Billie Eilish’s Uneasy View From the Top
Billie Eilish has a voice full of secrets. She is known to rarely turn up her volume higher than a whisper triggering ASMR, but there is also some provocative knowing in her tone. Consider the withered “duh” that punctuates her “Bad Guy” smash – if you don’t get it now, she seems to be saying with an audible eye roll, she’ll never say it.
Like her idiosyncratic fashion sense, Eilish’s hugely successful debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” as of 2019, has found a careful balance between expression and obfuscation. Of course, she and her brother, Finneas, openly discussed how they recorded it in their childhood home, and extracted her lyrics from the darker corners of Eilish’s own nightmares. But she was clearly happy to keep some things to herself – blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, irony and sincerity, with a sinister, self-conservative wink.
On “Getting Older”, the deaf and airy number that opens her second album, “Happier Than Ever”, Eilish announces that she is entering a more frank phase. “I had a trauma / I did things I didn’t want / I was too scared to tell you / But now I think it’s time,” she sings into her floating vibrato , accompanied just by jerky keyboard notes.
The song is a snapshot of Eilish’s psyche on the other side of her titanic fame, Grammys full arms, and her particular flavor of mountaintop boredom somehow finds the aesthetic common ground between Drake and Peggy Lee. Strangers and stalkers demand Eilish’s attention, which leaves her feeling more estranged from the people around her. The music she made for fun became high pressure work. “Things I once loved,” she hums with a sigh, that’s all there is, “just keep me working now”.
The antagonists of Eilish’s latest album were stylistically gruesome: demons haunting his mind and monsters lurking under his bed. “Happier Than Ever” turns on the lights to discover that bogeymen are more mundane but just as dangerous – indifferent boyfriends, parasitic parasites and, worse yet, the violent older men she addresses with disgust at. vitriol on the softly strummed single “Your Power”: “And you swear you didn’t know / You said you thought she was your age,” she sings. “How dare you?”
Eilish insists that not all of these songs are directly autobiographical, and it is true that “Happier Than Ever” is not exactly a confessional. Rather, it’s a record obsessed with the tension between private and public knowledge, a social media-era pop star meditating on the franchise – if any – that she owes to her audience. (Sometimes it’s reminiscent of the sultry provocations of Madonna’s mid-90s era more than any other contemporary pop album; the unabashed manifesto “Not My Responsibility” has more than a tinge of “Human Nature.”)
Eilish’s body, sexuality, and romantic relationships have all become targets of scrutiny as her fame grows, and “Happier Than Ever” finds her erecting barbed boundaries around all of these. battle zones – though it occasionally teases the listener with a few cleverly ditched details. “I bought a secret house when I was 17,” sings Eilish, now 19, on the “NDA” streamer. “I had a cute boy but he couldn’t stay / On his way, made him sign an NDA.”
This line is both boastful and melancholy, and its duality makes “NDA” one of the most compelling songs on the album. “Happier Than Ever” is in part the chronicle of a wildly successful young woman, obsessively watched, trying to get out and explore her desires. On the crazy ballad “Halley’s Comet”, Eilish laments the disconnection inherent in this workaholic lifestyle: “Halley’s comet / Comes around more than I do”, she sings. “Midnight for me is 3 am for you. Elsewhere, however, on the aptly titled “Billie Bossa Nova” or the industry-tinged “Oxytocin,” Nine Inch Nails, Eilish reveled in the thrill of having to squeeze in to get a kick out: “What would people say if they listen through the wall? ”she intones with a menacing glow.
“Oxytocin” is one of the more rhythmic songs on this album, which doesn’t mean much. During his slower stretches, “Happier Than Ever” languishes. Eilish and Finneas (who produced and, with Eilish, co-wrote all of the songs on the album) moved away from the minimalist beats and hip-hop influence that animated “When We All Fall Asleep”, opting instead for a more retrograde style. a sound that makes reference to trip-hop, bossa nova and even the jazzy singers of the 1950s. It is hardly a safe bet. Eilish clearly isn’t interested in simply replicating the formula that made her debut album such a worldwide hit – and the emotional turmoil recounted in these post-famous songs perhaps suggests why. We’ve seen her in a crown, but in its most antagonistic moments, “Happier” feels like an abdication.
The risks are starting to pay off, however, on the album’s home stretch, starting with the distorting “NDA” stringing onto the brash posture of “So I Am,” one of the many lukewarm singles that benefit from the surrounding context of the album. Perhaps the most surprising and promising is the closest “Male Fantasy” – a strikingly beautiful acoustic ballad that follows the confessionalism promised at the beginning of the record.
“Male Fantasy” shocks not for his occasional mentions of pornography and body image issues, but for the way Eilish completely lets go of his ever-present emotional armor. Old friends feel like strangers, she admits in a plaintive voice. Intrusive thoughts haunt her in the car. Eilish always had a flair for downsizing deadbeat guys, but here she stealthily yearns for the kind of heartbreaker that she’s usually so adept at insulting in her songs: “I know I should but I could never hate you. “
Despite all her mainstream popularity and accolades in the music industry, Eilish remains a die-hard rebel. “Happier Than Ever,” however, exposes both the strengths and limitations of his preferred mode of subversion. The neon-capped pop horror phenomenon who once filmed a video in which a tarantula comes out of her mouth concluded that the sophomore album’s most shocking move was to dye her hair bombshell blonde and remake himself as a kind of retro pop crooner. . Unfortunately, from a distance, this approach may turn in on itself and sound too much like the type of traditionalism she was so artfully trying to avoid.
What saves “Happier Than Ever” from the doldrums, however, are the tantalizing flashes it offers something else. Perhaps its most exhilarating moment comes during the penultimate title track: in the middle of the song, a politely understated ditty accompanied by a ukulele explodes into a powerful, distorting ballad. Here, Eilish proves that she can go both ways. Her voice (perhaps the loudest ever recorded) rises in response to the drama, and it unleashes a disarming and serious torrent of bottled up grievances: [expletive] Leave me alone. ”For a fleeting moment, she has revealed all of her secrets, and she seems invigorating without the burden.
“Happier than ever”
(Darkroom / Interscope)
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