Billie Eilish’s new ‘Happier Than Ever’ album is here: How she’s changed popJuly 30, 2021
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There was Madonna. There was Beyoncé. And there was Taylor.
Now, you can add Billie Eilish to the list of women — make that, artists period — who have changed pop. After the smash success of her 2019 debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” the alt-pop princess became a seven-time Grammy winner, and a global phenomenon. All before turning 20.
“Billie changed the narrative of ‘What does pop mean?’ It doesn’t have to be a bubbly dance song just about a breakup. It could also be something a little bit deeper but still make you move and still make you want to sing along to it,” Brooke Reese, host of Apple Music’s “The Chart Show” and “Pop Hits Radio,” told The Post. “I think her vulnerability has really changed the game. In the world that we live in, you can’t really fake the funk.”
As the 19-year-old sensation releases her sophomore album, “Happier Than Ever,” on Friday, anticipation was so high that she set a record for the most pre-adds globally on Apple Music, with over 1 million and counting locked in to listen.
Although “Happier Than Ever” was not made available to preview in full — the songs on the new album “My Future,” “Therefore I Am,” “Your Power,”“Lost Cause” and “NDA” were released previously — it’s hard to imagine that it will do anything but further Eilish’s impact on the music world.
“It is so widespread,” said Variety senior music editor Jem Aswad of Eilish’s influence. “It’s really affected the whole industry … I see so many more empowered young female singers stepping forward, not being reluctant and actually being allowed to express themselves more fully than they were. It’s been a freeing trend for artists.”
Although there are some “Billie Eilish wannabes,” as Aswad describes them, it’s more about the newfound sense of creative freedom and energy that the singer has created, emboldening emerging artists such as Girl in Red, Clairo and Isaac Dunbar, while encouraging labels to trust their artistic vision.
Eilish has made authenticity a hot commodity in the music world, especially for teen artists who felt compelled to embody the often sugary — or sexy — conventions about how they sounded, acted, looked and dressed.
Ann Powers — critic and correspondent for NPR Music, who will be reviewing “Happier Than Ever” on the “All Songs Considered New Music Friday” podcast — points to Eilish’s “image as a young woman, a teenager who refused to conform to pop ideals of beauty, wearing the [baggy] fashions she wore and not exposing her body.”
Now that Eilish is embracing a more grown-up look, Powers said, “she’s writing a lot about her relationship with her body and her right to own her image and own her body. I think that’s a continuum from the ’90s and women in rock, and we’re seeing this kind of return to those values of self-determination.”
Part of Eilish’s “vision” is to keep her music in the family, said Aswad, who noted that she insisted on working with her older brother Finneas as her co-writer and producer. “She said, ‘We don’t wanna work with these hit songwriters. The songs that we’re writing by ourselves are better.’ ”
In fact, in the ultimate DIY boss move, they turned “When We All Fall Asleep” into the 2019 Album of the Year Grammy winner simply by making it in Finneas’ bedroom in their Los Angeles home. “It’s completely changed music in terms of showing people what they can accomplish at home and not necessarily in a huge studio,” said Reese.
And it’s been a shrewd move — not only from a creative perspective, but from a business one, “in the way that everything is centralized around her and Finneas,” said Aswad. “They’re doing most of the creative work, and they’re getting most of the money.”
But even before her debut album, Eilish was mapping out her own blueprint by getting her music directly to her fans — and connecting with them — online. Taking cues from the hip-hop world, she was one of the first to do this in pop. “Her emergence was a really important step in getting to what is now a very common road to success,” said Powers, “which is building a following on the Internet, making your own music, releasing it before you sign to a label.”
Such is Eilish’s influence that she’s even changed the way that a teen from the Disney machine can break from TV into pop stardom. After years of Disney turning out everyone from Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera to Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers by employing a familiar formula of initially keeping their images safe and sanitized, Olivia Rodrigo has benefited from Eilish’s success by having more creative control right off the bat with her debut album, “Sour.”
The 18-year-old “Drivers License” singer co-wrote every song on the album and was able to be more edgy and quirky, sounding more like a real, relatable teenager than she might have been able to in the pre-Eilish era.
“There’s definitely an awareness of Billie Eilish in Olivia Rodrigo’s music,” said Aswad. “A couple of her songs do sound sort of Billie-ish.”
Ultimately, Eilish’s success is a win for many young artists to come.
“When somebody like Billie comes in and is a game-changer, said Reese, “it’s exciting to see who else is going to flourish because of that.”
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