Billie Eilish's Happier Than Ever review: wiser and wilder

When the young female creative is in the dock, the court of public opinion never stops. Billie Eilish's second album, Happier Than Ever, is released amid backlash. She has won seven Grammys and more Apple Music listeners than any other album.

Billie Eilish's Happier Than Ever review: wiser and wilder

In recent weeks, Eilish has been accused of queerbaiting and tacit racism. There was dismay at her decision to swap the green hair and hip-hop styles she wore in her debut, When All Fall Asleep. Where Do We Go (2019) for platinum blonde locks and corsetry (for a British Vogue shoot).

Eilish had to clarify once more about her optics. Her 2020 broadside, Not My Responsibility, is reproduced on Happier than Ever. It bears repeating.

Another mordant track here, OverHeated, breaks down the infamous paparazzo incident in which she was photographed in a vest. Eilish's usual strong message is somewhat diluted by the song's savage rhyme-association chorus. This is just one of the few blunders in this classy and bold follow-up.

Eilish's new look, which is a peak Hollywood bombshell photogenically weeping, is very in line with her new music. There are some similarities with Lana Del Rey, but not much overlap. Happier than Ever doubles the retro, vintage aesthetics of her signature sound, which Finneas O'Connell and Eilish refined. They contrast hypermodern digitals, with old-timey, satin gown flourishes. It was no accident Eilish was tapped for a Bond theme.

Last November's My Future was the first installment of the Happier era. It combined a classic torch song and vintage funk-pop. Five more tracks are featured here in musical backward looks - bossa Nova (the playful Bille Bossa Nova), Hawaiian winds (the title track), and some pre-pop vocalising. Eilish's song Everybody Dies, a mature tune about death, is very serious. He wonders if anyone would like to be preserved cryogenically if they lost all their loved ones. Halley's Comet is a lovely church organ that has a 60s bent, and ends with a coda.

The predominant theme is then getting older. Eilish, who is both an older soul and a young woman discovering her sexuality, is better equipped than ever to identify lovers who are looking for mirrors, rather than equals. Your Power, her song about abusive relationships, has been much discussed; a number of the tunes on Happier... are about wising up, processing past miscalculations or acknowledging traumatic events. These kiss-offs of sub-par men look poised and minxish. I Didn’t Change My Number, and the title song are two songs that follow the Lost Cause theme.

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