Kelia Anne MacCluskey
The title of Billie Eilish’s sophomore album Happier Than Ever is a misnomer: There are few cheerful tracks to be found.
Instead, the 19-year-old singer reflects heavily on her own trauma as a young woman whose career suddenly exploded, bringing her — and all of her youthful growing pains — into the spotlight. “I went through some crazy shit, and it really affected me and made me not want to go near anyone ever,” she told Rolling Stone in June. She started feeling better during her When We All Fall Asleep tour after a difficult breakup, which is referenced in tracks like “I Didn’t Change My Number” and “Happier Than Ever,” and seeking therapy. In dealing with this, her mom gave her some wise words.
“When you’re happier than ever, that doesn’t mean you’re the happiest that anyone’s ever been. It means you’re happier than you were before,” Eilish recalled to the magazine, detailing the nuance to her album title.
Though the album is in large part Eilish’s reckoning with her celebrity, she manages to make it relatable by exploring universal feelings of heartbreak and isolation. She also tackles crucial systemic issues, skewering the rampant abuse by powerful men in “Your Power” and taking on the objectifiable male gaze in “Male Fantasy.” In this way, Eilish brings her listeners along for the ride, while also delivering her signature serene, synthy sounds. Below, we break down each song of Happier Than Ever track by track and mood by mood.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: like reflecting on life
Key lyric: “I’m gettin’ older, I think I’m agin’ well / I wish someone had told me I’d be doin’ this by myself”
Eilish opens the album with synthetic elements, reflecting how much she has grown throughout her life and becoming famous as a teenager. She has a lot of reasons to be thankful and grateful, but it can be bittersweet when it comes to facing online troll and constant scrutiny: “But it’s different when a stranger’s always waitin’ at your door / Which is ironic ’cause the strangers seem to want me more / Than anyone before.” Billie brings an honest take to her experience in the music industry, even when it is painful.
“I Didn’t Change My Number”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: in need of distance from an ex
Key lyric: “I only changed who I reply to”
In this soulful R&B track, Eilish doesn’t want to speak to an ex anymore, refusing to reply to their texts. “You got a lot of fuckin’ nerve,” she sings, though she has no sympathy left. Eilish holds some guilt for not listening to her childhood friends that this love interest was bad news. The song concludes with distorted synths, which seem to signal the relationship breaking apart.
“Billie Bossa Nova”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: flirty but cautious
Key lyric: “I’m not sentimental / But there’s somethin’ ’bout the way you look tonight”
Eilish uses bossa nova sounds to craft a romantic atmosphere. She pines to be alone with a lover while also trying to keep a low profile from the press: “Some information’s not for sharing / Use different names at hotel check-ins.” Even while it’s just the two of them, Eilish worries her boo might tell the world about their relationship.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: ambitious
Key lyric: “I’m in love / With my future”
Eilish reflects on her life in a song that swells with electronics, though it transitions to a funkier groove when the hopeful second verse hits. “My Future” details her journey of self-discovery and reaching for greater heights: “And I, I’m in love / But not with anybody else / Just wanna get to know myself.” Although she admits she has romantic feelings for someone, she knows it would be a distraction from her journey.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: naughty
Key lyric: “’Cause I like to do things God doesn’t approve of if she saw us”
The techno track’s title refers to the hormone that plays a role in causing love, lust, orgasms, and attachment. Eilish is really feeling naughty tonight: “I wanna do bad things to you / I wanna make you yell / I wanna do bad things to you / Don’t wanna treat you well.” If you’re at the club with your partner and feeling overwhelmed with desire, this is the perfect song to get your grind on.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: vulnerable
Key lyric: “Go home, don’t tell”
Eilish begins with a chant: “He hath come to the bosom of his beloved / Smiling on him, she beareth him to highest heav’n.” The intro lyrics are derived from a 1907 Gustav Holst translation of choral hymns from a sacred Hindu text. The religious writing is leveraged for a discussion about how women are exploited in the industry. Billie, as a gold-winged messenger, tries to warn and help vulnerable girls from harm. “You better keep your head down,” she sings. “They’re gonna tell you what you wanna hear / Then they’re gonna disappear.”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: disappointed by your crush
Key lyric: “You weren’t even there that day / I was waitin’ on you / I wonder if you were aware that day / Was the last straw for me and I knew”
Eilish is dismayed that her love interest is inconsiderate of her. At first, she thought they were just shy. “But maybe you just had nothing on your mind / Maybe you were thinkin’ ’bout yourself all the time,” Billie sings. It’s also a bit of a tell-off, implying this person is a careless deadbeat: “I know you think you’re such an outlaw / But you got no job.” In the end, she knows this relationship is a lost cause.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: tired of being in love
Key lyric: “I don’t want it / And I don’t want to want you”
The song begins as a piano ballad for Eilish to confess she cannot stop thinking about someone she’s fallen in love with. “I’ve been loved before, but right now in this moment / I feel more and more like I was madе for you,” she sings as the track includes light synths and a thumping backbeat. She’s torn, and towards the end of the song, the final verse distorts her voice to capture her complicated thoughts: “I’m sitting in my brother’s room / Haven’t slept in a week, or two, or two / I think I might havе fallen in love / What am I to do?”
“Not My Responsibility”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: over the body-shaming
Key lyric: “Is my value only on your perception?”
If you followed Eilish’s Where Do We Go? World Tour, this may seem familiar. The audio is from a short film that was distributed in March 2020 during her show in Orlando as an interlude. It is Eilish’s response to the backlash and body-shaming she has received throughout her career. “We make assumptions about people based on their size / We decide who they are / We decide what they’re worth,” she sings.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: overwhelmed by social media
Key lyric: “I’m overheated, can’t be defeated / Can’t be deleted, can’t un-relievе it”
Eilish discusses how social media has felt overpowering during her rise to fame. Everything she posts is scrutinized (“I started talkin’, they started laughin’”). When she goes outside, she is gazed upon (“I started watchin’ them photographin’ / I don’t really know how it happened”). Even if she deletes something, it’s still on the internet forever because someone somewhere has seen and kept it on record. “Is it news? News to who? / That I really looked just like the rest of you,” she sings.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: afraid of being alone
Key lyric: “I don’t wanna cry, some days I do / But not about you / It’s just a lot to think about”
Eilish reflects on the thought of death and how everything comes to an end with dark synths that perfectly fit the atmosphere. Normally, people fear dying because you lose somebody you love in the process. Sometimes, you might feel abandoned. She even wonders about when it’s her time: “Everybody dies / And when will I?”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: like standing up to someone powerful
Key lyric: “I thought that I was special / You made me feel / Like it was my fault, you were the devil”
In an acoustic guitar ballad, Eilish brings awareness to the trauma of abuse and power imbalances in a relationship: “Try not to abuse your power / I know we didn’t choose to change / You might not wanna lose your power / But havin’ it’s so strange.” She also wonders from time to time if abusers know what they do is wrong. “How dare you? / And how could you?” she asks. It’s easy to want answers and closure but in the end, but it’s better to be self-aware of any toxic behaviors and attitudes you have to avoid hurting others.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: defensive
Key lyric: “Yeah, I made him sign an NDA / Once was good enough / ‘Cause I don’t want him havin’ shit to say, oh-oh”
Eilish’s struggles to have a private personal life and a romantic partner have sometimes been caused by the creeps that watch her every move, so much so that she “had to save [her] money for security.” Deep synth bass beats and plucky strings accompany the instrumentals to create an eerie atmosphere. Because of the stress of fame, Eilish sometimes has second thoughts about her career: “30 under 30 for another year / I can barely go outside, I think I hate it here.”
“Therefore I Am”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: sick of fake friends’ bullshit
Key lyric: “I’m not your friend / Or anything, damn”
The title of this R&B track is a play on the iconic philosophical quote from René Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” As a result of her celebrity, Eilish explains feeling distrustful from time to time when making connections, fearing her friends might be using her for clout. It’s even frustrating when people think they know her but they really don’t: “Don’t talk ’bout me like how you might know how I feel / Top of the world, but your world isn’t real / Your world’s an ideal.” Even if you are a huge stan for your favorite artist, you’ll never know everything about them.
“Happier Than Ever”
Listen to it when you’re feeling: angry and sad after a breakup, but better off than before
Key lyric: “When I’m away from you / I’m happier than ever”
The title track begins as an acoustic breakup ballad, calling out an ex who made Eilish miserable: “I knew when I asked you to / Be cool about what I was tellin’ you / You’d do the opposite of what you said you’d do / And I’d end up more afraid.” Upon the second verse, the song evolves to bass strings evoking frustration. By the third, a hard electric guitar rages to exclaim her anger and sadness: “And all that you did was make me fuckin’ sad / So don’t waste the time I don’t have / And don’t try to make me feel bad.” If you listen carefully in the outro, you can hear guttural screams accompanying the riffs, so if you’re going through a rough breakup, feel free to rage along.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: heartbroken
Key lyric: “Guess it’s hard to know / When nobody else comes around / If I’m getting over you / Or just pretending to / Be alright, convince myself I hate you”
The album closes with a somber acoustic ballad as Eilish tries to move on from a recent heartbreak, reflecting on what is real love and what is not. The title is a reference to Eilish’s feelings that pornography perpetuates a fantasy in which women exist solely to please men. “Distract myself with pornography / I hate the way she looks at me,” she sings. But Eilish knows real love is more than just sex. And sometimes, you just can’t explain it.