Halsey is on to something. She has oriented herself with fans via the internet as so many musicians do in our day and age. She is similar and different. Her approach is poppy and catchy while her style is sensual and dark, especially when considering she is 20 years young. Her debut album hits both on the highs of self-empowerment and the lows of relations with people and darkness in the world — especially the latter of those two.
She doesn’t seem to feel like she fits in anywhere and her persona along with her music reflect that. It’s that classically-dark, introspective lyrical direction she chooses to take, which wouldn’t be so damning had it not been the general road that pop music has been on the last half-decade. Still, her story is intriguing and the way she looks at herself and her sexuality is both empowering and very current. A somewhat original sound has also manifested itself from her obviously diverse list of influences. She puts intrigue into simple concepts like road tripping to nowhere with your significant other (‘Drive’) via her writing.
She seems lost, and this is fully-realized through her consistent use of a hotel rooms as a setting. With common pop themes abound, it is left to her voice and vividness to entertain. Her depictions of her lack of self control are justified and brought to the forefront whereas other writers tackle those subjects mostly metaphorically. Halsey actually has a personality disorder and it becomes her enemy as well as her crutch. She uses it as an excuse for her instability one second and the next it becomes the target of her hatred.
Much like her personality, the album feel split. Opening with ‘Castles’, a song that very experimentally engulfing with its deep, heavy electronic elements and almost heartbeat-like bass hits and an explanation of the “badlands” being her mental state in which she feels her expression is restricted and ironically has enclosed her own heart in a castle of walls. It is very representative of her instability. It moves forward into songs like ‘Hold Me down’ pointing out that her demons are and always will be following her but she won’t let them keep her from achieving what she wants. Similarly, ‘New Americana’, has our lost musician explaining that we are a nation unafraid of being different and expressing ourselves. They are boldened with dark undertones but still come across as songs where Halsey accepts her lack of belonging.
This same lack of belonging is celebrated later on ‘Hurricane’ where she entices the idea of a man who seeks dominance but she knows she belongs to herself and no one else. Her destructive nature has likely separated her from the feeling of lasting love and reinforces her independence. Eventually, this optimistic independence fades, leaving behind it the shadow of a person who is haunted by her memories. Her expression of angst towards relationships is on full blast come the latter half of the album. A lot of her songs end up sounding like slightly darker iterations of material we have already heard littered over pop-culture music before.
The strengths show themselves as vocal range and Halsey’s generally unique voice. Her voice is soothing and full of ease, but it is consistently tense listening to her grapple with her emotions. She loses control as soon as she has it; this extends to the album, as soon as we get a grasp of a concept or style, it is manipulated to something new. Conceptually, the project is very-far reaching and close to home all at the same time. It relates raw emotions that we all experience in relationships to things like mental disorders and instability that some of us will never understand. It all culminates to a sexual, disorientingly unstable collage of ideas, feelings and sounds that never quite grabs as far as it reaches but does paint a path of curiosity for this singer/songwriter’s probable and bright future as a musician.