REVIEW: halsey's MANIC
Updated: Feb 28
Ashley Frangipane is redefining vulnerability as we know it. ★★★★⯨
Ashley Frangipane— better known by her stage name, Halsey— is no stranger to success. BADLANDS, her debut album from 2015, and her 2017 follow up, hopeless fountain kingdom, respectively made it to Number Two and Number One on the Billboard 200; both albums were also certified platinum by the RIAA. Halsey’s newest release, Manic (2020), has continued this level of success, peaking at Number Two on the Billboard 200, but proves that Halsey has begun to grow out of her previous styles and take a much more honest approach to the music she creates.
Both of Halsey’s previous albums had a level of theatricality carried through their themes, lyrics, musical styles, and accompanying videos; BADLANDS taking a dark electro-pop approach, focusing on a young girl in an apocalyptic society; hopeless fountain kingdom an R&B/synth-pop inspired take on Romeo & Juliet. With the release of Manic, Halsey’s listeners finally get a chance to hear directly from its creator, with no concept-album formalities in the way.
Halsey refuses to limit the album to a single genre. Instead, Manic becomes a conglomerate: country, pop, rock, and even South Korean rap feature on the sixteen-song record, with influences like the Beach Boys on “Dominic’s Interlude” and even a track featuring Alanis Morissette. For Halsey fans who’ve been around since the BADLANDS era, this is quite the switch-up— and can become a turn off from certain tracks. Personally, I don’t particularly care for the country twang of “You should be sad,” or the K-Pop spin on “SUGA’s Interlude,” but the genre-mixing serves as a sign that Halsey has branched out and is willing to experiment with her style. Manic offers a full 180-degree turn on her previous work, making a clear statement about Halsey’s musical style: she refuses to be put into a box.
Speaking of Halsey refusing to be boxed in, let’s make something else clear: Manic is not just a breakup album. With plenty of media coverage on the end of her relationships with G-Eazy and Yungblud, it’s easy to fall into the expectation that an album following a breakup can only be a breakup album. Halsey steers clear of this idea, providing an array of content. Some tracks obviously dissect and deconstruct these breakups: “Graveyard,” an electro-pop track produced by Jon Bellion, discusses loving someone to the point of dying for them; country-pop single “You should be sad” seems to take on the aftermath in which the truth comes out about their compatibility.
However, Halsey proves she’s able to open up about more than just heartbreak, diving deep into personal issues of self-perception, mental health, and even her own medical history. Tracks like “3am” and “I HATE EVERYBODY” give some insight into Halsey’s apparent self-destructive behaviors ("Yeah, all my empathy's a disaster," she opines) and “Still Learning” analyzes the duality of living an apparently “perfect” life in the limelight while still struggling with self-portrayal, as any human being does ("I should be living the dream / But I'm livin' with a security team.")
One of the most prominent changes in Halsey’s oeuvre is the viewpoint from which it's written: Ashley’s. Manic is not derived from any characters or her alter-ego stage name; Manic is written by and for Ashley Frangipane, with no comfortable boundaries or intractable borders on what she has created. The opening track, fittingly titled “Ashley,” introduces listeners to a new, much more personal era of music while still carrying a sound reminiscent of BADLANDS Halsey: static, dark synths, and lots of belting. The track ends with an homage to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, featuring a quote from Kate Winslet’s character, Clementine:
“Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. I’m just a fucked up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind... don’t assign me yours.”
This time around, Halsey is not afraid to acknowledge that she has issues she’s trying to heal, nor is she afraid to admit that even though she may act tough, she “needs everyone and then some,” as told on the follow-up track, “clementine.”
Tracks like “Forever…(is a long time)” detail the way Halsey feels her mentality can change and affect her life; building from a cheerful major key to a slow piano interlude, and finally ending in a minor key as she begs to know: "How could somebody ever love me?”
Halsey carefully works to oscillate the emotions on Manic, introducing the revenge-driven indie track, “killing boys,” a clear, lurid battle cry on the desire to cause destruction to those who have wronged her in the aftermath of heartbreak. The sudden switches between rage and soft, slow moments of weakness— like that of “Finally // beautiful stranger” — allow listeners to take a peek into the mind of Ashley, who has been very open about her bipolar disorder and her subsequent states of mania. Halsey has previously touched on this concept with tracks like “Control,” from BADLANDS, in which she personifies her bipolar disorder and begins to question who is in control of her mental processes.
Then there's the fourteenth track on Manic, “More,” in which Halsey describes her struggles with endometriosis and the multiple miscarriages she’s suffered— one even occurring during a Vevo LIFT Live performance of “New Americana” in 2015. “More” uses sound effects that mimic children’s mobiles, lullabies, and even a heart monitor to tell Halsey’s struggle with her reproductive health, including the personal debate of whether or not to freeze her eggs. “More” is a direct message from Ashley herself to her future unborn child, in which she believes that all of the struggles she has faced with her health have only given her more love and hope for her future family. The heaviness of this track makes it a song that the listener can deeply empathize with, even if they can’t directly relate.
Manic is not what any of Halsey’s fans were expecting— myself included. Abandoning her cookie-cutter electro-pop concept albums for a brutally honest mod-podge of different sounds and issues was a risk, to say the least. Of course, the new album isn’t for everyone; Not every fan base will still support an artist when they try to introduce a new sound. But the story Ashley Frangipane tells over these sixteen tracks is not meant to please her fan base: this is an album by herself, for herself. Leaving behind past musical expectations, Halsey breaks her previous boundaries and makes way for a much more honest, imperfect version of herself that craves expression— it's a culmination of personal growth, vulnerability, and ambitious new musical takes. ★★★★⯨
Sage Enderton is a Buffalo-based poet and artist, currently majoring in Creative Writing at Buffalo State College. She is a Sagittarius moon and a lover of oat milk lattes. Her work has been featured in Peach Magazine, super/natural, and other literary collectives. She can be found on Instagram at @skenderton.