It is seldom a tour lives up to its name but Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” did precisely that last night at Madison Square Garden. It’s not that the bar was so awfully high, she was vaguely miserable and suicidal (the late great xxxtentacion saved her!) on her When We Sleep, Where Do We Go tour in 2019 (here), cancelled her MSG gig in 2020 (indeed, the entire tour but who cares about the rest of the world), she also recorded the 007 theme song “No Time To Die” -a revelation as to how malleable her bass and synth antifolk can be, the following year the Apple documentary “The World’s a Little Blurry” took her back to the beginning of her career, a sideline break-up with a rapper, and an upward spiral as she seemed dizzily going down culminating in her being nominated for four Grammys, the good at its best and not its second best sophomore album followed in 2021 and later in the year dropped a live performance love letter to L.A on Disney+ where she was animated as a Disney Princess and would have been better off if the entire concert had been live action animation. All of which leads us back to the road and a major Arena tour with her brother Finneas O’Connell. But last night, at the age of twenty, Billie seemed to have come out the other side of the fame monster on an overwhelmingly good vibes evening. Early in the set Billie says to the audience of tweens and twenties “I like you a lot”, in 2022 we need the comfort.
Willow dropped off the support slot because she wasn’t ready (nowadays, the show must go on is less an aphorism and more wishful thinking), Willow is great and she could have performed her set alone on her guitar if she chose to, so that was odyshaped. Dora Jar -a Gen Z Avatar, bedroom popstar from L.A. with an edge of hyperpop to her, replaced Willow. Fronting a four piece band she was an energetic seat warmer, with one album and a handful of singles into her career Jar took her place with a sizzling hyperpop variant: she rocked, she rolled, she rolled over with limbs akimbo and the 24 year old was completely at home in the 20K seater room.
In 2021, Billie had reinvented herself as a blonde bombshell in silky evening dresses and flesh colored stockings, in 2022 she reverts to bicyclist shorts and baggy tops -the better for her energetic dancing and the distorted mirror between her and her audience. But if in 2019 Billie played with and could’ve been afflicted with mental illness, those days are gone. An LCD screen system, flanked by drummer Andrew Marshall and Finias O’Connell, was minimal maximism. Finias had a pretty good single last year, “A Concert Six Months From Now” and he is a sidekick who isn’t for Billie. Billie covered all the high spots of her career, and a few of the lower ones, in a set that had its lulls but not so many that you can’t get a thrill out of Billie on a cherry picker for three songs, making the contact she so badly wants where we are like friends and lovers away from her and now back as she travelled to 2015 and her breakthrough “Ocean Eyes”, ready to reclaim our relationship.
The setlist is strong despite dips here and there, “bury my dead” -the evening opener off the debut was followed by “I Didn’t Change My Number”, “NDA”, and the sublime one-two “Therefore I Am” and “my strange addiction”. This was all very thrilling, Billie has interesting things to say about sex and romance, on her best song from the latest “I’m not your friend or anything damn, you think that you’re the man
I think, therefore, I am…” is the sex battles in sharp focus as she travels through romance and defines it as a strange addiction. It was loud but not overwhelmingly loud, amusing and pleasant with MC NE a sparkling otherness. While Billie’s lectures about the nature of life and political activism (take a guess: climate warming is a biggie) is risible, once she straddles the line between true love with a rapper and true love with her fanbase, she draws the audience into her world view. 80% Female and 80% white, Billie crosses over to young women of color which suggests that whatever divides blacks and whites, it isn’t teenage confusion. And though she seems to be in the process of resurrecting herself, her clear comment about fame on “Growing Older” (the pictures of baby Billie are just adorable during this song) “Things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now” is brutally honest.
A good set, a true popstar growing by leaps though not always in a straight line, and a portent both welcoming and insulated, this is where we go when we not sleep but dream.
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crossover Arabic Pop
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cliches farming out the same two dozen hooks for decades…
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electronic variants to perfection
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good karma…. now gone bad
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At least you know what you are missing