Halsey leapt from internet notoriety to genuine pop fame at a time when the obstacles segregating IRL and URL prestige started to granulate, and it became feasible to jump-start a music pursuit by force of not just skill but also the supervision of a cold and fascinating internet existence.
There, the musician, born Ashley Frangipane of Middlesex County in North Jersey, talked with fierce sincerity about battles curbing from having a Black father and white mama; about being bisexual; about body matters; whatever felt thrusting and significant. Halsey, who utilizes she/they pronouns, came to be competitive in enthusiast societies for pop-rock groups like One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer and disclosed music of her own, covers and mavericks demonstrating a vivid singing vocalist and a terrific understanding of what’s seeping in pop.
On 2015’s Badlands, their debutant album, Halsey was hit-or-miss, though, constantly in lockstep with the tone of the beginning of the decade — remember the slippery EDM hybridization of Taylor Swift’s 1989, or the hip-hop-tinged fire music of Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die, or the tense synth-rock of Night Visions– period of Imagine Dragons — but not invariably as pointed and optimistic as the defiant millennial anthem “New Americana.”
The attitude was there; the element could utilize a little of fine-tuning, a traditional Tumblr problem. After sweating through trap-pop vibes and heartbreaking life transitions on 2017’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom — the Reputation to Badlands’ 1989, in a path — Halsey ambled her sport up on previous year’s Manic, a more positive anthology full of lacerating sincerity about the blisses and lows of bipolar illness but too jammed with music and melodies that didn’t complete each other.
Since the previous album, Halsey is improving in craft and vitality outside it. She began beholding screenwriter Alev Aydin; the pair’s first kid, a boy called Ender Ridley (who really must evolve liking sci-fi), was born in mid-July, a blessing in a harrowing excursion with endometriosis.
“Halsey” is a street in Kings County as much as it’s an anagram for “Ashley.” Black and white with a blood-red stripe down the beginning, the recent billboards declared the title of the fourth Halsey album — If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power — one that would abstain from the digressive issues of singles and videos proclaiming Halsey albums in history.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power tries and discovers a mutual ground between the gothic industrial emperors and the pop star. Halsey’s choice uniforms the harsher textures existing in these songs surprisingly nicely; it’s a blast listening to them dump the sheen of older albums, to drizzle headfirst into the midst of the rock tone we saw looks of in ballads like “Experiment on Me,” from the soundtrack to Birds of Prey: Harley Quinn.
Halsey is completely realistic here, brave to share profound, gloomy feelings with the listener, willing to chop loose amidst the uproar of ominous synths and retaliating guitars. The Nails guys seem eager to get out of their solace zones with Halsey in tow. As much as I Want Power traffics in the tones you might anticipate it to, provided the performers existing — the jangling keyboard cords that unsettle with risky melodic flings, the disorienting drum progress, the stark piano equilibrium — it also detects as an opportunity to dodge the notoriously harsh sound of Nine Inch Nails.
The biting, cathartic “You Asked for This” kicks off with drumbeat lingers of timely Interpol and lays out a gorgeous shoegaze interpretation more in line with the M83 category than anything any of these performers has given rise to in history. “Darling” is the plaintiff’s cultural music testing tragic reminiscences, connected by a delicately heaved acoustic guitar the attention divulges to be fiddled by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham.
Researching the credits, you’ll also see Dave Grohl, individualists Pino Palladino and Karriem Riggins, storied rock-and-roll mixer Alan Moulder, and backers of Meat Beat Manifesto, TV on the Radio, and the Bug, consuls from every intersection of Reznor’s expanding cosmos.
These companions free Halsey from flashing the tone of modernity — although, on a particular level, it is an astute trick, amid the progress of late-20th-century recollections crawling into outstanding music, to go quickly to the basis of some of those sounds — and proposes aesthetic cohesion and originality the musician’s catalogue of astute and trendy mainstream hits sometimes forfeited to maintain stepping on the radio.
I Want Power sees the pop star delving into painful questions in their past and pushing back against the injustice of women. “Whispers” gives voice to intrusive thoughts that inform us we’re trivial than we are: “Sabotage the aspects you like the most / Camouflage so you can nourish the lie that you’re composed of.”
“The Tradition” is a look inside the psychological aftermath from conquest and sexual assault: “Take what you want, take what you can / Take what you please, don’t give a damn / Ask for forgiveness, never permission.” On “Darling,” the battle to discover a helpful regimen of psychotropics leads down distressing pathways: “Maybe I’ll be better if I take my meds / Ain’t a doubleheader if you lose your head / I tried a medication that I bought instead / It’s working for a little but there’s not much left.”
“The Lighthouse” is a homicide hymn told from the viewpoint of a seductress of belief who directs a mariner to a watery death. The coda — where Trent sings of wrecking surges in a whimper, the only time you can make out his singer on the album — lightly indicates that Halsey has murdered the producer.
In the article, this album is a chronicle of plummeting in passion and steering the first pregnancy, but in practice, the article is malleable and relatable. The hymns are remarkable. Sometimes, the pop and goth features strain too heavy to push each other and land on a lukewarm concept, like the interpretation in “The Lighthouse” that sounds like Imagine Dragons or the Cure pastiche of “Honey”; other times, the coalition lands on an excellent wedding of the disparate nations of the musician and their producers, like “I am not a woman, I’m a god,” at once a shiny synth-pop bop and a combative Nails banger that could have just as effortlessly lived on 2013’s Hesitation Marks.
If I Can’t Have Love is several aspects to several people: a realistic succession from the darkly pretty sonics of “Shit Mirror,” the opening from Nails’ Bad Witch EP; the proof Trent could have a pop profession if he liked; a beginning to the crown prince of the depressing song for a new generation; and the promising Halsey album.