2015’s era of bright, side-swept hair and Tumblr edginess is embodied in one famous figure: Halsey. Rising to extreme stardom with the release of her fantastical debut album, BADLANDS, she became a voice that many angsty teenagers clung to. Her music created an alternate reality, BADLANDS existing as a fake universe for teenage fans to get lost in. Her distinctive, almost warbling vocals have garnered both praise and criticism, especially since she has become more “mainstream.” In 2017, her album hopeless fountain youth channeled more of the radio-hit sound that she had avoided earlier in her career. Many fans started to lose interest, mostly since hopeless fountain youth was an album that attempted to maintain that “alternate universe” aura but didn’t have that unique sound that many attributed to Halsey.
With her 2020 release, Manic, Halsey has ditched the mystical, imaginative concepts for a much more raw and grounded album. The songs sound hardly like anything you could find on her early releases. The album is chock full of ballads and deep-cuts, the majority of songs devoid of the heavily electronified instrumentals that reigned on BADLANDS. In a sense, the album is a maturation of the singer’s first album which she wrote when she was 19. Now 25, Halsey has had more than half a decade of experience in the spotlight and the music industry in general, all of which is evident on Manic. While the subject matter and the actual sound of each individual song shows a lot of growth, the album as a whole doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Unfortunately, the album falls short through its lack of unity. Songs like “Without You”, (a single obviously written for radio play) and “I HATE EVERYBODY” just seem so remarkably out of place among the songs that actually tell a story. The presence of these uber-pop, very shallow songs automatically discredits so much of what was really well-done on the record. These types of tracks would have worked on the singer’s earlier work, as the entire “feel” of those albums benefited from some bouncy, easy-listening songs. Manic’s purpose, from Halsey’s own words, is meant to be a personal record, channeling the real person behind Halsey: Ashley Frangipane. While her attempts to do this are clear, the execution isn’t exactly successful.
There are snippets of passion and intentful songwriting. Highlights like “Finally//beautiful stranger” and “929” show a side of her that the world hasn’t seen before — significantly more introspective than her older work, these tracks sound like Halsey’s personal confessions. Since her 2015 album, she has been in two high-profile relationships, one with rapper G-Eazy and another with Yungblud. Many of the slower songs show the real side of these relationships as well as their endings. It’s the first time Halsey seems to have dealt with these topics with a great sense of maturity.
An album like this, while flawed and a bit all over the place, bodes well for Halsey’s future career. Across her discography, her intellectual growth is evident to anyone listening. Manic may not be Halsey’s apex, but it certainly shows a big step in the right direction.