album filled with sorrow and personal adversity for the singer; the lyrics of each song take on a different topic of struggle. Yet, it also enters as a tracklist of songs everyday people can look at and hold closely, because Eilish takes on the task of revealing such profound experiences that afflict every person, while simultaneously having her own catharsis.