me. I feel like I just ran a marathon whenever I write a song.”
Finneas saw the change in his sister this time around. She liked writing songs, feeling less tortured by the process than before. “It’s been awesome as a big brother to see her become more confident and feel more ownership and just to be more excited than I’ve ever seen her about the music that we’re making,” he says. “I also just think she has objectively gotten even better. That’s my opinion. If she were an Olympic gymnast or something, she would’ve gotten better. She’d be able to do a higher vault or something.”
Since “Bad Guy,” Finneas has become one of pop’s most in-demand producers, working with everyone from Tove Lo to Selena Gomez. He also has his own solo career that’s taken off, though the studio flood came at the worst time possible for it, as he was working on his debut album. Eilish has found Finneas’ career outside of being her creative partner to be “fucking great” and easy for them to adjust to. “It doesn’t interfere at all, and it’s fun for him,” she says. “He only does what he wants to do. He’s not a slave to it.”
“I scratch a lot of itches working with Billie,” Finneas continues. “I think my primary goal was to just go deeper. This was Billie’s sophomore album, you just . . . you have the opportunity to go further inward and further down in your Mariana’s Trench.”
Finneas says that their process is “50-50” creatively, and he speaks proudly about the gated tremolo and distortion that elevate songs like “Oxytocin” and “NDA,” two tracks that look at romance and hookups through the lens of a very famous person attempting to have both under the radar.
“Billie Bossa Nova” takes that theme one step further, building a fantasy around the life of a touring pop star.
“We have to do a lot of goofy bullshit when we go on tour, where we enter through freight elevators in hotels and stuff, so that paparazzi doesn’t follow us to our room,” he explains.
“And so we acted as if there was also a secret love affair going on in there of Billie being like, ‘Nobody saw me in the lobby/Nobody saw me in your arms,’ as if there was a mystery person in her life during all of that.”
“I write songs with my brother, and we kind of have to plug our ears when we’re writing about desire for other people because we’re fucking siblings,” Eilish says later. Songs like “Oxytocin,” named for the hormone released in the bloodstream due to love or childbirth, has her wondering “What would people say . . . if they listen through the wall?” over a slinky beat. The folky “Male Fantasy” features her distracting herself with pornography, then meditating on the effect porn has on men.
“The thing is, we’re very open about both of our lives, so it’s not weird, really,” she continues. “It’s just fun. It’s songwriting and it’s storytelling. We just have to think about the art of it and not think too hard about [the lyrics].”
As 50-50 as they are, Finneas drives home the fact that everything is under Eilish’s name for a reason. “In many instances we’ve been asked about our relationship as a duo when it’s billed as a solo artist,” Finneas says. “It’s her life. It’s all her world. I’m helping her articulate that, but it’s really her experiences that she lived through, and on this album she let me into it a lot. But I don’t know what that’s like to go through.”
He quotes his friend, the singer-songwriter Bishop Briggs, who says writing is how she copes with everything. Finneas agrees. “Billie making this album was her working through a lot of this stuff.”
When eilish releases a new song, she can’t listen to it again. It disappears into the universe, only to be heard by its maker if she happens to catch it as it’s played on radio every hour on the hour. “It’s not because I don’t like it anymore,” she explains. Happier Than Ever has become Eilish’s favorite album in the world, but she’s already mourning the loss of it, months before it even comes out. As we talk, it’s a couple of weeks before the first single is even public knowledge.
“I don’t know how to explain this, but all the songs on the album feel like a specific time, because they feel like when I wrote them and made them,” she explains. “It’s so funny that to the rest of the world it’s going to feel like a certain moment for them, and it’s going to be so different than mine. That’s such a weird, weird thing to wrap my head around. And I will fucking love it. I love it. That’s the reason you do this. It’s for that.”
When Eilish and I speak one last time, “Your Power” has been out for a few days. It spurred reflective conversations online, with many women sharing their own experiences with sexual or emotional abuse. The lyrics about an older partner taking advantage of a younger woman struck a particular chord, and Eilish herself is still processing that reaction.
“I feel like people actually really, really listened to the lyrics,” she says, flopping around her room in an oversize Powerpuff Girls shirt. “I was scared for it to come out because it’s my favorite song I’ve ever written. I felt the world didn’t deserve it.”
She broke her own Instagram “like” record that weekend as well: Her shoot for British Vogue showed her in more revealing clothes than she had ever been pictured in, channeling Forties boudoir shoots. The images were a topic of internet obsession for days: Was it a betrayal of her more “modest”-seeming fashion before? Did she make the decision herself? But it’s not like her body hadn’t been up for debate even when it was clothed: Her baggy outerwear was used to shame her peers, and she was subjected to belittling, fatphobic assumptions from the too-curious. “I saw a picture of me on the cover of Vogue [from] a couple of years ago with big, huge oversize clothes [next to] the picture of [the latest Vogue]. Then the caption was like, ‘That’s called growth.’ I understand where they’re coming from, but at the same time, I’m like, ‘No, that’s not OK. I’m not this now, and I didn’t need to grow from that.’ ”
Like her fashion experiments, Happier Than Ever is not about resetting who Billie Eilish even is. It’s about expanding the definition and range. But like she feared, she stopped listening to “Your Power” after it came out. “I don’t know. Something changes,” she says, still confused by her own habit.
The song has already taken on a life of its own, so she doesn’t have many expectations for how people will react to the rest of the as-yet-unheard songs. She’d like to make a visual for each track, and plans to embark on a world tour at some point.
She has one other wish for her new music. “I hope people break up with their boyfriends because of it,” she says, with only the slightest tinge of humor. “And I hope they don’t get taken advantage of.”