Photo: Kelia Anne MacCluskey
Billie Eilish's Road To 'Happier Than Ever': How The Superstar Continues To Break Pop's Status Quo
With her revealing second album 'Happier Than Ever', Billie Eilish takes control of the narrative, following a year of misogyny, stalkers and toxic relationships
It's daunting how quickly life can change in just two years. While most teenagers were spending sleepless nights studying for the SATs or picking out prom dresses, Billie Eilish had an opposite adolescence. The Los Angeles native went from plucking a ukulele in her bedroom to skyrocketing into one of this generation's most lauded artists, selling out arenas and collecting trophies with apparent nonchalance and ease.
It all began in 2016 when a 13-year-old Eilish uploaded "Ocean Eyes" to SoundCloud, which was written and produced by her brother, collaborator and confidant FINNEAS. The haunting ballad was meant to be a recording that Eilish's dance teacher could choreograph to, but turned Eilish into an overnight sensation (the song now has nearly 50 million SoundCloud streams) that led to an Interscope record deal.
From there, Eilish dropped her 2017 debut EP Don't Smile at Me and followed up with 2019's monstrous, Billboard 200 chart-topping debut album: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. Drawing inspiration from Eilish's nightmares and bouts with depression, it captured an intimacy that could only be born out of FINNEAS' bedroom studio.
Now, the pair has managed to double down on that vulnerability with Eilish's second album Happier Than Ever. Released on July 30, the album documents how she's coped with not only the demanding music industry but stalkers, toxic relationships and the misogyny that powers them both.
"There's so much pressure and so much expectation, and it's so public," FINNEAS told Billboard in 2019. "It's amazing that anyone has navigated it, especially someone as young as Billie." Eilish, who was preparing for her debut Coachella performance at the time, echoed it: "I'm in the good old days right now. Who knows if this is my peak and then I die or some s*? Or my career dies and I go away and no one cares. Or it gets crazier."
Her career trajectory has definitely gotten crazier. Following the release of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Eilish became award season's golden child. She did an impressive clean sweep at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards, winning five of her six nominations while breaking age and gender-defying records throughout the night.
Eilish was the second artist in GRAMMY history (following Christopher Cross in 1981) and the first woman to take home the Big Four awards: Album of the Year (When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?), Record and Song of the Year ("Bad Guy") and Best New Artist. The singer also won Best Pop Vocal Album. Then 18 years old, she was the youngest-ever winner for all categories in the Big Four. FINNEAS, then 22, also won big with Producer of the Year, Non-Classical (the youngest to do so) and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.
The snowball effect continued at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards, where 2019's "Everything I Wanted" single once again won Record of the Year. She also scored Best Song Written For Visual Media for her Bond theme song "No Time To Die," from the film of the same name.
Eilish was heavily decorated before her 20th birthday. And as with every artist who experiences immediate ascension—from the conservatorship-controlled Britney Spears to Eilish's own idol Justin Bieber—daggers from naysayers and trolls will be thrown. It became more evident that the pressure was getting to Eilish, who's never shied from detailing every angle of her emotions.
On "Everything I Wanted," she summates how her brother helps her handle the internal pressures. The song was inspired by an unnerving nightmare where she committed suicide and no one—from family to dedicated fans—cared. Ultimately, it's the launching pad for Happier Than Ever. Here, in all her newly blonde glory (as seen on the Old Hollywood-inspired artwork), Eilish emerges from the cloudiness that engulfed When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? while navigating the trauma she's experienced since the album's release.
Happier Than Ever feels like a heavy sigh, with Eilish sounding completely overwhelmed on nearly every song. Gone are the dentist drill effects, "Duh!" eyerolls or The Office sound bites that outlined the kooky teen angst of her debut. Happier Than Ever is both stronger and more subdued. The singer gives listeners just enough to be satisfied, almost as if to cheekily dump it all on us post-success: "Here's what you aholes wanted!"
But Eilish is smarter than that, and the thoughtfulness she put behind the album's curation is evident. "I wanted to make a very timeless record. That wasn't just timeless in terms of what other people thought, but really just timeless for myself," she explained in a Vevo interview last month. "I gathered a lot of inspiration from a lot of older artists that I grew up loving. Mostly Julie London, and a lot of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee."
Billie Eilish. Photo: Kelia Anne MacCluskey
The result is a jazzy 16-track confessional where she comes out of the other side with a more mature mindset. It's almost heartbreaking how quickly Eilish had to grow up. "Things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now," she grieves on the "Getting Older" opener, which might inspire waves of relatability for millennials forced to realize their youth has slipped away.
But the album still has sprinklings of that deadpan "zero f*s given" attitude—and most of it is targeted at a deadbeat ex-flame. The swagged-out "I Didn't Change My Number" nods to her debut album's wild sound effects, opening with what sounds like the growl of Eilish's pitbull, Shark. "Lost Cause" also knocks down her ex's ego, condemning him as a jobless fool who couldn't even bother gifting her flowers. And that "Get my pretty name out of your mouth" line on her "Therefore I Am" single is heavenly sarcasm.
That said, misogyny's shackles have a tight hold on Happier Than Ever, as Eilish unravels the consequences of fame that more women are speaking up about. The spoken word "Not My Responsibility" debuted during the singer's March 2020 Where Do We Go? World Tour before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled it. It's a candid look at how society places women's bodies under a microscope and subjects them to unwarranted opinions. "The body I was born with / Is it not what you wanted?" she presses.
Eilish's curves—which she opts to cover with oversized clothing—were picked apart once the paparazzi caught her sporting a form-fitting top last fall. She later gave social media's body shamers the middle finger with her seductive British Vogue photoshoot. But naturally, as heard on "Overheated," she hasn't fully shaken off those thoughts. "And everybody said it was a letdown, I was only built like everybody else now," she half-raps over FINNEAS' chilling, futuristic production. "But I didn't get surgery to help out."
Happier Than Ever also touches on more frightening themes, with "NDA" targeting Eilish's stalker. One of the few tracks that revisit the unnerving sonics that made critics brand her a pop prodigy, it's filled with plucky synths and distorted vocals reminiscent of Madonna's Music deep cut "Nobody's Perfect."
"I really don't like to be alone. I do like having anonymity, or autonomy, but I really am flipped out when I'm alone. I hate it," Eilish told The Guardian. "I have a lot of stalkers and I have people that want to do bad things to me. I also am freaked out by the dark and what's under beds and couches. I have a lot of weird, irrational fears. So I'm still at my parents' house a lot. I just love my parents and really like it here. It's very comforting."
That feeling of comfort is nonexistent on "Your Power," which spotlights abusive and predatory men. The stripped ballad, with Eilish's signature low decibel barely rising above a murmur, is devastating: "But you ruined her in a year, don't act like it was hard / And you swear you didn't know / No wonder why you didn't ask / She was sleepin' in your clothes but now she's got to get to class."
But the album's heaviness is balanced with a healthy dose of horniness, indicative of just how grown Eilish is becoming. "Billie Bossa Nova" is a sensual, hip-swaying tale of keeping her secret lover's identity hidden as they make love in a hotel room.
And "Oxytocin" (titled after the "love hormone") can travel two ways: a head rush in a '90s London rave surrounded by sweat and hot beer breath, or a designer drug-fueled Crystal Castles concert in the mid-'00s. But Eilish's feral screams ("YOU SHOULD REALLY RUN AWAY!") are all her own.
"There was flashing in my head when we made that. The color of whatever was in my brain while making it was dark, but also a flashing yellow," she told The Guardian of the track, which was birthed from her synaesthesia. "Honestly, the images I have for 'Oxytocin' were just sex. That's it. All different kinds and styles and colors and locations. That's really what was in my head. Sex."
Eilish's artistic prowess is best captured on the album's title track. Beginning with those familiar, dreamy ukulele plucks from her debut days, the second half is an electric guitar-ripping rock shocker. It's a raw therapy session as she gets over a shady ex: "I don't relate to you 'cause I'd never treat me this s*y / You made me hate this city."
About the title track, "Do you ever want to say something to somebody for a really long time? You don't really know what you want to say or how to say it," she explained to NPR. "Then maybe you have a conversation with somebody else, or you think a little bit about it, and you figure out what it is you've been trying to say for this entire period of time? That's how it felt: That was the entire writing process, that was the recording process. Everything involved in this song felt like how it feels when you finally find the words for something."
The singer, well known for her controlled soprano whispers, breaks her own boundary on "Happier Than Ever," allowing her voice to get loud, ugly and angry. It's the album's least restrained moment and the most relatable form of catharsis.
"I'm in love with my future / Can't wait to meet her," Eilish croons on "My Future." The single is a semblance of hope, which is tucked within an album by a woman ready to move on from the disappointments blocking the joys of her own womanhood.
But there will come times where you just want to scream your head off—and Eilish will provide the megaphone.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour
El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances
Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.
El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.
"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.
Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork.
Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist.
Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.
Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture
The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more
Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago.
The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums.
“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."
Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater.
"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."
The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum.
Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images
Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series
The artist will take her upcoming 'More Myself: A Journey' biography on a four-city book tour
After performing her powerhouse piano medley at the 62nd Annual GRAMMYs, R&B superstar, GRAMMY-winning artist and former GRAMMY’s host Alicia Keys has revealed that she will set out on a four-stop book tour next month. The storytelling tour will support her forthcoming book More Myself: A Journey, which is slated for a March 31 release via Flatiron Books and is reported to feature stories and music from the book, told and performed by Alicia and her piano, according to a statement.
Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys' title is dubbed in its description as an "intimate, revealing look at one artist’s journey from self-censorship to full expression." You can pre-order the title here.
The book tour will kick off with a March 31 Brooklyn stop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From there, Keys will visit Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on April 5 and Chicago’s Thalia Hall with Chicago Ideas the following day, April 6. The short-run will culminate on April 7 in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.
Pre-sales for the tour are underway and public on-sale will begin on Friday, March 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Tickets for the intimate dates and full release dates and times are available here.
Keys won her first five career awards at the 44th Annual GRAMMYs in 2002. On the night, she received awards in the Best New Artists, Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance categories respectively. She has received a total of 29 nominations and 15 GRAMMYs in her career.
This year, Keys will also embark on a world tour in support of Alicia, the artist’s upcoming seventh studio album and the follow up of 2016’s Here, due out March 20 via RCA Records.