When Halsey’s first studio album came out in 2015, she was an instant hit. At 20 years old and just an EP to her name, Ashley Frangipane delivered undeniable momentum with the “Badlands” album. It was an atmospheric, autobiographical, and addictive sound where the details of her story almost outdid the music itself. Long has she served as an empowering voice for a rising generation, her song “New Americana” taking to the charts as she praised the individualism of the millennial generation. Since then, she has featured on hits like The Chainsmokers’ “Closer”, BTS’ “Boy with Luv” and Benny Blanco’s “Eastside”, becoming an A-List collaborator – all while nudging outside the walls of pop with her own music.
Released January last year her third album, “Manic”, was a project that demanded she be taken seriously with her forward thinking and cross-genre curiosity. It was a more assured collection when in comparison to her previous albums as she spoke of the highs and lows of her bipolar disorder. Some critics believed that the compilation did not mesh together well, the songs not complimenting each other to the best of their ability. However, I thought that the album was cleverly worked around the feeling Halsey aimed to portray: an overwhelming imbalance of sudden emotions. When listening to an album, it’s not as simple as numbering a record based on what was written first, but instead a lot of artists choose the order for much more multifaceted reasons. Halsey has forever been an artist that doesn’t just drop a collection of songs she’s written over time, but instead gives us an entire theme park of fun, thrills and even terror, each track a new endeavour into the mind of Halsey. Throughout it all I’ve been a longstanding fan of her since 2014 as she has persistently been a compelling musician who gets mightier with every release. Now at 26 years old, her latest album “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” is an artistic statement that is her strongest piece of work yet.
As her fourth studio release, “I Want Power” is a brave declaration turned into a powerful production. Only Halsey herself could have pulled off a release like this. While most of our chart-topping artists are crafting into a mould that is fit for the likes of TikTok, this album is a superior to everything about modern music. Why play it safe, when you can release an album that makes people actually pay attention to what you’re saying? This is a declarative that demands attention, so instead of releasing singles, the album came with its very own IMAX film: an intense and gory, fantasy trailer that teased the conductor that unveiled her album. Its content is just so fierce and fascinating that it’s impossible to ignore.
Moreover, the glistening redemption and burning rebellion that typically saturates Halsey’s music has transformed from embers to roaring flames. With grand metaphors and gaudy costumed concepts, she delivers music that deserves its own exhibit in an art gallery. Lyrically, the sheer grandness of Halsey’s work has always come from the singer’s brutal honesty about her struggles; talking of her mixed-race heritage, her bisexuality, mental health, body image and whatever else feels pressing and important. She makes the unheard heard and screams with a rich integrity that is often avoided. “I Want Power” explores patriarchal expectations and one’s evolving identity with a new kind of creative freedom. Upon its release, the singer took to Instagram explaining that this is the album she has always wanted to make but was not brave enough nor experienced enough to nail the conquest of confidence that “I Want Power” achieves. Then, fate led her to Trent Razor and Atticus Ross, who helped her bring her deepest desire to life.
So, what’s the story? Having welcomed her little boy, Ender Ridley, in mid-July this record comes from a place that explores both the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth. It encapsulates the overwhelming juxtaposing moods and dynamics that women experience during this life changing experience. While every experience differs, Halsey’s here to shed light on the fact that it’s not as sunshine and rainbows as the media portray: it’s just as terrifying as it is wonderful. In Halsey’s case especially, she’s experiencing all these complicated emotions but under the probing spotlight of a music industry that strips you of your autonomy once the pregnancy announcement comes out. Sex appeal has long been contrived as a prime selling point for a woman and her music, physical beauty continuously emphasised in this omnipresence of sexualisation in the mass media and there is also a large social stigma around pregnant bodies and breastfeeding – for whatever misogynistic reason that is. When on the topic of press coverage, Halsey tells Zane Lowe that you’re no longer treated as an artist but as a pregnant woman and a lot of publications were no longer interested in doing a cover with her.
However, to celebrate a woman’s body during pregnancy and in postpartum, the cover image for the album is one of Halsey on a throne as she reclaims her own body: a body that can be both a vessel and a gift to her son. In terms of genre, while you can label this as “industrial rock”, it’s much more complicated than that. Teaming up with Trent and Atticus, this album explores a wide mix of instrumentation as some records sound like sweet and sour grunge, others 90s hip-hop beat and others sweet-sounding electro. All those elements combined form an album that would be the perfect backing for a fantastical horror film – so it’s impeccable for her R rated cinematic. The sombre piano-led introduction, “The Tradition”, best showcases the pristine fragility of Halsey’s voice so that it may soar ahead, carrying listeners with a hypnotic power that takes them from start to finish. With verses telling the story of a girl bought and sold, a possible metaphor for her fame, you’re prepared for the outpour of socially ‘unconventional’ feelings that are bound to come through.
Additionally, this inner conflict is evident not just through her lyrics and visual concepts but the formulaic layout of the songs themselves. While “The Tradition” and “Bells in Santa Fe” transition seamlessly into one another, “Easier than Lying” comes out of nowhere and sets the tone for a pop-punk chaos that is ready to defy the system. Though what’s interesting about some of the melodies, especially in the intro, is the nursery rhyme-like arrangement. What’s clever about this is that when something is mnemonic and has the right pattern, like children’s rhymes, it memorable. Already, we’ve established that this album demands to be remembered, therefore with this rhythmic pattern, the message comes across much better. Plus, she’s trying to do so in about three and half minutes (per song) while also trying to make the words rhyme and sound good. She’s defying patriarchy and embracing female autonomy, but it still has to be playable. When you write a song, it’s such a difficult balance of elements so the full impact is met, and yet Halsey successfully does this with “I Want Power”. So here we have this album that not only sounds brilliant but has such a raw and daring feel that its culture shaping.
Overall, I specifically avoided breaking down all 13 tracks because this album deserves to be delivered as a whole. With each listen you’re peeling back layers and layers of dexterity and adventure, but this is what makes Halsey such a striking anomaly against some of the females in our top charts. She’s a captivating figure in such an overcrowded field. So, why is she not of the iconic status of Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande or Billie Eilish? Perhaps that’s a conversation for another time.