Halsey, “Badlands”, and brutally honest indie-pop

rating: ★★★★

This album has been on repeat for the past three days, and I’m not kidding: I’m obsessed.

Halsey (born Ashley Frangipane) hit the music-scene by doing covers over YouTube, until she eventually released her debut EP in 2014 called Room 93. Since then, she has had sold-out shows in the United States, topped the music charts with her Ellie Goulding-meets-Lana Del Rey sound, and played alongside The Kooks and Imagine Dragons.

As odd as it sounds, in listening to her latest album, it’s obvious that the 12 months between last year’s release and Badlands in 2015 have created a phenomenal change in this 21-year-old’s maturity as an indie-pop artist.

Halsey’s bio on her website sums-up Badlands pretty well, and I thought I’d quote the whole thing (yes, it’s that to-the-point): “I am Halsey. I will never be anything but honest. I write songs about sex and being sad.”

Granted: at first glance, it comes across a little brash and (dare I say) offensive, but that’s the album in a nutshell, to be honest. Despite having been through what she considers the “artist’s cliché” of tattoos, trouble, and “undercuts” in high-school, Halsey says her songs are as much autobiographical as they are narratives of the destructive cinematic experiences she saw others go through. This lends itself to songs such as Control and I walk the line having rather dark undertones that are carried-home by an odd combination of seductiveness and vulnerability. However, these dualities are perhaps not surprising, and Halsey has – on more than one occasion – embraced her bipolar disorder as an important feature of her music.

Another recurring theme in Badlands is Halsey’s struggle with feeling like an “inconvenient woman.” Strange Love and Castle are two harsh, bass-driven, synth-heavy songs that pay testimony to her resistance against other people’s expectations of her actions by virtue of her exterior. Striking hair-colours and tattoos have often meant people either try sweeten her, or “fetishise the mental illness.” She said this in an interview with Elle, and she doesn’t apologise for feeling entitled to her emotions. “There’s something that’s innately feminine about me,” Halsey explains, “and there’s also something that’s kind of androgynous.”

Photo by Jake Michaels

Badlands is brutally honest, and each time I play it the songs change, like I’m hearing something I didn’t before… Halsey has definitely done something right.

And why only four stars, then? She doesn’t want the praise handed to her. She wants to fight for it.

Album cover copyright belongs to Astralwerks

Feature image by Jake Michaels, for the NewYorkTimes

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