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‘Happier Than Ever‘ by Billie Eilish – Album Rating: 4.5/5 ★★★★⋆
We all know Billie Eilish, whether it be as the “alternative queen of Gen-Z” or a “style icon,” an 8-time Grammy winner, or a chart-topper! Through her highly emotional, pop-alternative music that regularly touches on dark subject matters, Eilish is today one of the most successful artists of recent times.
Eilish’s album and latest release, ‘Happier than Ever’, contrasts with her previous works and debut album incredibly as stated by Brittany Spanos from Rolling Stone. When ‘We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go’”conjured up vivid memories of night terrors and lucid dreams” through creepy, horrific imagery and fictional lyrics (Spanos).
‘Happier Than Ever’, is Billie leaving behind this darker image of herself and saying goodbye to the fantastical darkness; instead, she explores her own identity under the global spotlight, past failed relationships and friendships, newfound lust for life. Also, her overall process of healing in reclaiming her power. ‘Happier Than Ever’ is a moving, relatable, beautifully executed, and passion-infused project. It touches the heart while holding its own significance for Billie herself.
Mainly attributed to her unique musical mediums and genre-bending experimentation, Billie Eilish is a prime example of alternative music’s recent evolution. Andrew Unterberger from Billboard reveals that contrary to the more popularized notion of alternative, a “grungier, guitar-driven style,” recently “alternative has taken on more of a pop lean” “which seems to make it more accessible to a broader audience.” Modern alternative sounds are more of an “amalgamation of genres” and a conglomeration of borrowed elements from other genres (Unterberger).
Billie Eilish, while immensely popular, is in no doubt an experimental artist. Her works mirror this model. Also, she borrows numerous elements from varying genres to create a unique yet widely digestible sound. Another genre-blurring pop alternative female idol worthy of comparison is Madonna. She has her own unique persona, has an extensive musical range covering multiple genres, and is a powerful female genre-bender.
Uniqueness is fundamental to Eilish, as she stated in an interview with Brittany Spanos that “the one thing” she “tries really hard not to do” is to have any of her songs sound the same (Spanos). It is apparent that ‘Happier Than Ever’s’ first three tracks are all a different sound; ‘Getting Older’ is soft and slow with lo-fi beats and a melancholy melody. ‘I Didn’t Change My Number’ is a groovy, sassy futuristic pop song. ‘Billie Bossa Nova’ is an old Hollywood-esque love song that incorporates elements of jazz and blues.
Contrary to the album’s title, Eilish says herself that “almost none of the songs on this album are joyful” (Spanos). Instead, Eilish is at a place in her life where she can say she is happier than she once was and is mature enough to reflect on this darker past. What makes this album so exceptional is its realism and relatability. In the track ‘Your Power’, Eilish “hope[s] every young woman who [hears it] and has been taken advantage of feels heard” (Eilish, Genius). In ‘Your Power’, Eilish’s emotional, soft, and ethereal vocals are met with delicate complementary acoustic guitar to tell the story of her past relationship with an older man and her subsequent loss of power and reclamation of it. “Try not to abuse your power,” she says, speaking directly to those who are in these positions to take advantage of others.
“You might not want to lose your power… But havin’ it’s so strange,” she follows up with, cautioning other young women against losing their control. Also, reflecting on how irregular, nonetheless positive, it feels to have reclaimed this lost power. Especially in the context of modern-day issues regarding power dynamics such as the ‘Me Too’ movement and others. It is a track that is as musically impressive and pleasant to listen to as it is meaningful and impactful.
The title track is a seamless execution of the modern alternative genre. Also, it serves as a catharsis for the rest of the album. It is in this track, Eilish releases emotions and lets out screams “she wanted to get out for a long time” (Spanos). ‘Happier Than Ever’ starts melancholy, with acoustic singer-songwriter instrumentals and gentle vocals that set the tone for a generic soft and sad song. However, halfway through the track, something drastic changes. The tempo picks up immensely. The acoustic guitar breaks away, and an intense, crunchy electric guitar and strong rock instrumentals come.
The soft and sweet tone of Eilish’s voice changes into angry, emotional, rock like-vocals complemented by background voices screaming the lyrics alongside Eilish as she sings, “cause I’d never treat me this shy, you made me hate this city!” The acoustic singer-songwriter vibe is no longer for the song’s duration, and Billie introduces a powerful, emotional rock performance. The track concludes with a 90s rock-like guitar solo and four final lines that repeat “f**k you”. This track is the pinnacle of Eilish’s healing and reclamation of her power throughout the album; essentially, all the emotions introduced in the album finally come to a head in a powerful and explosive release.
To put ‘Happier Than Ever’ in a box as to what genre it would be criminal. Moreover, such a large part of the album’s beauty is the genre-bending experimentation and unique sounds across the tracks. I’d give the album 4.5 out of 5 stars; some tracks are less impressive and noteworthy in comparison to the ones that are undeniable masterpieces. Yet, the album as a whole is beyond enjoyable and profound. Also, listening to her since the debut EP, I can’t help but feel proud watching this new era unfold. It is beautiful to witness a talented young woman’s healing journey.