For some reason, there seems to be a binary that exists in relation to Halsey that is comprised of people who either love her or are too afraid of admitting that they love her. I won’t be entertaining any arguments, so save them. We were all here for BADLANDS and maybe the likes of “Colors” is a bit corny now, as I will admit Halsey often cradles the corny like her spawn, but you can’t deny her lyricism is unmatched and remarkable, especially being a pop singer.
I devoured Room 93 like finding a collection of poetry in a used bookstore; few artists have stripped versions of their earliest work. At 17, I vividly remember bumping BADLANDS like gospel and thinking, ‘God, how could she ever top this?’ Well, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom came out in 2017 and…she came close. A very concisely produced album with an array of bops showcasing her range in genre and lyrics telling enough to get a sense of Halsey, but still broad enough for anyone to relate to, HFK went out not with a shout, but with a muffled wail into that good night.
Fast forward to this roaring start of 2020 and we have all that and more. With that said, Manic is perhaps the best album of Halsey’s to date. It has the poetry and visuals of BADLANDS, the clean-edged production and dedication to aesthetics of HFK and a raw openness that can only come from an unapologetic and confident young 25-year-old.
Manic, while not a concept album like her previous two, is supposed to be a sensory experience, which makes sense as this tracklist is reflective of Halsey’s life and after all, life is marked by the things we see, feel, hear, smell and so on. However, I must admit that while the entirety of these aesthetics were not lost on me, I just didn’t quite grasp it, so I will not be commenting further on this part of the album.
What I will get into, however, is the blatant relatability of each track. The record starts off with “Ashley” (Halsey reconfigured, did ya know?) and gives a subtle, but biting taste into what you’re about to get into. Huge on metaphor, it displays effectively that Manic is about Halsey, for Halsey and by Halsey. It ends with a recording from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” where Clementine says, “I’m just a f*cked up girl who’s looking for my own piece of mind — don’t assign me yours.” Felt that.
Next up comes “Clementine,” and all I want to say about this in written word is that if you ever catch me outside with my headphones in, looking more melancholy than usual, I’m probably listening to this. This is also a good rainy day car ride song. It’s vulnerable, it’s desperately human, it’s beautiful. I don’t wanna talk about it.
The next two are the singles off the record with “Graveyard” and “You should be sad.” Hearing these songs individually and knowing they’re by Halsey, and on the same album at that, is a bit…jarring. You have her typical twinkly pop ballad on one hand, then a scathing country-esque revenge song on the other. It is here where we realize why the album is called Manic, but it works. Neither the honesty in lyrics nor the electricity in rhythm falters at any given point. Sure, she gave in to the sexy cowboy obsession that’s blown up in music and media, but she served while doing it. Additionally, watching her perform either of these numbers live is always refreshing. Halsey has such confidence in her vocals that she gives herself a twang when crooning out “YSBS” and clearly has a ton of fun while doing it. It’s experiments like these that bring the message of music back to its basics: fun, catharsis, etc.
Skipping a few great tracks, we come to two of my favorite songs on the record that I also deem the most brazenly truthful. I literally felt attacked upon hearing these, but that is the beauty of good music, isn’t it? In “I HATE EVERYBODY,” Ashley Nicolette Frangipane admits that she, like any optimistic empath who wears her heart on her sleeve, can often fall too quickly for people and make more out of moments than is good for her, which is why she puts up a tough front. Every line in this song is so hard-hitting, yet backed with a whimsical beat as if she’s saying, “Yeah, this is me.” Following that is “3am” which is another banger of a similar theme of loneliness and self sabotage, but delivered in a completely different beat. It’s edgy but easy, it’s a headbanger, it’s pop-punk as hell.
Ending “3am” with a congratulatory recording and shoulder pat for topping the charts with yet another jab at that wretched ex, G-Eazy, we get the famed song itself, “Without Me.” Her biggest song yet. Need I say more? Didn’t think so.
Another dynamic duo that comes together on the record is “Alanis’ Interlude” (I can’t stop bumping this queer anthem) and “killing boys” (feminist anthem). Again, we peer through the window of Halsey’s persona while still being able to enjoy the tune for its artistry.
“SUGA’s Interlude” might stand out the most on Manic because of featured South Korean rapper, Min Yun-gi dueling Halsey’s soft croons. I don’t get this track at all, but I enjoy it nonetheless. Following this is a ballad of unconditional love in “More.”
Coming to the penultimate and last song, Halsey seems to end the album with more self-reflection. They’re sweet, they’re simple, they’re regretful without being apologetic, which is the best that a person can do.
All in all, Manic felt like a hug. It feels like a heart-to-heart with Halsey herself. Hearing some of these daringly introspective songs felt like I was being heard by my own friends. At the same time, Manic tackles diversity in genre and comes out crushing each one. There’s something for everybody on the track, yet at the same time it is evident Halsey didn’t care to make it for everybody. As a well-established name in the industry, this is what a third studio album ought to sound like.