Quiet confidence, brutal honesty and powerful sexuality
Jessie Atkinson
11:17 30th July 2021

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People on social media really really like to say that there’s been a 'cultural reset'. Well, if you throw a hell of a lot of jelly at the wall, eventually something’s going to stick. On her second full-length record Happier Than Ever, Billie Eilish (alongside her producer/brother FINNEAS) has instigated a new direction that will inevitably ripple throughout our culture—and yeah, maybe even reset it.

At 56 minutes long, the singles we received for this new full-length —‘my future’, ‘Lost Cause’, ‘Your Power’, ‘NDA’ and ‘Therefore I Am’—could not hope to indicate where Happier Than Ever was really going. As a whole, Happier Than Ever transforms what we’re so familiar with into something whole. Alongside songs that could have also stood alone, these singles take on a totality of quiet confidence, brutal honesty and powerful sexuality.

Opener ‘Getting Older’ shows Billie at her thoughtful best, giving somewhat of a false start: the growls of a dog at the open of album standout ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’ immediately carry out a railroad switch towards what Happier Than Ever really is: a nuanced painting of a young woman made up of disparate—and often messy—parts.

Billie’s ‘internet-breaking’ British Vogue shoot, which showed her in a series of stunning, vintage-inspired lingerie looks, was more of an indication of where things were going musically than we could have ever imagined. Where on When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? Billie was sharp tongued and subversive, here she is sheer power embodied, the most potent of life subjects become the focus of Billie’s lyric-writing: sex, death, sadness, self-empowerment.

On ‘Billie Bossa Nova’ and ‘Oxytocin’ she is explicit in her desires: “there’s something ’bout the way you look tonight…Makes me wanna…make a movie with you that we’d have to hide” she sings on the former; “‘Cause I like to do things God doesn’t approve of if She saw us” on the latter. Of course, some of this is titillating horseplay made to bait tabloid gossip, but there is also a very strong sense that Billie is also flexing new muscles that come with growing from a teenager into a young adult.

Her confidence spreads like ink in water across the entire record: on single ‘Lost Cause’, she derides a loser she once craved and on ‘Not My Responsibility’, she is at her most essential, delivering a goosebump-inducing monologue about people judging her for “the body I was born with”. By the time the title track comes around, it’s less of a surprise to hear that the titular statement does not in fact refer to being in the embrace of a new lover, but quite the opposite: “When I’m away from you, I’m happier than ever” she sings.

And none of that is to even touch the extraordinariness of the music and production on Happier Than Ever! thank God Billie decided to stick with her brother FINNEAS as co-writer and producer: the symbiosis between these siblings creates magic once more. Across bossa nova, stadium rock, whispering acoustics, soul, and ever-inventive electronics, the pair manage to present genre after genre as their own, making interpreting influence look as easy as plucking flowers from the meadow of musical history and arranging them in a bouquet.

With production quirks, mid-song about-turns and lyrical flourishes aplenty, Happier Than Ever feels far less than its near hour-long runtime, presenting a palace to explore again and again. Revisit to find alcoves containing vulnerability and genuine heartbreak, portraits of sneering derision, corridors of bold production subversion and an overall air of pop culture having been well and truly reset.

Happier Than Ever is out now.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

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Photo: Press