Pop

Halsey Is At Her Angriest And Best On ‘Manic,’ An Emotional Pop Breakthrough

“You’re killing people!”
“No, I’m killing boys.”
dialogue from the 2009 film, Jennifer’s Body

For those who thought misandrist discourse peaked in the mid-2010s via internet memes, Halsey is the pop star bringing it squarely into 2020. Sampling dialogue from the surrealist, cult horror film Jennifer’s Body — which, of course, is named after a Hole song — dialogue between Amanda Seyfried (Needy) and Megan Fox (Jennifer) from the movie opens the track “Killing Boys,” the best angry ex-girlfriend anthem this side of “Before He Cheats.” Half dramatic strings, half blazing revenge on a cheating boyfriend, the song comes toward the end of Manic, the third full-length album from Halsey, a record that is guaranteed to catapult her to the upper echelons of the pop world — misandry in tow.

“I’ve grown out of my internalized misogyny,” the rising pop star, born Ashley Frangipane, told Billboard last summer. “Female rage is a tight subject for me right now. I’m interested in female everything… I went from only wanting to hang out with boys to ‘I love women, they’re awesome.’” At twenty-five, Frangipane’s feminist awakening is right on time, and it informs both her work on Manic, and the decisions she makes a public figure. For instance, late last year when Taylor Swift asserted that Scooter Braun owning her masters registered as emotional trauma, Halsey was one of very few stars to publicly support her idol and peer without hesitation. Women supporting women, but on the billionaire scale, you know?

Throughout Halsey’s discography, from 2015’s riveting, moody Badlands to 2017’s dystopian Romeo And Juliet cosplay, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, commercial success and cult followings bloomed almost immediately, but the critics didn’t necessarily come along. Halsey’s popularity with fans was partially due to early openness about the impact of her bipolar disorder/manic depression — even acknowledging a suicide attempt at 17 that led to a seventeen-day hospitalization. Millennials and Gen Z relate to this candid approach, especially considering record numbers of us struggle with mental illness, too, and Halsey’s honest discussions about bisexuality and biracial heritage also contributed to her relatability.

But, as the album title suggests Manic primarily examines her mental health, and the effect it has on her relationships and their dissolution. When the album’s eventual lead single “Without Me” dropped in late 2018, most fans took it as a direct summary of Halsey’s experience with her former collaborator and ex-boyfriend, G-Eazy, who reportedly cheated on her, leading to both the end of the relationship… and her first No. 1 hit. (Receipts provided per her Rolling Stone cover last summer: “Without Me” tackles “getting cheated on in front of the entire world, like, a billion times.”)

Initially released as a one-off track, Halsey’s preferred methodology of responding to the drama and flurry of headlines following their breakup worked well. “Without Me” became a hit, and turned into the first single off Manic due to its unprecedented success. Not only was it Halsey’s first solo No. 1 hit, the song earned her slot a performing on SNL, The Voice, Ellen, last year’s Billboard Music Awards, and more. Given a bigger platform and increased attention, Halsey rose to the occasion, delving even further into the difficult, familiar material about the battle to create and keep a healthy relationship, and the painful process of picking up the pieces after another inevitability destructive one.

On Manic, the tongue-in-cheek, misandry-motivated revenge of “Killing Boys” and the resigned anger and sadness of a track like “You Should Be Sad,” which uses a bouncy, fingerpicked guitar melody to disguise some seriously devastating lines, are all part of the process, as is another movie line, quoted from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind on the opening track: “I’m just a f*cked up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.” Another song, “Clementine,” shares a title with the character who voices those feelings in Sunshine, stripping back to lilted, sing-song lyrics and a spare piano refrain that asserts her adolescent desire for attention from the entire world.

Some of the best parts of Manic come from the unexpected range of collaborators, including the one and only Alanis Morissette on an ode to p*ssy (“your p*ssy is a wonderland,” word to John Mayer, who also make a cameo with a supportive voicemail about “Without Me”), relative newcomer Dominic Fike delivering drama-kid-pop realness, and Suga/Agust D of BTS (real name Min Yoon-gi) rapping in Korean with the kind of sexy, fervent urgency that American rappers could take a cue from. Each of these features is presented on an “interlude” that often bleeds into other songs, giving the album a cohesive feel as an entire document that should be listened to in order, and not piecemeal.

Though the album is missing one of Halsey’s best newer songs, “Nightmare,” a track that’s definitely powered by female rage, it delves into the deeper, more complicated side of casual sex and self-sabotage, offering a realistic perspective on the difficulties of dating in your twenties. There is, arguably, no truthful way for women who date men to portray the majority of their romantic relationships without a large dose of anger and disappointment; men regularly treat women so badly their behavior is easily categorized as abuse, or worse, illegal violence. In Halsey’s case, it certainly registers as a toxic relationship that should spark some anger, to say the least. In light of modern (and historical) circumstances when it comes to the relationship between men and women, a little over-the-top misandry in pop music, as a treat, doesn’t seem manic at all in.

Manic is out now via Capitol Records. Get it here.

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