Album Review: Billie Eilish Defies Critics in “Happier Than Ever”

At just 19, American musician Billie Eilish’s second studio album Happier Than Ever is poised to further strengthen her place in Pop suer-stardom. In Happier Than Ever, which released on Friday, July 30, she explores the effects of being famous, and the criticisms and judgements that often tag along.

Eilish transformed pop music with her 2019 debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” which she made at home with her brother. Critics lauded the emotional transparency and the unsettling, haunting tone amid the more sugary and sweet albums that typically dominate the pop genre. She went on to shatter several records, including becoming, at 18, the youngest artist ever to win a Grammy in the top four categories. But since then, she also became one of the youngest artists to reckon with the intense scrutiny that that comes with that magnitude of attention.

Happier Than Ever opened with “Getting Older,” with the 19-year-old singing: “Things I once enjoyed/ Just keep me employed now.” It’s generally hard to deal with growing up and adulthood but, throw in Eilish’s life as one of the world’s biggest pop stars, and those words take on a larger significance.

Indeed, throughout Happier Than Ever thoughts on the isolation and stress of fame appear. “Getting Older” also mentions the “deranged” strangers who appear at her door. “NDA” tackles the cost of security and the emotional toll of being a famous teen. In the track, she even sings of a secret house she bought at 17, then dejectedly explains she’s never been able to throw a party in it. However, the most jarring ruminations on fame’s restrictions come on the track “Not My Responsibility,” a monologue taking on the constant criticism around her body and sexuality. One line in the track asks: “The body I was born with/ Is it not what you wanted?”

Since bursting on the scene at 13 with her song “Ocean Eyes,” Eilish has been known for being vocal around body positivity. Her choices to wear baggy clothes to reduce focus on her body have drawn almost equal amounts of praise and criticism. Her dyed green-and-black hair has evoked similar responses. Eilish, in turn, has said being in the spotlight is a no-win situation and that women should just be themselves.

In her recent British Vogue cover story — which dominated the social media for days after its release — Billie decided to exchange her hair colours for blonde and her loose clothing for a corset. She explained in the story that she knew this would draw criticism, (as it did; she was quickly accused of “selling out”) but that she did it anyway because women shouldn’t be chained to any style of dress.

In her new album, Eilish makes something meaningful out of her struggles with fame, judgement and criticism.  The singer paints a picture of the freedom that comes from just saying screw it, a sentiment she expresses more colourfully by ending the title track “Happier Than Ever” with “Just f—ing leave me alone” – a song many believe is about her ex-boyfriend Brandon Q whom she broke up with late last year saying they grew apart.

Maybe part of that happiness is her challenging her “whisper singer” tag and the criticism she’s faced, claiming her soft singing on her albums is evidence that she lacks vocal talent. In the banging, clanging “Happier Than Ever,” the Billie showcases her voice and challenges left a whole bunch of questions for her critics to ponder.

On Instagram, Eilish explained that this album “means the world” to her and asked her fans to “please take care of this project.” But the album seems to be a promise she’s made to take care of herself, and show how much she’s matured in the space of three years.

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