Billie Eilish: Critics praise 'defiant' second album, Happier Than Ever

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image source, Interscope
image captionBillie Eilish is the youngest person ever to win the Grammy Award for album of the year

Critics have praised Billie Eilish's hotly-anticipated second album Happier Than Ever for its unflinching portrayal of life as a teenage pop megastar.

The follow-up to her 2019 debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, it addresses the pressures of fame, as well as weighty issues facing young women, including sexual coercion.

Reviewers said the record is "defiant" despite its "muted" tone.

The Guardian's Alexis Petridis gave the "universally great" album four stars.

He said that "on perhaps the most anticipated album of 2021, Eilish uses subdued yet powerful song writing to consider how fame has seeped into every corner of her life.

"Listening to a pop star complaining about being a pop star is usually enervating. It says something about Eilish's skill as a song writer that, in her hands, the topic feels genuinely affecting."

This is partly, he wrote, because despite her stratospheric success, Eilish continues to express her fears with relatable intimacy as pop's anti-hero.

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The album's title track sees her wonder if her dates have read her personal revelations made in interviews. My Future dissects the stress of personal relationships versus career progress, while Your Power and Getting Older both deal with unwanted sexual attention and consent for a MeToo generation demanding accountability.

At times however, Petridis felt this authenticity removes her from the everyday experience of her fans: "There's not much point in pretending you're still just like them when you've sold millions, sung a Bond theme and appeared on the cover of Vogue dressed in a custom-made Gucci corset".

In a lengthy Instagram post sharing the album artwork, Eilish said she "grew so much in the process of making this album and experienced so much self realisation and self reflection".

Musically, her trademark whispered vocal tones remain, but the album - produced in lockdown with her brother and collaborator Finneas - contains "lots of clever production touches".

Despite being "less obviously ear-grabbing and immediate than its predecessor... the fact that it's a lower-key album than her debut shouldn't distract from Happier Than Ever's quality", Petridis concludes.

Similarly The Telegraph's Neil McCormick gave a four-star review, noting that the record contains "surprising musical twists and glittering barbs of lyrical empowerment".

He said "shimmering harmonies" combine to take the listener on an "emotional journey" that ultimately casts "optimistic light on a long dark night of Billie's tortured soul".

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However, the subdued tone has divided some critics, and fans, underwhelmed by the lack of bombastic, radio-friendly singles.

In a five-star review of the new album, NME's El Hunt wrote, "Happier Than Ever fully establishes Billie Eilish as one of her generation's most significant pop artists - and, better still, does so without repeating a single trick from the debut that turned her life upside down."

But The Line of Best Fit's review saw writer Matthew Kent lament a lack of daring.

"The tempo never quite reaches fever pitch; instead Eilish is content with the tranquillity of tried and tested methods", he said, giving the album six out of 10.

The Times' Will Hodgkinson also mentioned "there are no collaborations, no Elton Johns popping up for guest spots, just Billie and Finneas making one subdued, minimal song after another".

But his four-star review finishes by recognising "Happier Than Ever hits home because it has a core of authenticity and a dreamlike mood that intoxicates.

"Given how easily Eilish could have been blown off course by now, that alone is an achievement."

Billie Eilish: Up Close, will be broadcast on BBC One on Saturday at 22:30 BST and streamed online (UK only).

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