Ditching her trademark neon green roots for classic blonde wasn’t the only aesthetic shift Billie Eilish had in mind. Announcing her sophomore album Happier Than Ever this morning, Eilish is also charting new visual territory. Gone are the Technicolor hues of the Toiletpaper-inspired “Bad Guy” video, or the neo-goth undertones of “Bury a Friend.” In their place is a soft, muted, almost monochromatic color palette of soothing beiges. It’s minimal compared to much of her previous visual output. It also marks an important milestone for any post-Madonna pop artist these days: the first, big image reinvention.
The true kick-off for the Happier-era is imminent. The album is set for a July 30 release, and a new song will premier on Thursday. In the recently-shared album cover, the very blonde Eilish looks teary eyed into the future with a muted coral lip. She wears a simple cream sweater in front of a simple beige background.
Not only is the font more mature and traditional than her previous typographic choices, but just the fact that words even appears on the album cover has caught some fans off guard. The covers for her previous album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and e.p. Don’t Smile At Me were both wordless. She kept up that tradition for the artwork of many (though not all) of her single release as well. In other words, the first words actually printed on an Eilish album ever also signal something new.
Eilish has only provided the album cover and a short visual teaser, and we shouldn’t assume that’s what to come is necessarily beholden to those visual codes. Though, young pop stars ditching candy colored-aesthetics for more subdued imagery is a time-honored tradition. See the black and white album covers for Christina Aguilera’s second album Stripped and Beyoncé’s third I Am... Sasha Fierce, the calming blue of Britney Spears’s In The Zone, or the stark, nonsense of Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814. In both pose and hair, the Happier cover also invokes some alternative artwork from Gwen Stefani’s sophomore solo album The Sweet Escape.
There’s a clear demarcation here from Eilish’s previous era, and one that clearly wants to signal more maturity. This is the album cover for someone who already has the loyalties of Generation-Z, but wants to be taken seriously by everyone else, too.
Though, it’s not completely unprecedented in the Eilish oeuvre either. While it was bathed in hues of lilac, the video for Eilish’s breakout song “Ocean Eyes” also deployed a muted, soothing color palette without a single green root in sight.