Ellynn Mayo | @ellynnspeaks
Hot Girl Summer is almost over, but she’s leaving us with a gracious helping of albums from powerful young women. Billie Eilish released “Happier Than Ever,” a highly anticipated album by fans of the singer. Lorde also dropped “Solar Power,” which had been teased since 2019 but delayed after the death of her dog.
The two albums, which were released quite close to each other, represent two very different times in two very different lives. On one hand, Billie Eilish is a 19-year-old releasing a highly-produced sophomore album. Lorde is 24 and taking a step back from the spotlight she’s enjoyed since age 16.
Eilish’s album carries themes of lost love, finding confidence, and acknowledging the future. It’s a journey that begins with the song “I’m Getting Older,” in which she sings about how “things [she] once enjoyed just keep [her] employed now.” This reflective opening song sets the tone of the album to a different tune from her other albums — which have featured a lot of heartache and anger.
The next few songs exude confidence, from “I Didn’t Change My Number” to “my future.” We’re not hearing the discordant sadness and frustration from Eilish just yet. She also pauses for more intense and flirty numbers like “Oxytocin” and “NDA.” Though the album comes together quite nicely, it features a number of different themes.
The title song “Happier Than Ever” begins tauntingly, “When I’m away from you, I’m happier than ever…” The track begins softly, reminiscent of the classic Billie-style ukulele tunes. As it progresses, the song becomes accusatory and angry. It ends with a powerful phrase belted out: “Just f****** leave me alone!”
A criticism I have of the album, which isn’t necessarily on Eilish’s talent or the quality of the tracks, is the final message at the end. The album is full of messages about moving on, growing up, and coming into confidence. But the final stanza is, “Can’t get over you/No matter what I do/I know I should but I could never hate you.” To me, that feels like a strange way to end the album.
Of course, it could also be to illustrate that recovering from heartbreak (especially after an unhealthy relationship) is a long and strenuous process. Even though progress might be made, it’s just as easy to slide back down the hill afterward. Either way, this album is stunning and exactly what the world needed from Billie Eilish.
The Lorde album has caught a lot of flack. I’ve seen headlines that attack everything about it, from Jack Antonoff’s influence to fears that maybe Lorde’s lost her spark. I refuse to agree with such aggressive criticism for a woman who’s had multiple hit songs since she was 16 years old. Women are constantly told what to do in the music industry, and I fear that if we let that message continue, we won’t ever get to see the magical “other sides” of artists we know and love.
If you have Spotify, you might know about a feature it has that shows you cards underneath songs, if the artist chooses to input them. Solar Power employs this feature, and it helped me understand a bit more about the album. Lorde said she was inspired by flower children from the 70s, which right away, explains a lot of the softness and the content of the album.
When the title song was released with the music video, I read the comments. Surprisingly, an awful lot of them said “Hey, this looks like the cast of Midsommar.” This made me laugh because if you’ve seen Midsommar, you know how incredibly terrifying and not at all like Lorde’s music video it is. But to me, the song “Solar Power” represents coming out of a rut and getting into a creative groove again. It’s not just a seasonal, but a proverbial summer for the whole world.
Solar Power flirts with serious topics and lots of humor. One of the tracks, “Mood Ring,” makes fun of the metaphysical and new age cultures — saying they don’t take well-being seriously but see it as a trend. Additionally, the ever-so-reflective “Stoned at the Nail Salon” reaches deep into Lorde’s progression as an artist. It contains these powerful lines: “Well my hot blood’s been burning for so many summers now/It’s time to cool it down/Whatever that means.”
Those lines signal to the listener that maybe she wants to take a break from music for a while, or change directions from the kind of music she’s made before. This strikes a chord for me, but audiences who don’t read into this might get frustrated. They may expect to hear the darker, more wild sides of this artist who truly has an incredible range that transcends genre.
She also expresses great fears of how the world is changing due to a warming climate in songs like “Fallen Fruit” (my personal favorite) and “Leader of a New Regime.” In fallen fruit, she writes in accusation, “But how can I love what I know I am gonna lose?/Don’t make me choose.” She challenges those who have the power to do better for future generations. And the name of the album, a renewable energy source, suggests that we should do something about it.
The final song, “Oceanic Feeling,” says it all for me. “I know you’re scared, so was I/But all will be revealed in time.” “Now the cherry black lipstick’s gathering dust in a drawer/I don’t need her anymore/’Cause I got this power.” “Oh, was enlightenment found?/No, but I’m trying, taking it one year at a time.” Although it’s nowhere near as energetic as her other music, this rings true.
The spoken word poem in Happier Than Ever is called “Not My Responsibility,” and it, too, illustrates my point. Eilish asks questions like, “Would you like me to be smaller, weaker, softer, taller? Would you like me to be quiet?” She is begging the audience why they must continuously force their expectations onto her when she never asked for them. It finishes with a breath of fresh air, asking, “Is my value based only on your perception? Or is your opinion of me/Not my responsibility?”
Women in competition with one another cannot thrive in a world where non-women tear them down on principle. So instead of this album battle having a loser, I think they both win for being strong releases from strong artists. And I will be listening to both of them for the foreseeable future.