I’ve been a Halsey fan since her debut, Badlands. I have her EP, Room 93, on vinyl. Once, I drove to Indianapolis to see her live after she cancelled a Chicago show I had tickets to. And when I first moved to Nashville, Badlands inarguably got me through the experience of being alone in a new city, whether it was crying to “Ghost,” screaming to “Hurricane,” or blaring “Drive” as I drove around at night.
Halsey’s known for her conceptual albums and the world-building throughout each. Room 93 centers around the intimacy of a hotel room. Badlands evokes a dystopian, deserted wasteland. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom takes metaphor even further, weaving in a Romeo and Juliet plot line set in a purgatory-like space.
Her newest record, Manic, somehow feels like both a culmination of her past work, while also taking a step away. It isn’t rooted in any conceptual place this time, but instead is a reflection of Halsey herself. Halsey is an outspoken artist on many subjects (which is another reason I admire her so much!), but especially about her own struggles with mental illness. She’s bipolar, and as the album title suggests, Manic is, well, manic.
The opening track, “Ashley,” ends with a sample from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with one of the main characters, Clementine, speaking. The sample bleeds into the next song, “clementine,” inspired and named after the same character. In Eternal Sunshine, Clementine is sometimes cited as an example of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope because of her blue hair and other eccentricities. However, she’s really not. The sole purpose of a true Manic Pixie Dream Girl is to show the usually-boring male lead how to discover himself. But, Clementine has her own flaws, depth, ideas, motivations, and complexity. Halsey does too, which she thoroughly explores throughout Manic, and makes the sample a perfect way to open the album.
Some complexity comes with genre: pop punk, 90's rock, and country influences are everywhere, running alongside her signature dark, angry pop. Manic has a little bit of everything, and it’s beautiful, because it’s a little bit of everything I love, all by Halsey.
First, there’s “3 am,” which is so punk, with real drums (I also immediately associated it with Avril Lavinge). Halsey’s love of emo is also in the chorus of “Ashley” and the stream-of-consciousness style lyrics in “929.” “929” is especially personal and intimate - it’s easy to imagine Halsey picking up a guitar and spilling out her thoughts as they come. The song’s full of image after image, a collection of snippets of stories: a cheap apartment on the East side, a girl with pink hair, the Milwaukee sky, a father that doesn’t call.
“Finally // beautiful stranger” is an Americana-tinged dream (with pedal steel, too). It’s a love song, but with a bit of resistance and fear of that love. “We’re dancing in my living room, and up come my fists,” sings Halsey. Then, there’s “Alanis’ Interlude.” It’s very 90's, obviously, because it features Alanis Morissette (Check out Jagged Little Pill if you’re at all unfamiliar). “Your pussy is a wonderland” is the hook: it’s a proudly queer and sexually empowering song.
Complexity comes emotionally, too, covering the spectrum of love and heartbreak. My favorite track, “You should be sad,” is spiteful and full of pain. For anyone who feels the same pain, it’s also so cathartic. “I'm just glad I made it out without breaking down/ And then ran so fucking far/ That you would never ever touch me again,” Halsey sings. Revenge comes later, in “killing boys,” which features a sample from Jennifer’s Body.
Manic also deals in inner conflict. For example, “Still Learning” is simple but striking in its earnestness - it’s the struggle of trying to love yourself. In “I HATE EVERYBODY,” the song kicks off: “I'm my own biggest enemy/ Yeah, all my empathy's a disaster,” explaining the paradox of self-destructive tendencies.
It’s been said Manic is an album “by Ashley for Halsey.” It’s an album for her fans, too. It’s an album of contradiction, pain, and life. And not to speak for all, but we fucking love it. So, Halsey, thank you.