God bless whoever told Billie Eilish to take the title track from Happier Than Ever and turn it into a full album.

Billie Eilish has had an interesting past few years, to say the least. Growing up in the public eye, the world saw her musical career skyrocket with her debut EP, dont smile at me, and her now–iconic song, “ocean eyes.” WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, her first LP, introduced the world to Eilish’s distinct, homeschooled–girl pop where she’s not afraid to be that weird teenager. Eilish cultivated her musical identity to be the soft–spoken, but zany bedroom indie–pop.

Happier Than Ever, however, was an era of tumult for the budding pop star. Her second LP explored more mature themes, featuring her reflections on the dark side of fame. This record was accompanied by a blonde hair refresh and a switch from the trap beats of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP to mid–tempo, electro, and jazz–infused pop. While her career continued to grow, Eilish suffered a sort of “sophomore slump,” with underperforming singles and a series of controversies, including accusations of racism and queerbaiting.

What followed Happier Than Ever, then, was a series of low–key, but course–correcting projects. She released “The 30th” and “TV” packaged as a surprise EP, Guitar Songs, showcasing her writing abilities and her reflection on issues like eating disorders, mental health, and death. She starred in a small Amazon Prime show, Swarm, earning praise for her role as a cult leader. Lastly, but notably, “What Was I Made For?” from the Barbie soundtrack gained her another Grammy and Oscar, making her the youngest person ever to gain two Oscars.

Now arrives Eilish’s third studio album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, a ten–track project where the now–22–year–old Eilish sounds completely grown–up. In this no–filler LP, she and her brother Finneas evolve not only stylistically, but also manage to make her musical development seem effortless and natural. Eilish also sheds her hesitance in talking about her love life and sexuality, creating her most personal and narrative–focused LP yet.

The highlight of the album is without a doubt “LUNCH,” the sapphic lead single. Eilish’s sexuality has been a point of contention following the Happier Than Ever single “Lost Cause,” arguably for the worse. In “LUNCH,” no longer can people question her bisexuality when she deadpanned sings “I can eat that girl for lunch” and “I just want to get her off.” But the song is not just a statement of sexuality—it's also a song about feeling comfortable and exploring one’s own identity. “I'm interested in more than just bein’ your friend” or “It's a craving, not a crush, huh” reveal something more personal and reflective beneath the flirty and braggadocious song.

“LUNCH” is arguably the most commercial song from the album, and as one dives deeper into the repertoire, they find where the Eilish siblings’ songwriting and production truly shine. “BIRDS OF A FEATHER” sounds like the perfect marriage of her indie pop sound with slight hints of Caroline Polachek and Wham! thrown in the mix. Lyrically, the song is a modern reinterpretation of the phrase “till death do us part,” with lyrics such as “I want you to stay / 'Til I'm in the grave / 'Til I rot away, dead and buried / 'Til I'm in the casket you carry” and “Birds of a feather, we should stick together, I know / I said I'd never think I wasn't better alone.” The song was also previewed in the Heartstopper Season 3 trailer a week before the album’s release, further driving home the song’s message of a love that rings true.

L’AMOUR DE MA VIE” and “BLUE” are two songs that continue Eilish’s desire to explore musically. Both are unique in the sense that they are two songs mixed into one. “L’AMOUR,” a song describing how Eilish feels at the resolution of a relationship, features a down–tempo, folky first half which confesses that she lied to an ex when she said she loved him. One might even believe she was sincere if it weren’t for the synth–pop second half where Finneas cleverly uses autotune over Eilish’s ecstatic “It’s over now,” as if she’s relieved to close that chapter of her life. The latter part even got a delightful four–minute extended edit a few days after the album to drive that point home. 

“BLUE” is similarly composed of two parts, although less jarring than “L’AMOUR.” A reworked version of two older demos, the first half of “BLUE” describes Eilish as a “true blue” where she expresses remorse for the end of a genuine relationship. In the second half, she enters a more lo–fi territory, using blue as a metaphor for suffocation under expectations, placed on herself by others and also expectations placed on a loved one. “You were born reachin' for your mother's hands / Victim of your father's plans to rule the world,” sings Eilish in a haunting instrumental. “L’AMOUR” and “BLUE,” as well as the track “BITTERSUITE,” seem to be the continuation of her work from Happier Than Ever’s title track, which also shares the duo song structure. This time, however, her musical vision is much more realized.

Such a high–quality project means that the one main shortcoming is glaringly obvious. Like her Barbie soundtrack peer, Dua Lipa, Eilish’s latest offering is lacking in length. Lipa’s Radical Optimism is 11 tracks long, clocking at 36 minutes, while Eilish’s slightly longer 43–minute album makes for only ten tracks. Being three years removed from Happier Than Ever, it is very disappointing that fans waited that long for only ten songs, especially when this project is undoubtedly her best so far. Of course, it might not be wise to go the Taylor Swift or Beyoncé route of over–bloated albums, which gives fans too much at once to properly process the songs, but ten songs leave the listener wanting more, even if Rolling Stone disagrees

Granted, there has been a floating theory that Eilish will release a double album; dubbed the “ilomilo Theory” after her favorite video game (and track from her debut album), fans pointed out that the albums may refer to the characters, the red ilo and the blue milo, and HIT ME HARD AND SOFT represents the blue album. The theory has further credence when Eilish says “But when can I hear the next one?” at the end of the last track “BLUE." This is all currently speculation; however, she wouldn’t be the first artist to release a double album this year alone.

This almost would’ve been a perfect start to the era, but Eilish and her fanbase unfortunately found themselves in the midst of a streaming battle with Taylor Swift for number one on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. Both Swift and Eilish released many variants of their albums—the latter releasing isolated vocals, sped–up, and slowed–down versions of the project—and recruited their fans to gain additional sales towards the album chart. While Eilish ended up in number two, with the largest sales numbers of her career, one can’t help but wonder whether this battle was truly tasteful—Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department spent all that effort just to have a fifth week at number one and Eilish has previously said she supposedly doesn’t care about chart positions. All in all, this leaves a bad aftertaste for such a great project.

In the grand scheme of things, however, this chart battle doesn’t take away from the quality of the album. Eilish is no doubt in the running for next year’s Album of the Year race at the Grammys, and many of the songs continue to go viral on TikTok, hitting audiences she hasn’t before. With her third album, Eilish found herself a comfortable lane in the pop landscape, but she also demonstrated that she’s unafraid to explore off–script.