Pop

How Halsey’s Dark New Era Is Bringing Difficult Conversations To Light

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Halsey has only been a major artist for the last four years.

Since she signed to Astralwerks in 2014 — before she even turned 20 — and released her first full-length record, Badlands, the following year, Ashley Nicolette Frangipane’s signature, scratchy alto and raw, dark style quickly became staples in the pop world. She offered a welcome contrast to the overly sweet and aspirational aesthetic often adopted by other female stars in this era, relating the struggles of not having it all together and f*cking up instead of motivational and celebratory hits.

Her vulnerable style resonated with pop audiences more than anyone realized at the time; back in 2015 the music industry was still getting to know Halsey, but her grassroots fanbase signaled their loyalty early when the Jersey native sold out a scheduled 2016 show at Madison Square Garden in just three weeks. Since then, she’s begun to regularly headline festivals and tour arenas, catapulting to that level around the same time she could legally drink.

After her debut came out, Halsey became a mainstream pop presence by guesting on massive hits like The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” in 2016 — or even 2018’s ubiqituous collab “Eastside” with Khalid and Benny Blanco — but she really came into her own in 2017 on her second record, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, a concept album of sorts that featured gritty, vulnerable story-songs like “Now Or Never” and “Bad At Love,” which became her first solo hits. That was also the year she began dating rapper G-Eazy, and their on-again/off-again relationship eventually went all the way off, but not before they collaborated on their own relationship-centric hit, “Him & I.”

Just a few weeks ago Frangipane confirmed her third full-length album, Manic, will come out at the top of next year, the first highly-anticipated pop album of 2020 announcement following a flurry of great 2019 pop releases. During a pop era where songs and albums that seem to detail real-life struggles with other famous love interests reign supreme, Halsey is gearing up to release her most personal album to date — that it seems to be mostly about G-Eazy is one of the album’s biggest draws.

Ever since Beyonce’s (supposedly) reality-based pop opus Lemonade landed in 2016, pop stars have been more openly hinting at the inspiration behind their biggest hits. Taylor Swift arguably also helped usher in the idea that fans could find out the impetus behind the more direct breakup tracks, and one of 2019’s best albums, Thank U, Next came after Ariana’s very public breakup with Pete Davidson, so the formula is clearly a viable one.

The news of Manic’s release date came alongside the album’s third single, “Graveyard,” a codependent anthem about staying loyal to the literal grave. It was a dark follow up to her excellent rager “Nightmare,” a song that hews more closely to rock than anything she’s done to date, and the wistful, trap-inflected lead single, “Without Me,” a blatant kiss-off released last fall. The sheer breadth of styles contained on these first three singles is enough to signal that Halsey is committed to expanding her reach as a pop star, and doubling back to more emo and rock sounds actually works really well for her, especially considering the song’s subject matter.

Though she’s always written about difficulties in relationships and emotional struggles, the specificity and anger that punctuates her two latter singles, in particular, indicates they were written about the dissolution of her most recent and public relationship with rapper G-Eazy. And though it’s not like Halsey hasn’t dabbled in darkness before, she has plenty of brooding ballads and fiery anthems in her discography, these two new singles speak to a gloomier, resigned side of the pop star that feels both reminiscent of the political era we’re living through, and reflective of her own recent personal experiences.

In a fitting twist, Halsey explained that “Nightmare” doubles as a tribute to all the women who come to her shows and channel their aggression into survival mode for the pit (and, it seems clear, an homage to the resilience she’s found in herself). If that’s the case, then “Graveyard” is the codependent foil to the independent protagonist in “Nightmare,” a woman who lets herself literally be dragged down by a partner who can’t help their own slow slide into darkness. But the ability to portray such complex issues from both sides of the binary is exactly what Halsey does best.

If anyone understands each side of that coin, it’s Frangipane, an artist who has been openly discussing her struggles with bipolar disorder, owning her bisexual identity, and addressing her biracial heritage from the very beginning of her career. Jokingly referring to herself as “tri-bi” due to embodying so many binaries, these identities add nuance to her discussions of codependency and anger on an album titled Manic.

So, though it’s only been four years, Halsey is helping bring incredibly important conversations to the forefront of pop music, and it looks like her next album is gearing up to do that in an even bigger way. As her singles pave the way for conversations about unhealthy relationships and the importance of harnessing your own anger for strength, Manic is already impacting the world of pop music for good — and it isn’t even out yet.

Manic is out 1/17/2020 via Capitol Records. Pre-order it here.

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