Is Billie Eilish really ‘Happier Than Ever’?

Happier Than Ever, Darkroom/Interscope Records

“Would you like me to be smaller, weaker, softer, taller? Would you like me to be quiet?”

When Billie Eilish, the latest teen pop sensation to grace the contemporary pop music landscape, embarked on her When We All Fall Asleep world tour in 2019, she asked these questions. Accompanied by a visual of the singer stripping down as she speaks more vulnerably, Eilish quietly ushered in the next chapter of her career.

Slowly but surely, the singer introduced a new sound and musical universe through which she expressed herself within the traumatic and often suffocating world of intense fame she now inhabits. Now, years later, the project is sewn together in the form of Eilish’s second album, Happier Than Ever, entirely written and produced with brother Finneas.

The languid, introspective LP is a representation of where the singer is in her world today.

On Happier Than Ever, Eilish reflects on trauma, abuse, power imbalance, fame, body image and healing. The sweeping album of 16 tracks touches upon this plethora of themes, all glued together with the intent to heal. Eilish isn’t happy, per se, but she is growing and evolving beyond the dark angsty teen the world came to know and obsess over in the last year pre-pandemic.

Happier Than Ever is most adequately described as an album of healing through self-relfection. It delves into the cyclical nature of life. Beginning with “Getting Older,” Eilish illustrates how singing and her artistry has gone from a motivator and driver of reaching for success, to a lifeline to plateau and stay afloat. The track encapsulates the themes of the album and teases the sonics to be heard throughout.

At the album’s center is an obvious break-up. Perhaps, unimportantly, that from the relationship featured in Apple TV+’s The World’s a Little Blurry documentary. The main narrative begins on “I Didn’t Change My Number.” The funky mid tempo banger is the first inkling of the more confident mood that appears sporadically on the record, in between the moments of grief and vulnerability.

Eilish has clearly had her last straw on the track. This attitude continues in waves throughout the remainder of the album. Tracks like “NDA,” “Lost Cause,” and “Therefore I Am” solidify Eilish’s apathy towards a once thrilling relationship.

The thrills are present as well as Eilish dives into her psyche and reviews her journey. “Billie Bossa Nova,” “Oxytocin” and “Halley’s Comet” blend together to illustrate Eilish’s emotional process of falling in love. At times confident, sensual, and completely lacking control.

That lack of control is further illustrated from Eilish’s newfound realization and perspective on a relationship where the power was all in her partner’s hands. “Your Power” is the crux of this, acting as a cautionary tale and delicately retelling the heartbroken feelings she has in reminiscing on the relationship. “GOLDWING” offers an omniscient narrator perceiving the teen Eilish was prior to this painful and toxic relationship.

This toxicity and loss of innocence extends beyond merely a romantic relationship. Beginning the second half of the album is the spoken word interlude, “Not My Responsibility.” Taken from the live tour interlude, the track is a revealing look into the way culture builds and destroys women, especially young women. There’s no winning, and Eilish expresses that before diving into one of the album’s best tracks exploring femininity and body image more universally on “OverHeated.”

Perhaps the strongest moments, though, are the album’s final two tracks. “Happier Than Ever” summarizes the album’s themes flawlessly, with an acoustic front half and all out brawl of a climax. It shows Eilish finally free of the traumas that have plagued her.

Only until the epilogue, though, in “Male Fantasy.” Closing the album on a both somber and thoughtful note, she’s healing, but will remain forever changed by the experiences detailed throughout this sophomore LP.

Sonically, the album is of course impressive. It’s incredibly commendable for an artist at the top of the game to take risks and move into another direction, experimenting with sounds and not limiting herself to a particular sound, image or expectation. The experiments don’t always work. Songs like “Oxytocin” and “Everybody Dies” are interesting but flawed. That said, the decision to swap the bangers of her debut for more laid back, subdued sounds and textures is jarring and impressively allows the record’s narrative and Eilish’s vocal performances to take center stage.

With only a few missteps, Happier Than Ever is an undeniable showcase of the continued status Eilish holds in the modern music. Her resistance to norms, brother at the helm of her sound, and refusal to sell out is what ironically makes her the most successful name in pop right now. Her artistry will undoubtedly continue to evolve and inspire those in her wake.

So, is Billie Eilish really happier than ever? Maybe, and what an exciting road to be on.


‘Nobody is Listening’ reintroduces ZAYN

Nobody is Listening, RCA

Boy bands have been around forever. From the turn of the millennium, pop fans were given groups like New Kids on the Block, The Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and most recently One Direction. Almost always, one individual is given a greater media push to standout in hopes of a solo career.

Most prominent was that of *NYSNC’s Justin Timberlake. With his debut solo record Justified, the Timbaland collaborator established a sound that was unmissable in the 2000s and again in the 2010s with his return after a hiatus.

Different from groups up to that point, One Direction’s global success allowed not one, but arguably three incredible solo endeavors to come from the band’s decision to end their impressive and historic run. ZAYN, Harry Styles, and Niall Horan each found chart topping success in the years following their run with the band. Fans and music lovers mostly believed it would be Harry Styles to first find success. While the star has undeniably achieved more mainstream longevity, it was ZAYN who first broke from the band to release culturally significant solo music.

Unlike Styles, though, ZAYN was at a point where he had lost himself. In an attempt to create self-proclaimed “real music,” he released an, albeit very strong, pop album akin to the work from One Direction. It leaned more heavily into explicit lyricism and R&B inspirations, but remained true to the pop genre.

With the highly dismissed follow-up Icarus Falls, ZAYN favored excess as subverting mainstream expectation. The collection had some strong tunes, namely “Let Me,” but it was an overall flat and bloated project. Now, in 2021, ZAYN tiptoes back onto the scene with his third studio LP Nobody is Listening.

Perhaps a response to the lack of success Icarus Falls saw, the title is also representative of the themes throughout the album. Clearly more personal than his previous projects, Nobody is Listening is a decidedly concise, raw, and experimental record. Often too raw to be deemed compelling, it doesn’t make too much of an impact. Instead, it feels much like a course corrector and a personal artistic evolution for an artist looking for the light at the end of the suffocating tunnel of fame he has lived in up to this point. In other words, ZAYN seeks something real and authentic through this music.

Does it shine through in the lyricism and vocal performance? Often, yes. He pleads for second chances and the refusal to give up love on lead single “Better,” returns to the sultry world of Mind of Mine‘s “PILLOWTALK” on “Vibez” and standout “Sweat,” and contextualizes the album’s inspirations by bringing in The Internet’s Syd on “When Love’s Around.” On “Tightrope,” he recommits himself to partner Gigi Hadid in beautiful ode to true love.

Each of these songs possesses an earnesty that finds the boy band alum with increased clarity in his personal life. He appears more open to turn his vulnerability outward to the listeners that have stayed with him to this point in his career.

The pitfalls of the album come mainly from its stripped down, often dull production. Excluding the aforementioned tracks and perhaps the jarringly rapped opener “Calamity,” the remainder of the album is underwhelming at best. Tracks like “Connexion” and the hilariously titled “Unfuckwitable” go in one ear and out the other. The few tracks that bog down an otherwise solid project point to ZAYN’s current position of growth. He’s getting there, but his potential has yet to become fully realized.

The themes seen on ZAYN’s first two LPs–those of love, sex, and introspection remain at the forefront of Nobody is Listening. What makes the project different though, is ZAYN’s insistence in popping the bubblegum pop excess to cut open the makeup of who he truly is as an artist and what music he intends to make.

While imperfect, Nobody is Listening is a step toward a more assured, singular performer.

Catalogue Check: Taylor Swift

The tumultuous unpredictability of 2020 forges on in its final few weeks, and with it comes more and more music from artists around the globe. Taylor Swift is one such artist, whose had as busy a year as any in her career. She has just announced yet another surprise album, her third record in just over a year. Before evermorefoklore‘s sister album, is released, take a look back at the sensation’s collection through the years.

A Definitive Ranking of Every Taylor Swift Album:

Taylor Swift AlbumsTaylor Swift Credit: Big Machine
Taylor Swift, Big Machine Records

8. Taylor Swift (2006)

Taylor Swift was just a taste of what would become of Taylor Swift. The pop phenomenon’s first record was her only true country album. It spawned the timeless hits “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song,” but simply does not compare to her subsequent, sweepingly epic saga of albums. There is a lot to love, and it provides enough intrigue to give the next few albums a listen, but Taylor Swift does not match up to the quality of Swift’s later records.

Best Track(s): “Our Song,” “Cold As You”

Taylor Swift albumsTaylor Swift - Speak Now Credit: Big Machine
Speak Now, Big Machine Records

7. Speak Now (2010)

Speak Now is a perfect example of growing pains. After the immense success of her second album Fearless, Swift was forced back to the drawing board. How could she top a multiple-Grammy-winning smash hit of an album? Switching gears, perhaps. Swift made one of the boldest moves in her ongoing career, penning the lyrics and composition of Speak Now completely alone. What came out of Speak Now were raw, unfiltered glimpses into Swift’s diary. The record is too long, but it possesses some of the singer’s most impressive, haunting songwriting. Though some songs are skippable, Speak Now would be considered many other artists’ magnum opus.

Best Track(s): “Dear John,” “Enchanted,” “Long Live,” “Last Kiss”

Lover, Taylor Swift

6. Lover (2019)

Lover is as imperfect as its unapologetic creator. In embracing the facets of her personality and the genre experimentation that has defined her career, Swift continues to prove her longevity. With the exception of the swift closing of the narrative to reputation in the album opener “I Forgot You Existed,” Lover is very much a direct sequel to Swift’s most culturally influential album 1989. Adopting a similar, 80s inspired pop sound, Lover exists as most sequels do– it’s bigger, more ambitious, and often less polished than its predecessor. 

Best Track(s): “Lover,” “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” “Daylight”

reputation, Big Machine Records

5. reputation (2017)

After Swift established world domination with the instant classic 1989 and its subsequent world tour, she faced immense backlash in the media. The singer was branded a snake and a fraud. Many saw this media storm as the abrupt end to the once prolific career of the country-pop goddess. In true Swift fashion, the singer-songwriter took back her narrative. She owned the snake, her past mistakes, and dropped one of the best videos of her career. Its accompanying single remains one of her worst tracks, but the album has a lot to offer. reputation shows Swift further experimenting with perspective and narrative writing. The sonically adventurous reputation is a violent, brash, cathartic reflection of Swift’s most turbulent year of fame.

Best Track(s): “Call It What You Want,” “End Game”

Red, Big Machine Records

4. Red (2012)

Red is a complicated record in that it showcases the best and worst of Swift. The album showed the singer at a crossroads. Released in her early 20s, Red represents the uncertainty of young adult life within its lyrics and sonics. Red is a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. The album contains elements of dance pop, country, alternative, folk, and rock. It is the most Taylor Swift of Taylor Swift’s albums. It features her best song to date, “All Too Well,” but drags on with overly melancholy cuts that could’ve been left off the final LP. With Red, Swift bid farewell to the country girl and laid the groundwork for what would become a pop phenomenon. Red marks the turning point of the singer’s career in a thrillingly chaotic way.

Best Track(s): “All Too Well,” “State of Grace,” “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

Fearless, Big Machine Records

3. Fearless (2008)

Fearless was just that. The 13-track LP was a cohesive, lyrically driven, country-pop smash. Each song said something compelling and found its place on the album. It is incomprehensible how, at 18 years old, Swift was able to articulate such a vast array of emotions through these traditionally arranged country songs. Its raw authenticity, emotionally resonant vocals, and strong production made Fearless Swift’s shining moment. It launched her from being an artist to watch to standing among the biggest pop stars in the world.

Best Track(s): “Change,” “You Belong With Me,” “Forever & Always”

1989, Big Machine Records

2. 1989 (2014)

1989 marks the best concept, promotion, production, and delivery from the artist. Swift managed to retain her good girl persona while growing up and adopting a bold new sound. It was the riskiest move in her career, and it very well may be her best decision. The album marked a rebirth in sound and mind. Swift named it after her birth year, drew influence from the music of that time, and astounded even the biggest of skeptics. 1989 was a true gift and will go on to be remembered as one of the best albums in 21st century pop music.

Best Track(s): “Blank Space,” “Wildest Dreams,” “New Romantics,” “Out of the Woods”

1. folklore (2020)

Reinvention, novelty, surprise, and quality. Pop stars are plagued with the task of accomplishing all of these, many times over. Those that withstand the brutal, often sexist tests of time become immortalized. Taylor Swift is one of those women. Though a far cry from maintaining a perfect public persona, Swift has always retreated from her mistakes and found solace in songwriting. In a year when the public was longing for solace in their respective isolated bubbles, Swift once again rebirth herself and her sound with folklore. Swept away were the heavily curated promotional cycles and replacing them were inspired, richly imagined songs that for the first time transcended Swift’s personal life and its incessant coverage. In many ways similar to the now classic 1989folklore has unlocked the latest chapter in the living legend’s career.

Best track(s): “august,” “invisible string,” “the 1,” “the last great american dynasty”