- Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” premiered on Disney+ on Friday.
- The concert film features Eilish performing her entire sophomore album in sequential order.
- It’s mostly dull without an audience or concept, but some songs stand out — especially “Goldwing.”
Billie Eilish will bring her new music to life this week with “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles,” a much-hyped Disney+ concert special that premiered on Friday.
The film features Eilish performing her second studio album front-to-back at the Hollywood Bowl. She takes the stage with her brother and producer Finneas, a few intermittent guests, colorful lighting cues, and not much else.
Many memorable concert specials from the past few years are spiced up with behind-the-scenes footage of the creative process (Beyoncé’s “Homecoming”), palpable buzz from the live audience (Ariana Grande’s “Excuse Me, I Love You”), or striking visuals and thematic set design (Halsey’s recent event with Moment House, in which she performed from inside a coffin and sang “I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God” while being splattered with fake blood).
Eilish opted to eschew these elements in favor of a straightforward concept, save for a few interludes starring an ocean-eyed cartoon.
And, much like the album it’s named for, “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” is mostly dull with a few redemptive moments. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be aligned.
Just over one month after Eilish released her sophomore effort, only five out of its 16 tracks remain in my daily queue: “Billie Bossa Nova,” “Oxytocin,” “Halley’s Comet,” “Happier Than Ever,” and “Male Fantasy.” In fact, I predicted this outcome in our first-listen review. For both Insider’s music editor Courteney Larocca and myself, the bulk of “Happier Than Ever” was underwhelming.
Without a live audience or any conceptual risks, it makes sense that a sequential performance of the album would reflect that listening experience.
Eilish’s concert film only holds my attention in sparing, specific moments: Her pulsing performance of “Oxytocin” is a clear standout; “Halley’s Comet” becomes even more tender with backing from the Los Angeles Philharmonic; “Happier Than Ever” is still one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, especially when Eilish hits that high note at the end.
However, I’m surprised and pleased to report that one performance broke the pattern I just laid out and stood out from the bunch.
Before watching “A Love Letter to Los Angeles,” I believed “Goldwing” was one of the weakest cuts in Eilish’s repertoire. Now, I can’t get it out of my head.
For the album’s sixth track, Eilish teamed up with the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, who deliver the celestial harmonies that open the song. After the beat kicks in, they continue to chant the titular phrase with stunning harmonic precision.
The collaboration becomes even more poignant when Eilish explains her personal affiliation with the group, which she joined at just 8 years old.
“This was actually the choir that I grew up in, and a song that we used to do,” Eilish says in the film, referring to the choral hymn by Gustav Holst, which is interpolated in the song’s intro.
“It’s just a cute little full-circle moment,” she adds, humbly underselling the moment.
In addition to their beautiful vocals, the choir provides a haunting, physical representation of Eilish’s lyrics.
“Goldwing” is a metaphor for youth. It shows Eilish yearning for long-lost purity and wrestling with the legacy of exploitation — a warning to fellow wunderkinder who may decide to follow in her footsteps.
When she sings, “You better keep your head down,” surrounded by kids in the same group she belonged to, who likely harbor similar passions and ambitions, the song takes on a grotesque kind of power.