Billie Eilish’s latest music video for “Happier Than Ever,” the title track off her just-released sophomore album, starts off, to be blunt, sort of boring. It opens with Eilish in a hotel room decorated in the same color palette of muted neutrals found on the album’s cover art. The singer traipses around the room dressed in an oversized t-shirt, while singing into a landline telephone (confirming once and for all that members of Gen Z do actually know what those are). The song itself starts off similarly low-key and melancholy. It’s pleasant, but not exactly a clip destined for the hall of fame of iconography.
After a little more than two minutes of this, suddenly the hotel room lights start flickering, hints of electronic guitar enter the track, and Eilish opens a door only to be flooded by a rush of water into the room. Eilish finds herself underwater, struggling to reach air. The beige color palette has been replaced with one that is almost entirely black. The green hair doesn’t return, but suddenly Eilish is back amidst the gothic aesthetic that informed several videos from her When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? era, including “Lovely” and “All The Good Girls Go To Hell.” The song itself transforms from a lithe bedroom-appropriate ballad into a rager ready for stadium performances.
Eilish’s lyrics reveal that the singer’s rumination on a toxic relationship with a manipulative, uncaring ex. “You ruined everything good,” she sings at the end. “Always said you were misunderstood. Made all my moments your own. Just fuckin’ leave me alone.”
Taken together, the visual could be read as a reminder that growth and healing don’t happen along a linear timeline. Using the established aesthetics of her latest “era” only to slip into darker imagery that recalls her past is a smart way to illustrate that. After lifting herself, triumphantly, to the surface of the dark water and screaming in cathartic joy, Eilish’s face flashes its first actual smile of the entire music video. She eagerly plunges back into the water, perhaps signaling she nows feels empowered enough to deal with the fallout of the relationship and really, truly heal.