Last January, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas responded with audible groans when their album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, was awarded Album of the Year at the Grammys. “We didn’t make this album to win a Grammy… we didn’t think we would win anything ever,” Finneas, who produced the album, told the crowd in a sheepish acceptance speech. “We stand up here confused and grateful.”
Eighteen months later, the pair has returned to a much bigger audience and much higher expectations, as Eilish’s sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, arrives on all streaming platforms. Eilish, at just 19, is one of the most adored pop stars in the world, a seven-time Grammy winner and the subject of her own documentary (The World’s A Little Blurry on Apple TV). And in its first day, the 16-track Happier Than Ever (Interscope) immediately shot to the top of Apple Music’s albums chart in the U.S. and many other countries; the album sees her expanding her musical palette, exploring personal trauma and abuses of power, and tweaking her unique fashion sensibilities. Here are the main takeaways from Happier Than Ever.
Eilish’s expanding musical palette includes crooners-era pop, electronica and pop-punk
Eilish’s music has long been difficult to place into a neat genre box; she and Finneas have drawn from Soundcloud rap production, Laurel Canyon folk harmonies and techno. Happier Than Ever retains many of Eilish’s signature sounds—languid ballads, lingering, whispered syllables, dreamy synthesizer pads—while expanding outward into a disparate array of genres and eras. Eilish has talked about her love for jazz and pop torch ballad singers from the ‘50s and ‘60s like Julie London and Peggy Lee, and it’s not hard to hear their influence on songs like “Halley’s Comet” and “Everybody Dies.”
The album also swerves into sonic pockets more suitable for the dance floor: the outro of “I Didn’t Change My Number” is nearly overwhelmed by an abrasive sawtooth bass, while “Oxytocin” recalls the dark twitchiness of Britney Spears’ Blackout era. And on the second half of the title track, Eilish and Finneas switch to a punk-pop setup, turning up tom-tom drums and electric guitars until they seize with feedback, while Eilish unleashes several guttural howls reminiscent of Phoebe Bridgers’ “I Know the End.” “I screamed my lungs out when we recorded this song. I’ve wanted to get those screams out for a long time,” Eilish said in a Spotify interview accompanying the album.
Her lyrics address male toxicity and beauty standards
As the teenage Eilish has navigated the music industry over the last four years, she has become increasingly vocal about the way in which young women are preyed upon and taken advantage of. “I don’t know one girl or woman who hasn’t had a weird experience, or a really bad experience,” she told Vogue earlier this year. Many of the album’s lyrics touch on similar themes of vulnerability and abuse. “They’re gonna tell you what you wanna hear/ Then they’re gonna disappear/ Gonna claim you like a souvenir/ Just to sell you in a year,” she warns someone younger than herself on “Goldwing.” On “Your Power,” she addresses an abuser directly: “She said you were a hero/ You played the part/ But you ruined her in a year/ Don’t act like it was hard.”
The album also includes “Not My Responsibility,” a short monologue from 2020 that addresses toxic beauty standards, the male gaze, and the paparazzi. After she released the monologue, Eilish was the subject of a torrent of bodyshaming when a photo of her in a tank top went viral. Eilish addressed the sequence of events in the album commentary on Spotify, saying that the interlude was “some of my favorite words I’ve written, and I feel like nobody listened.”
“I put it out and everyone was like, ‘Yas queen! Body positivity!’ And like three months later, there was a picture of me in a tank top and the whole internet was like, ‘FAT!’” she said, laughing.
Eilish sings about her personal life with startling candor
Eilish has said that while much of her previous music was based on characters, Happier Than Ever is much more autobiographical; it deals with a breakup, abuse, identity crises, the perils of fame and losing any semblance of privacy. “I’ve had some trauma, did things I didn’t wanna/ Was too afraid to tell ya, but now, I think it’s time,” she sings on the opener, “Getting Older.” Eilish, as she is wont to do, laces these heavy topics with flippant humor: she laughs off needing therapy in “Male Fantasy” and recounts how legal documents have become a part of her love life on “NDA.”
The album also recounts a breakup with some startling specificity. In the documentary The World’s A Little Blurry, footage captures Eilish with her previously-secret boyfriend, Brandon Adams, as they fall in love and ultimately fall out. One scene shows Eilish unhappily confronting Adams about driving home drunk—on the album’s title track, Eilish sings of an extremely similar situation: “You call me again, drunk in your Benz/ Drivin’ home under the influence/ You scared me to death but I’m wastin’ my breath/ ‘Cause you only listen to your f-ckin’ friends.”
The album marks a new era for Eilish’s fashion
When Eilish became a public figure a few years ago, her fashion sensibility was unmistakable: spiky chains; dichromatic green-black hair, oversized hoodies, homages to punk, goth and skateboarding styles. She has since tested many different looks, leaning into eccentric haute couture and pin-up throwbacks. For this album’s rollout, she has chosen an elegant, muted approach in which she sports voluminous blonde hair, plush fabrics and lies across Persian rugs. It’s a marked shift from a previous era in which her chains were always audible in interviews—in which she ate spiders and talked about her penchant for sucking on dirty jewelry. But while some may clamor for the old Billie, the look fits the album’s more refined sonic approach—and will likely be only one of many stylistic shifts by a young star in the process of building a durable and unpredictable career