By Eeshaan Singh-Basu
We all have our demons, tucked away in the little corners of our minds, our personalities, our lives. Halsey lets hers loose on the world in Manic. It’s a tapestry, a collage shaped like a giant middle finger, unfurling over sixteen magical tracks. It’s not “super sad and dark”, as she reaffirms in the first episode of her “road to ‘Manic’” series on YouTube. It’s a colourful, dynamic story, with sadness and darkness in good measure, but mellow isn’t a word you’d associate with this album.
“3 am” is a rocker. Introspective and emotional, it reminisces an All Time Low song and hits harder for it. She channels Rihanna-esque pop diva shade in “killing boys”, keeping it soulful and restrained, showing that anger isn’t loud and brash, bitterness isn’t always vengeful. Her pain is nuanced and as free and versatile as she is. Or at least as her alter ego is, something hinted at on “clementine”, where she talks about Halsey and Ashley at war with each other. We reach an emotional climax at “Finally//beautiful stranger”, a woeful and bluesy track. It’s a timeless, pillow-hugging, teary-eyed companion to the more somber late nights in your life. The slide guitars add the sweetenings of any blues ballad, but it is a pop song front and center.
Where her previous album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, was a valiant mimicry of Beyonce’s “Formation”, the only other musician you think of as you listen through this album is G-Eazy, who gets lambasted on “You Should Be Sad”. You hear other voices; SUGA’s interlude on the (imaginatively titled) track, “SUGA’s interlude”, is a homage to K-Pop and Alanis Morisette makes an appearance in a powerful, badass interlude. She reminds the world that Halsey is a fierce queer woman who does and creates exactly as she pleases: truly ‘the biggest flex’, to use Ashley Frangipane’s own words.
“She’s told it beautifully, poetically, passionately and just won’t stop amazing you”
She uses her given name as the title for the opening song, a reminder that she’s showing all her parts. She has a story to tell. She’s told it beautifully, poetically, passionately and just won’t stop amazing you. Her YouTube series leading up to the album is compact and quick cut, but effective. Everything I’d thought to say to review this album has already been said in one of these beautifully put-together 4-7-minute videos. They’re vlogs and don’t come off as the shameless puff pieces that usually pass for promotional material in this industry.
We see Halsey make her bold statements, such as the cutting lament to a relationship she devoted herself to in “without me”, while Ashley is huddled up in baggy sweatshirts, singing songs such as “more” to herself, painting and sketching, doing anything to stop herself from pining. She gives in, lets her love, her grief, her struggle, and her personality-free. She leaves us with a matter-of-fact self-portrait in “929” (the time she was born) in which she tells all her stories in under 3 minutes, leaving you dumbstruck once it’s over. A lot of this album could very easily have ended up being a hot mess of genres, but under the watchful eye of Halsey’s team of long-time collaborators, this album cements its place firmly on the dark side of pop and by the end of it, you have felt everything there is to feel.
She’s learning to be happy, to be herself. This album showed us a 25-year-old navigating her mind, and I, for one, think we all needed it. She teaches us that it’s okay to not be okay. The fight gets easier, better. You will be happy, you will fall in love, find yourself in the worst bits of life, but you’ll come out of it knowing so much more. It’ll be wild, manic, even.