Liz Foster ’22 and Kat Namon ’22
“I’m a fuckin’ liar,” laughs Halsey, new Ashley Frangipane, on the final track “929,” of her third studio album Manic. Basing her career off of brutal, raw honesty, her closing the album with this line is the perfect tinge of irony from the New Jersey native.
Throughout the sixteen tracks of Manic, Halsey explores the uncertainty of navigating adulthood under the microscope of fame. For years, Halsey floated under the radar as an underground icon for Tumblr kids and Twitter stans alike. After her breakout feature on the Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” she sky rocketed to mainstream fame that increased exponentially following the release of her 2018 single, “Without Me.”
Manic is the first of Halsey’s albums to not feature a storyline. Both 2015’s Badlands and its 2017 follow-up hopeless fountain kingdom (HFK) were concept albums; her debut focused on Halsey’s escape from her mental demons in the metaphor of “escaping the badlands,” and HFK retold the story of Romeo and Juliet through the lens of Frangipane’s own relationship with Norwegian producer Lido.
Listening to the songs in order gives you insight into her all-over-the-place mindset, or sort of “manic” state, if I may say so myself. She’s trying to come to terms with who she is right now and how she got there, and introduces the listener to this incredibly dynamic personality. With Manic, Halsey speaks to the angsty teen in all of us struggling to hash out all the thoughts that come into our heads as we try to navigate our ways through adolescence and into young adulthood. Halsey’s coming to terms with her enormous successes while staying realistic and saying, “Hey, I’m not totally okay and I don’t have it completely together mentally.”
“Ashley,” the album’s opener, sets the tone immediately as Halsey softly sings, “standing now, in the mirror that I built myself,” referencing the career she’s built as Halsey–not Ashley. The song explores the darker aspect of her position as an international pop star. The listener can feel her confusion as she wonders if her platform was worth the sacrifices she made.
She leaves her fans a promise, “I’ll leave you the dust, my love” whilst simultaneously fearing what will happen if she stops being Halsey, asking, “But if I decide to break/Who will fill the empty space?”
“929” gives a narrative account of her life, both personal and public, up to this point in her career. The song, which is the first take recorded by Halsey, is almost reminiscent of a character’s introduction in a musical. She hits listeners hard with lines like, “I stared at the sky in Milwaukee and hoped my father would finally call me” and gets at the reactionary and self-destructive mechanisms that plague so many of us with, “and I’m picking my hair out in clumps in the shower.” The song also is an ode to her fans. Since the beginning of her career, Halsey staked a name for herself with her inexplicable bonds with her fans. Countless photos, videos, and stories are strewn about the Internet showcasing how Halsey never fails to remember a fan regardless of how long it’s been since she last saw them. She acknowledges the power she holds over her fans as she references a fan in Detroit, “‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die/ Cause we need you,’ and honestly, I think that she lied.” Even after multiple platinum songs and albums, sold out world tours, and countless awards, Halsey still doubts her impact on her audience.
“3 am” is your typical drunk girl anthem of the digital age, as Halsey attempts to find some kind of validation through her phone instead of the actual, physical human contact provided by a one night stand. The song pays tribute to her early days as a tri-state area emo kid, calling to mind bands like Brand New and Taking Back Sunday with its lo-fi guitars and bombastic drums. The singer teases fans with another Brand New reference on the album’s Japanese version in “I’m Not Mad” where she antagonizes a former boyfriend with a reference to “Mix Tape” from Your Favorite Weapon: “I’ve got a twenty dollar bill that says/ You’re never, ever, ever gonna change.”
“Killing boys” – Halsey has a personal vendetta to complete that involves, as the title of the song suggests, killing boys who have wronged her throughout her romantic past. She samples Jennifer’s Body, paying homage to both her 2018 halloween costume and the iconic film starring Megan Fox as a bisexual succubus. She references yet another iconic female film star, and Halloween costume, as she sings, “I don’t wanna Uma Thurman your ass.”
With her anticipatory single “You should be sad,” Halsey comes at us with some serious pop-country vibes (said vibes also reoccur with Finally // beautiful stranger). The music video for the single pays homage to other pop ladies of the decades, including Christina Aguilara, Lady Gaga, and Shania Twain with different costumes to allude to each icon. She dresses up as Shania in two instances, from Twain’s hits “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man, I Feel Like A Woman” Halsey also made comments that she referenced Carrie Underwood in providing what serves as a sequel to the pop-country singer’s 2006 track “Before He Cheats,” by recounting what happens “After He Cheats” to the listener. As explained by Halsey on her Spotify page, she felt it necessary to include a break up song on the album and saw country as the most appropriate.
All of this taking on different personalities further underscores the overarching theme of Manic. Halsey takes on multiple personalities, and if you take each track one by one successively, it certainly takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster, leaving them feeling discombobulated and a little confused regarding which version of Halsey is the true Ashley. But that’s just it, there isn’t just one version of her. She is all of these multifaceted personalities and feelings that she shares with us. In an interview for the album, Halsey explains the Japanese legend of three faces: the one you show to the world, the one you show to your close friends and family, and the third that you never show anyone. This third face is the truest reflection of one’s self. Manic is undoubtedly Halsey’s third face, but one she allowed us to see.