Seeing Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To Los Angeles open on the classic Disney introduction hero title was rather unexpected. To be fair, I had never envisioned Billie’s work to be hosted on a Disney platform, likely due to the sad-pop energy that routinely spills out of her lyrics. Yet here she is playing in the magical world of Disney Plus, flipping every assumption we had about her on its head, once again.
Within the first few seconds of the film we get to see Billie depicted as an animated character, those beautifully commanding eyes hard to mistake. How unique it is to see one of your favourite artists as a moving 3D animation – it would be awesome to know how the creative process worked behind the scenes, how many sketches were drawn, and how much input Eilish had on the make-up of her virtual character.
Once we soak up a blonde Billie Eilish made entirely of pixels, we cross to an empty and atmospheric Hollywood Bowl Stadium, where Billie begins her performance. It quickly becomes apparent that the film is a full rendition of Billie’s latest album Happier Than Ever (released July 30 2021) from start to finish, with an animated storyline sewn in between the tracks. The animation follows our self-made star through her hometown of Los Angeles, in which she dedicates the movie too.
Here’s a select run-through of my favourite parts of the picture.
The remarkably higher octaves of her first track ‘Getting Older’ welcome us in to the album and offer a sense of connection to all those watching around the world. “Things I once enjoyed, just keep me employed now” sings Billie, as the stage is lit a deep and dreary blue. She looks a dream, a chocolate satin outfit, feminine in its fit. This isn’t the grungy teen we once knew. Here we have a musician that oozes modern sophistication; an orchestra & accompanying choir to prove it. Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, composer David Campbell, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and her brother Finneas, join her on stage.
We’re introduced to the Los Angeles orchestra in the third track, ‘Billie Bossa Nova. It’s smooth, and gives off Michael Bublé ‘Sway’ vibes with its sultry synths. Wide pans of LA’s breath-taking lights twinkling over the City rolls us into song four ‘my future’ and it feels like a private concert as Billie winks directly down the barrel of the camera. The way she demands attention and holds her power on that empty stage is phenomenal. It certainly encourages the viewer to consider things from Billie’s perspective and who she stands to be without the screaming crowd. It would have been an unreal experience to perform at an empty Hollywood Bowl, with room to host over 17,500 fans. “I wanted to do a concert film, and I’ve never done anything like this. It was an incredibly surreal experience.” Eilish told The Hollywood Reporter.
Animated Billie then speeds away in a futuristic top-down car through the streets, as ‘Oxytocin’ begins to erupt from the stage. This track was a definite favourite of mine from the album, sending me right into the middle of a high-energy festival – sweat, lights and people all around. Directors Robert Rodriquez and Patrick Osborne did a wicked job and creating interest in the visuals, using dynamic cuts, dizzying camera movements and red strobing lights to elevate the mood.
Quite easily the most moving visuals of the piece come before the song ‘GOLDWING’. Our animated character Billie falls asleep in the city and awakes on a cloud, angel wings growing out beneath her. We cut to back to the stadium, the Los Angeles children’s choir standing around the inbuilt pool of water they’ve constructed into the stage. We reach a full-circle moment, as Billie lets us in that this was the choir she herself use to sing in at just 8 years old. It’s a truly stunning piece, and the children’s performance is spectacular.
‘Hailey’s Comet’ was another glowing favourite for me. Billie introduced the lyrics to depict how thankful she is to have grown up in LA, and how much it has shaped who she is as a person. It’s a song you feel like listening to whilst quietly laying down next to someone and watching the stars, things are kind of fuzzy and far away and yet things on Earth seem clearer than ever been before.
I won’t give away how animated alter-ego Billie next moves through the rendition of ‘Not My Responsibility’, conveying the verbal brutality she’s recently faced about her body image in the media. The lyrics are striking enough themselves without any visual aid: “Do you know me? Really know me? You have opinions about my opinions, about my music, about my clothes, about my body, but I feel you watching”, and yet the film somehow manages to squeeze out more feeling with each frame.
If you’re a fan of Billie, and just want to see her up-close and personal for 65 minutes, I would definitely recommend seeing this intimate virtual concert as she brings her and Finneas’s latest work to life. The animated snippets of the film have you see Billie in a different light, perhaps as a playful personality instead of a insanely famous celeb, but of course – that feeling is for you to describe.
You can stream ‘Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To Los Angeles’ on Disney + now.