27th November, 2021
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Critiquing Albums Like I Could Make Anything Better: Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish

Critiquing Albums Like I Could Make Anything Better: Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish‘s sophomore album is a far cry from a happy-go-lucky dance track album despite the title. It’s mature, it’s honest, it’s extravagantly experimental and somehow understated and resolving. It’s a coming-of-age album akin to Rex Orange County‘s ‘Pony‘ (one of my favourite contemporary pop albums to date). She is, indeed, ‘Happier Than Ever‘ here, but that doesn’t mean she is happy. It seems, though, that she is doing better than she was last time we heard from her through the dark, at times disturbing, ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go‘?

Getting Older

20 somethings – this is a song for you. This song is incredible melodically. Pop artists, unfortunately, tend to recycle the same 5 or 6 melodic patterns. Billie Eilish does this too, but she’s able to do it in a way that feels both familiar and brand new. Pop music is made to be listenable. You’re supposed to be able to sing along. Of course, usually, the downside to that consistency is boredom. That’s why so many of us enjoy the pop music of our early teen years but don’t listen to new pop.

Billie is able to employ just enough familiarity in her melodies to comfort us but makes minor transgressions, which keeps it interesting without being foreign and unreachable. ‘Getting Older’ is a great, simple, sweet song to start the album with. Please note that my use of the words “simple” and “sweet” does not imply ‘small’ by any means. This is the most vulnerable song on the album, in my opinion.

The stand out lyric on this song: “maybe that’s the reason every sentence sounds rehearsed, which is ironic because when I wasn’t honest, I was still bein’ ignored.”

I Didn’t Change My Number

The dog barks at the start, and her voice is extremely expressive and cool. I love the lyrics paired with that boppy synth beat. It’s a big pump-up song, and this album a whole alternates in classic Billie style between sad, slow, sweet melodies and empowering, bratty rhythmic anthems.

Billie Bossa Nova

On this track, Billie plays with a slick samba beat. She’s explained that this song is a fantasy, a hotel affair akin to Taylor Swift‘s ‘illicit affairs‘ in a very different style. It’s playful and serious. Sweet and risky. She draws on the sensual sound of a Latino style and pairs it with airy, tip-toe vocal melodies. It does a great job, production-wise, of conveying the excitement and release around the secrecy of an affair.

Given her musical background, Billie Eilish and her brother are highly educated with music theory and history in several genres, and it obviously shows on this album. For example, she’s a big fan of Frank Sinatra, so what stuck out to me on this track is the lyric ‘there’s something about the way you look tonight‘. Bossa Nova is a historical Brazilian samba jazz genre that Billie mentioned as one of the big inspirations for this album.

my future

She didn’t put ‘everything i wanted‘ on this album, but she put ‘my future’ on it. I would like to know why. This song was released over a year ago, and so hearing it now proves a tad underwhelming. Though, it was a great transition song out of her WWAFAWDWG era. When it first came out, I didn’t love it, but it grew on me. I remember liking the beat change halfway through, and lucky us, it’s become a bit of a trend in Billie’s music. It is very dreamy. I love this line: “Know I’m supposed to be unhappy without someone, but aren’t I someone?”

Oxytocin

This is the ‘bad guy’ of Happier Than Ever. It’s quick and witty; it’s absolutely going to be insane to see live. If you check the genius lyrics page for it, that was the whole point.

GOLDWING

This is probably my least favourite song on the album. After the first angelic sounding bit, it reminds me of ‘Pretty Piece of Flesh’ by One Inch Punch from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Maybe someone can use it for a remake. It has a good beat; I just find it dull in comparison to the other songs.

Lost Cause

This is one of my favourites. It’s a calm power bop. It’s unimpressed, it’s emotional and detached, it’s fun and sad and angry all at the same time. On this track, Billie gets mean, and it’s allowed.

Halley’s Comet

This is another of my favourites. It’s just beautiful. I find that the songs I like the most are the hardest to write about. But it’s been stuck in my head for days. I love the melodies. Every album needs a love ballad; for her last album, it was ‘i love you‘, for this one… well… listen to it. I’m not a massive fan of the last little epilogue, though. I think it could have ended flawlessly with her sighed ‘for you’.

Not My Responsibility

This is a spoken-word piece that she played before at live shows. I completely forgot about it until I heard this track. It’s only become more relevant now. Since Billie Eilish has turned 18, her body has (somehow) become even more sexualised by the public. She always said that she didn’t intend to stay the same, so it’s no surprise that she started letting go of her iconic baggy t-shirt style. The sexualisation of women, particularly of underage women in the entertainment industry, is an issue that gets consistently overlooked because people don’t register celebrities as actual human beings at the end of the day. However, she’s aware that protecting herself and her comfort comes with consequences, and she takes the opportunity here to own her body and take it back from the media’s strange depiction.

Billie Eilish – NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY – a short film
OverHeated

I love how this song flows on from the last track. It’s basically ‘Not My Responsibility’ – but the song. It’s obviously about that picture of her in a tank top. The bridge is a highlight for me. I love her delivery of the line, “all these other inanimate bitches, it’s none of my business”.

Everybody Dies

This song sounds very similar to the track she did for the James Bond movie – it’s a cynical hug. A pessimistic comforting. It’s good; it just doesn’t stand out to me.

Your Power

This has somehow become one of my top songs on Spotify. I like it, it’s calm. It gave us a good insight into the themes of misogyny, empowerment, freedom and growing up in the spotlight on this album. Despite the light, airy happy-sounding music, the lyrics are relatively poised. However, this era encapsulates a sense of hopefulness and acceptance that past records didn’t.

NDA

Finneas did a great job at depicting the feeling of paranoia through the production on this one. I was unsure how I felt about it the first time I heard it, but I’ve since decided that I like it. The vocal distortion and seemingly random swell of autotune after the first verse seem out of place, being that this song follows a song as clean as ‘Your Power’, but you get used to it.

Therefore I Am

Again, the way that this track seamlessly blends with the end of the previous song is fantastic. It’s the same kind of vibe as ‘Lost Cause‘. It’s petty, It’s fun, It’s powerful. And I love it. I remember when it came out, I absolutely adored the parts where she’s just speaking. It’s so unbothered and iconic.

Happier Than Ever

There are not enough words in the world to describe how incredible I think this song is. I remember hearing ‘when the party’s over‘ in 2018, I was utterly awestruck. I’d never heard anything like it. The first time I listened to the entirety of this song, I was left jaw-dropped by the second half. I must have played it on repeat for three days following the release. The beginning is gentle, classic, sad and calm. It would be a stunning anachronistic sound on its own – but then comes that second half. It’s incredible. The swell. The passion. The lyrics. That guitar. The straight-up screaming at the end. We haven’t heard Billie Eilish like this, ever. But I hope we get a rock album someday. This title track is the definition of ‘the calm before the storm’.

Male Fantasy

This might grow to be one of my favourite Billie Eilish songs. Over time, I feel as though I’ll develop even more appreciation for it. It’s packed full of imagery, lyrically, it’s written like a Phoebe Bridgers song, small snippets of mundane events stitched together with the acoustics of a Taylor Swift song I can’t name. It’s a good send-off song to put at the end of the album, but as a track to follow up ‘Happier Than Ever’, it was a risky placement. Luckily, everyone hits shuffle anyway. She did explain that the album was going to end with the emotional rock finale of Happier Than Ever, but she didn’t want to end the album on a bad note. Compared to the first track on the album, it exhibits growth, and I admire that structure.

Track Ranking:
  1. Happier Than Ever
  2. Halley’s Comet
  3. Lost Cause
  4. I Didn’t Change My Number
  5. Male Fantasy
  6. Getting Older
  7. Billie Bossa Nova
  8. my future
  9. Your Power
  10. OverHeated
  11. NDA
  12. Not My Responsibility
  13. Oxytocin
  14. Therefore I Am
  15. Everybody Dies
  16. GOLDWING

“Listen to the album or you”

Tyneesha Williams

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