Halsey Returns to Badlands on 5th Anniversary

It probably goes without saying that I listen to a lot of music. Like, a lot. And it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. But for all of the different albums, singles, mixtapes, playlists, and b-sides that accompany my days, I can typically pinpoint specific “eras” or stretches of my life that are dominated by a specific artist. And while the songs of that artist’s music highlight the memories in my mind, it’s more than that. It’s the overall influence they have over any given stretch that showcases a shift in my listening habits and my enjoyment of art.

For the past five years, Halsey has been that artist in my life.

You can buy or stream Badlands (Live From Webster Hall) on Apple Music.

I was aware of the groundswell taking place back in 2014 when Halsey began to stake her claim as an indie internet darling, but I largely missed out on her Room 93 debut EP. Truly, it was Badlands that won me over – an album that turned five years old this weekend. And when I think of Halsey’s growth and evolution as an artist in that short span of time, it seems like it should have been much longer.

I praised Manic upon its release earlier this year and can spoil for you now that it will almost certainly be making an appearance on our end-of-the-year list. I even love hopeless fountain kingdom, the sophomore album that many critics (and even a portion of her fanbase) found to be uneven and disappointing. Honestly, there isn’t much she’s been a part of that I haven’t enjoyed these past five years. But even now, there’s something about Badlands that still feels fresh and exciting.

There are moments throughout the album, no matter how many times I listen, that still give me goosebumps. This past Friday, Halsey released Badlands (Live From Webster Hall), which was recorded last year during a two-night event in New York City. The beauty of the recording is that it catches those goosebump-inducing moments perfectly through its mixing the sound of the crowd. 

It reminds me how I felt during my first listen of the spacey vacuum of sound in “Castle” right before the beat drops during the first chorus. It reminds me of seeing Halsey in concert a few years ago and how I didn’t imagine a live performance could give me that kind of energy again. It reminds me of that opening three-song stretch of “Castle” to “New Americana” that’s so dark and ambitious – a stretch in which you feel in every moment that Halsey truly has something important to say. And at times, she says it with a sledgehammer.

I get that the album felt cheeky or hollow to some. But there was something about that moment that seemed to announce a new generation of both pop star and music fan, which very rarely coalesces at the same time. It’s a spirit and a movement carried on by the likes of Billie Eilish in recent years. And if you’re not a part of those moments or look on callously from the sidelines, you’re likely to feel that way.

None of that changes what Badlands meant and still means to me. It’s a perfectly imperfect album that reminds me of how I can feel when I let my guard down and feel the music I listen to.

There’s no better example of what that looks like than during the aforementioned concert I attended during Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour when it stopped at the White River Lawn in Indianapolis. My favorite track from Badlands is “Roman Holiday” – a rarely spoken of non-single from the album. The song wasn’t part of the setlist at previous dates and I’d resigned myself to not hearing it that night.

Toward the end of the show during Halsey’s encore, she made a switch and announced she was doing something different. Those unmistakable opening notes of “Roman Holiday” blinked through the speakers, and as my wife can attest, I lost my mind. I lost myself in a way I haven’t at a concert since back when I wasn’t so self-conscious about losing myself in that way. And it’s hard to imagine having another one of those moments any time soon.

I can’t really explain it well with words, and I get that it sounds mushy and forced. But if you know, you know. And oddly enough, that’s kind of what makes the community of Halsey fans so great and makes her music resonate. Badlands was magic, and I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Halsey – Manic

In a recent interview with Zane Lowe, Halsey name-dropped The Wonder Years as being an influence on her newest album, Manic. It makes sense when you think about it. Manic is a deeply personal work of art about Halsey herself – her demons, her fears, her frustrations, her trappings. Just as we’ve become accustomed to Dan Campbell writing the kind of lyrics that are so visceral and specific as to paint a very particular picture in your mind, Halsey has fully and beautifully captured this moment in her life. And while it may be highly specific to her own story, you might be surprised as to how easy you can find your own within.

Halsey Manic album cover

You can buy or stream Manic on Apple Music.

Halsey has come a long way since her viral breakthrough into the zeitgeist during the middle portion of the last decade. By the time “New Americana” hit the internet in the summer of 2015, she was lauded as the countercultural pop spokesperson for a new generation. Leaning into the dark synthpop stylings that have now become fully mainstream, Halsey excelled in making great pop songs that could strike a nerve. But one thing she hadn’t done across her first two releases (Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom) was create a truly great album.

Ultimately, having that notch on your belt doesn’t matter as much as it used to, but there’s something about a cohesive collection of songs that thread together a story. You know it when you hear it, and it can be heard clearly and painfully on Manic.

Throughout the album, Halsey sheds any preconceived notions that listeners might have about her music. Gone are the deep bass lines and buzzing synthesizers. In are quiet tracks with space to breathe, accompanied by acoustic guitars and piano interludes. Gone are the thematic elements of fantasy and grandeur. In are the musings of someone alone in a room, deep in self-reflection, working toward recovery.

On opening track “Ashley”, Halsey sets the tone for what’s to come, quietly reflecting on her past persona and where she stands today: “Took my heart and sold it out to a vision that I wrote myself / And I don’t wanna be somebody in American just fighting the hysteria / I only wanna die some days”. It’s no secret that much of Manic sifts through the fallout of her broken relationship with rapper G-Eazy, but in truth, the songs dig deeper in an effort to uncover truths about herself and how those truths impact her ability to move forward.

While “Ashley” sets the table thematically, the album itself is true to its name, oscillating wildly between genres throughout, feeling like any train of thought that each of us have ridden on many a lonely night. There are still elements of electropop present, as in last year’s single “Without Me”, but Halsey finds room to inject country (“You Should Be Sad”), rock (“3AM”), and alternative pop sounds like those found on “I Hate Everybody” and “Alanis’ Interlude” – an absolutely wonderful track with Alanis Morissette, who happens to know a thing or two about how to put the sound of picking up the pieces to tape.

Truly, there are no weak tracks on Manic, and while you may not reach for certain songs as standalones on a playlist, they all weave together perfectly in the form of an album. And it’s in those non-single moments that we are hit with some of Halsey’s more poignant and personal songwriting. Singing atop a gentle acoustic guitar on “Finally // Beautiful Stranger”, she leans into the uncertainty of leaving the past behind, singing, “Oh, we’re dancin’ in my living room, and up come my fists / And I say I’m only playing, but the truth is this / That I’ve never seen a mouth that I would kill to kiss / And I’m terrified, but I can’t resist”. 

It’s moments like this that harken back to Halsey’s statement about The Wonder Years and the scene that helped form her artistic approach. Listening to Manic is like being brought behind the curtain and realizing that there is no level of stardom or success that separates someone from the demons we all face. On “Still Learning”, she shares, “I should be living the dream / But I go home and I got no self-esteem”. 

Album closer “929” finds Halsey spilling her guts one confessional line at a time in a three-minute stream of consciousness, highlighted by the most heartbreaking moment of the album: “And I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met / But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed / And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee / And hoped that my father would finally call me”.

Still, for all of the self-loathing and questioning across Manic’s 16 tracks, Halsey consistently makes room for grace and a belief that her direction is one of growth and improvement. “I’m still learning to love myself” she confesses near the end of the album. Manic is deeply specific to its creator’s trials and struggles, yet highly relatable. Because we’re all in this together. Halsey’s willingness to be so open and transparent has resulted in an album that could very well set the tone for the next decade of pop.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.