Review: Billie Eilish’s ‘Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles’ is comfortably intimate

The alternative teen pop star is sultry, quirky and introspective in her new Disney+ concert experience.

Billie+Eilish%E2%80%99s+second+album+%E2%80%9CHappier+Than+Ever%E2%80%9D+and+its+accompanying+concert+film+mark+a+shift+in+the+singer%E2%80%99s+sound+and+tone.+The+film+is+dedicated+to+Los+Angeles%2C+where+Eilish+grew+up%2C+and+features+songs+of+varying+genres.+%28Staff+Illustration+by+Manasa+Gudavalli%29

Manasa Gudavalli

Billie Eilish’s second album “Happier Than Ever” and its accompanying concert film mark a shift in the singer’s sound and tone. The film is dedicated to Los Angeles, where Eilish grew up, and features songs of varying genres. (Staff Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

By Candace Patrick, Staff Writer

In her Disney+ debut, singer-songwriter and alternative pop star Billie Eilish brings her latest album to her home city. Staged at the Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl, Eilish performs “Happier Than Ever” from start to finish amid panoramic views of the city in which she was born and raised. Her performances remain simple and relaxed, despite the grandiosity of the venue, pushing her music and natural charisma to the forefront.

Eilish dropped her sophomore album “Happier Than Ever” on July 30 and released the accompanying concert film “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” on Disney+ on Sept. 3. The whimsical experience showcases her newest hits, such as “NDA” and “Billie Bossa Nova.” Accompanied by her brother and producer Finneas, as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, “Happier Than Ever” takes on a bigger sound while maintaining a cohesive blend of love ballads, pop-punk anthems and bossa nova-inspired tracks.

A handful of elements separate this recorded concert experience from the rest. The show, recorded before an empty amphitheater (a somber nod to the lingering effects of the pandemic), doesn’t attempt to imitate the flow of a live concert. Instead, sequences of an animated avatar of Eilish, modeled after Disney’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” appear after nearly every track as she cruises through and admires the streets of her beloved City of Angels. Altogether, the film presents more like an extended music video thanks to the intimate cinematography — there are frequent close-up shots of her performing — choreographed with utmost precision. 

Each song on the album takes on a different hue, as she introduces the album through engaging lighting set-ups. Blue twinkles serve as the backdrop for “Getting Older,” while the up-tempo “Oxytocin” is performed to dozens of flashing red strobe lights. Perhaps a product of Eilish’s synesthesia, the immersive visuals capture the assorted tones of each song, creating an appealing aesthetic to keep viewers’ attention. 

The harmonic choral introduction to “GOLDWING” is where the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus shines, with a faint view of the Hollywood sign mounted across the hazy city. Eilish, an alum of the choir, shares how her time with the group inspired the track. Its musical influence shows through with a sample from Holst’s “Hymn to Vena,” a piece she grew up performing.

Without drowning out Eilish’s whispery vocals, the Los Angeles Philharmonic expands her musical arrangements to fit the amphitheater’s lofty stage. The romantic brass and strings featured in “Halley’s Comet” resonate symphonically, placing a slightly different spin on the artist’s original version. 

Any fan of Eilish knows that her hair and clothes aren’t the only things to have changed recently. This album marks a tonal shift for the singer, not just sonically, but emotionally too. While her initial releases branded her as a depressed and angsty teenager, her latest work shows personal maturity and her pursuit of happiness. This recalls Lorde’s evolution — the alternative pop star also spent her teenage years in the limelight after her moody debut album “Pure Heroine” blew up when she was 16 years old. In her latest album, “Solar Power,” she adopted a lighter, more hopeful tone, just as Eilish did in “Happier Than Ever.”

Her performance of the titular breakout song “Happier Than Ever” is perhaps the most endearing part about Eilish’s return to the stage. During her performance of it, we see Eilish under a spotlight. An angelic glow illuminates her platinum blonde hair, as the animated Billie emerges to watch herself. Though it sounds a bit saccharine, Eilish’s subtle nod and smile to her alter ego is a creative way of acknowledging the theme of the performance and album as a whole: the pursuit of happiness. 

Amid the hopeful return of in-person concerts, fans are fortunate enough to still be able to experience their favorite musicians in more creative ways than ever before. The ability to stream Eilish’s concert provides more of an opportunity for people to experience her music from home and energize them for the reintroduction of live performances. In order to capitalize on the new concert film, Disney+ has even added an animated Billie avatar to their collection, yet another way for fans to celebrate the release of her concert film. 

“Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” is an insightful view into Eilish’s current state of mind. At just 19 years old, she is prioritizing her pleasure, as stated in the lyrics of “Getting Older.” She may or may not be happier than ever, but she’s certainly on her way there.

A version of this piece appeared in the Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Candace Patrick at [email protected]