Halsey’s newest album ‘Manic’ explores the singer’s internal conflicts

A lesson in emotional vulnerability


Courtesy of Halsey’s official Facebook page

By Molly Hamilton, Assistant Arts Editor

Following the release of her critically acclaimed single “Without Me,” Halsey, in an interview with Zane Lowe of Beats 1 radio, explained that writing music about her own life in a way that’s “not protected by some character or some subplot” traversed new territory. If “Without Me” was the listener’s first introduction to the real Halsey, then her latest album, “Manic,” is a rambling conversation about the traumas and contradictions that created her. Listening to “Manic,” with the careful nuance of her two previous concept albums in mind, serves as a lesson in emotional vulnerability and self-awareness that pop music desperately needed.

The opening track, “Ashley,” is a near-perfect introduction the album’s major themes both lyrically and sonically. “Took my heart and sold it out to a vision that I wrote myself” neatly encompasses the singer’s mixed feelings towards her deliberately crafted public persona of Halsey and suggests a split between the musician and Ashley, a more private persona. The chorus draws clear inspiration from early 2000s pop-punk, a genre oversaturated in angst and self-loathing — two things that “Manic” continues to explore.

The openness and allusions to real-life drama that made “Without Me” an instant hit is mirrored in “You should be sad,” a breakup song peppered with country elements. Once again, Halsey borrows from the pop-punk genre with a sharp, sarcastic chorus of “I’m so glad I never, ever had a baby with you.” Making light of failed relationships comes up again in “killing boys,” a simmering breakup anthem that starts out as a crusade to inflict revenge but ultimately resolves itself with a simple “I don’t need you anymore.” While on the surface both songs seem to maintain regret and anger, underneath they explore a deeper message of allowing oneself to experience volatile emotions in order to let them go.

The album’s true high points come from its emotional peaks where Halsey’s skill as a lyricist shines. The light, catchy melody of “I HATE EVERYBODY” is just one of the many contradictions the song explores. Halsey quips, “If I could make you love me, maybe you could make me love me,” a sentiment that seems to directly oppose the song’s title but reveals a level of shaky self-awareness that immediately endears the listener to her internal conflict; the feelings of loneliness and desperation evident in “I HATE EVERYBODY” spill over into the next track, “3am.” What starts out as a Paramore-esque description of a night out quickly becomes a searing self-examination of her character. In the verses Halsey sings, “I really need a mirror that’ll come along and tell me that I’m fine” and by the chorus she admits that “fake moans and dial tones” are better than being alone with her own thoughts. The recognition of her own flaws, with little concern for painting a flattering picture of herself, is a staple of Halsey’s writing on “Manic” — there’s no room for filler and there’s something for every listener to relate to.

Despite the abundance of pop hooks and clever wordplay on “Manic,” the album’s most mature song is the stripped-down ballad, “More.” This song contains some of Halsey’s most impactful lyrics to date and manages to encapsulate complex feelings of loss, hope and love in under three short minutes. While the opening verse is somewhat veiled, the second reveals that Halsey is singing to the child she hopes to one day have. The majority of the song focuses on loss with lyrics such as, “I sit and I stare at your clothes in the drawer.” However, the bridge represents a shift towards hope with some of the song’s most poignant lines, “when you decide it’s your time to arrive, I’ve loved you for all of my life.” If nothing else, “More” showcases Halsey’s ability to write from a place of vulnerability more than any of her previous work.

“Manic” is packed with layered writing, variety and a sound unlike any other recent releases — it’s an album with few low points. The only places where “Manic” topples under its own weight are the three interludes, featuring Dominic Fike, Alanis Morissette and Suga of BTS respectively. While each one works as a stand-alone song, within the album they interrupt the flow and at times feel hastily thrown in among Halsey’s more polished songs.

For an album built entirely on ideas of honesty and openness, Halsey’s closing line, whispered almost as if doesn’t want the listener to hear it, “I’m a f—ing liar” is a surprisingly fitting conclusion. Although she’s directly referencing her earlier claim that she was born at 9:29 on Sept. 29 (9/29), it’s easy to imagine that she’s talking about much more than that. At its core, “Manic” feels like an attempt to explain personal conflicts and truths too heavy to be described accurately. Fortunately, it’s the messy act of trying that makes “Manic” Halsey’s most emotionally engaging album yet.

Molly Hamilton can be reached at [email protected]