During the two and a half years since her second album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, Halsey has released a plethora of singles and collaborations which have solidified her position as one of the biggest female pop stars of the last five years. Her long-awaited third album, Manic, is the perfect blend of her Halsey persona and confessional lyricism.
In the Spotify video precursor to the album, Halsey states she is ‘offering a glimpse of that third face’, the one-between her musical persona Halsey and everyday Ashley. The opening track, ‘Ashley’, immediately establishes the album’s concern with showing all the sides of Halsey, whilst harking back to her Badlands era in its moody reflections upon America. However, as the opening track, I don’t think it quite grabs the listener; though it works as an introduction to the album.
“Whatever your mood, the album offers a variety of pop styles”
The singles released ahead of the album were well chosen, showcasing the range of styles Halsey incorporates into Manic, from the breakup songs to the more introspective tracks. Whatever your mood, the album offers a variety of pop styles, from the Western-inflected ‘You should be sad’ to the ballad ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’.
I felt the strongest part of the album is the middle section. ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’ was another musical surprise from Halsey, sounding much more like a slow dance song than anything she has previously released. For me the standout tracks were two quietly slipped into the album, ‘Alanis’ Interlude’ and ‘killing boys’, both highly memorable songs for their unique sound and quirky lyrics.
“Halsey’s tongue in cheek way of addressing her bisexuality is my new favourite queer anthem”
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the title ‘Alanis’ Interlude’, aside from excitement at hearing some Alanis Morrissette. I certainly wasn’t expecting a queering of relationships, but Halsey’s tongue in cheek way of addressing her bisexuality is my new favourite queer anthem.
Although the songs clearly come from a personal place, the secret to Halsey’s commercial success is that she manages to capture the zeitgeist of our current culture and being a twenty-something. Given the genre’s stereotyped representations of bisexuality (from Katy Perry to Liam Payne), Halsey’s recognition of the fluidity of gender and sexuality is a much needed breath of fresh air for pop music.
“It’s catchy as hell and rather exuberant in spite of the title”
Despite its macabre title, ‘killing boys’ also stood out for me, opening with an excerpt from the film Jennifer’s Body before launching into an upbeat song about getting revenge on an ex. It’s catchy as hell and rather exuberant in spite of the title.
Perhaps inspired by the success of her collaborations with BTS, Chainsmokers, Benny Blanco and Khalid, Halsey’s latest album has a greater number of songs featuring fellow musicians than her previous releases.
The three tracks, all titled as interludes, serve as segueways linking different parts of the album together. The first, ‘Dominic’s Interlude’, features Dominic Fike, the second features Alanis Morissette – a surprise on the album given Halsey’s previous collaborations with contemporary musicians, though Morissette’s voice doesn’t feel amiss. The third sees the return of BTS alongside SUGA in ‘SUGA’s Interlude’.
“The end of the album feels jarring”
However, my one criticism with the album is the ordering of the tracks. The album jumps between the anthemic pop hits Halsey is known for and much softer songs. In the opening of the album, ‘clementine’ and ‘Forever… (is a long time)’ might have worked better side by side rather than placing the more rousing ‘Graveyard’ and ‘You should be sad’ in between. For this reason, I don’t think the album is a smooth listen. Some songs blend into one another brilliantly: the ending of ‘Dominic’s Interlude’ moves pleasingly into ‘I HATE EVERYBODY’. However, the end of the album feels jarring, particularly the sudden movement from ‘killing boys’ into ‘SUGA’s Interlude’.
The issue seems to be Halsey producing songs that are very much ‘Halsey’ songs in line with the sound of her previous albums, and then sandwiching these between this new ‘Ashley’ sound she has begun experimenting with. The album works the middle songs which more successfully blend her brand of pop music with her confessional lyrics.
Halsey is best when writing from personal experience – it is this raw honesty that makes her music resonate, without feeling cliché, something other pop stars fall into. Whether she sings of love, heartbreak, or her mental health, Halsey isn’t afraid to open up about her flaws and vulnerabilities.
“When Manic works, it is an exciting and compelling album, but it falls flat in its structure”
When Manic works, it is an exciting and compelling album, but it falls flat in its structure. In spite of this, it is well worth a listen, though it is less an album to listen to in its entirety than a musical pick and mix of different pop styles.