In 2021, we have seen many new and existing artists such as Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X and Billie Eilish elevate the music industry by being authentic. The one artist that always remained true to themselves was Halsey, whose real name is Ashley Nicolette Frangipane. In their new album ‘If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power’, fans get to see Halsey in a way never seen before. And it’s a ride you do not want to miss.
All the press that Halsey did was two interviews. One with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe and one deep conversation with Capitol Records with the music producers for the album, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Halsey wants the world to know what the album is about in true fashion: it’s an acceptance of their evolution as a human and artist.
While Halsey was working on this album, they got pregnant with their partner Alev Aydin. The pregnancy was planned and the album was also a way for Halsey to escape the anxiety and fear during the time. It was also deep in the middle of the first lockdown at the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown was a chance for Halsey to sit down and simmer in their feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Kicking it off with ‘The Tradition’, you enter the mind of Halsey
They told Zane Lowe that the album was also them ‘purging’ everything in their system, because they were about to become a mother. Halsey wanted to work through her struggles, anxieties, insecurities so that they could be the best mother to their child. And that’s why we so get to see Halsey in this light, we get to know them more intimately.As per Halsey themselves, it is “a concept album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth”.
The journey of ‘If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power’ starts off staying true to the title. The first track, ‘The Tradition’, starts with soft vocals with melodramatic music. Though, as the lyrics get deeper and darker, the vocals and instrumentals get more intense with emotion. It’s about Halsey getting angry at, well tradition. A heartful ‘screw you’ to the patriarchy that affects women everywhere around the world, no matter what their situation:
“Ask for forgiveness, never permission Take what you want, take what you can, Take what you please, don’t give a damn, It’s in the blood and this is tradition.”
Then we get to the next track ‘Bells in Santa Fe’. We get deeper into Halsey’s mind where they are just spilling everything in their head and heart. ‘Don’t wait for me. It’s not a happy ending’ and ‘All of this is temporary’ could refer to their past pains. Some fans theorize that it could be about their past miscarriage, that affected them so much. The song is from a possible point of view of a child that’s telling their mother to not get attached as they’re not going to be there. For me, it could also be their way of letting go of their past self that they didn’t like. In Halsey words, they used to be a disaster and the songs they wrote were about that experience. Now, they reminisce over it as they’re looking over to the next chapter. The instrumentals convey the feeling of letting go with a hard rock out-tro. It’s a transition for the next song, ‘Easier Than Lying’. Something that the producers intentionally did, and did so beautifully. The third track is a personal favorite. The lively beats in this song are more learning towards electro-pop and it’s a big contrast to the verse before. It’s a start of something new. Halsey is now screaming. They have accepted what was wrong in their past relationships and they want to, well, scream about it. The drums were a beautiful touch with the accompanying lyrics, ‘Losing you is easier than lying to myself that you love me’.
There’s a lot of sincere reminiscing on the past by Halsey
There was allusion to Christianity lore previously as well in Bells of Santa Fe when there was talk of Judas and Jesus. And now there’s another popular figure, Lillith. In the fourth track, it’s like we’re hearing from Lillith herself and lyrics prove that we’ve all been Lillith in our lives. The confusing emotions that lead you to impulsive decisions, “You know I get too caught up in a moment I can’t call it love if I show it”. And our insecurities in relationships, “I just fuck things up, if you noticed Have you noticed? Tell me have you noticed?” If you’ve been cheated before in a bad relationship, this one’s for you, “It never mattered if I owned you Cuz you’d let anybody with a body control you”. The entirety of the song has a drum beat that’s so catchy that it’ll stay with you for a while.
Then another favorite of mine, ‘Girl is a Gun’. This is possibly my most favorite one because of it’s lyrical depth and cheerful tone. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross added synth-pop and electric music elements to this which elevated the message Halsey was sharing. It’s about Halsey singing about the girls that aren’t afraid to live the life they want “I come loaded with the safety switched off. This girl is a gun and we been having some fun” and her eventual letting go of lovers who keep demanding attention from her that she doesn’t want to give “And I can’t be stressing to give you attention Cause oh it’s never enough, so I’m giving you up.”
And then we come to ‘You Asked for This’. The drum intro leads to Halsey’s voice blending into a loud electric guitar and a consistent beat. Halsey is singing to their past and current self simultaneously it seems when they sing: “Everybody’s gonna drown you out go on and be a big girl. You asked for this now. You better show them why you talk so loud”. It’s an empowering message that anyone could relate to. At times when we ask for what we want, we often get drowned out. Reznor and Ross showcase that perfectly when they almost drown out Halsey’s vocals over the loud music. And the last verses have such a beautiful hopeful tone in it when Halsey shares what they want in their life: “I want a beautiful boy’s despondent laughter I want to ruin all my plans“. The outro cements this hopeful tone with the instrumentals slowly fading away, as if to prepare you for what’s next.
And what’s next is when we see Halsey’s growth.
Their music used to be full of darkness and the actualization of the deepest pains and traumas. There are still those themes present in the new album, along with an embracing of growth and of beautiful change. Halsey is finally living the life they wanted, a quiet one with their partner and child. A family that they chose, that makes them feel whole and complete. And we see that with ‘Darling’. Halsey is singing calmly, with peace in her heart. Dedicating this song to her son Ender, she sings: “Darling don’t you cry. Head fast toward the light. Foolish men have tried. But only you have shown me how to love being alive”. Halsey shared in their interview that seeing their child for the first time made them forget about all of their past. They immediately let go of the hurt in the past and focused on the future, one that is full of love and warmth now that’s they’ve found peace: their son and partner. The soft music with the soothing vocals makes you happy for Halsey finally living the life they wanted.
‘1121’; song cranks it up a notch, in terms of making you weep and drown in your emotions. This is the date that Halsey found out she was pregnant with their son, Ender. With heavy use of the piano, it’s a lovesong.The song could be a dedication to their son or their partner or both: “But I won’t die for love But ever since I met you, You could have my heart and I would break it for you”. The verse is then repeated with more emphasis by the guitar instrumental and emotion in Halsey’s voice.
Then we come to ‘Honey’. It’s a song that is about loving a woman. It’s about how even when Halsey has become a mother, they do not have to stop being a sexual entity. And what better way to tell everyone that their bisexuality is still an integral part of them other than knowing the taste of a woman. Halsey also talks about how they are letting this part of them go. “And I know that I won’t forget. She was sweet like honey. But all I can taste is the blood in my mouth And the bitterness in goodbye.”
With ‘Whispers’, we come back to Halsey’s darkness in their mind. In this song, they touch on something that all of us have become victim to: our haunting thoughts. The intrusive darkness and self-doubt that doesn’t let us live in the moment and be happy. The harsh reality when we realize that our worst demon is ourselves and ourselves alone: “And you tell yourself you’re fine. but you Sabotage the things you love the most Camouflage so you can feed the lie that you’re composed”. Halsey is alluding to their own whispers and how it has affected them where they even allude to a ‘monster’ living inside them. The grim piano instrumental on the background serves sets the tragic mood. But the music picks up a pace with almost a cinematic touch that elevates the song’s message.
With ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’, our story is almost coming to an end.
After letting go of all the darkness in their minds, they’re embracing power. Halsey is also embracing the duality of their selves, the imperfectness they possess. Like all humans. They have accepted that it’s better to be alone than go around trying to fit in: “I just wanna feel something, tell me where to go Cause everybody knows something I don’t wanna know. So I’ll stay right here cause I’m better all alone”. The music is loud, almost as if the message is being shouted in the album. The use of electric guitar perfectly matches the tone of the lyrics. The strong beats of the song almost suggest that this is the climactic point of the album.
‘The Lighthouse’ serves a solemn song but it’s more of a rock song, with the music being primarily an electric guitar and drum beats. Accompanying these sounds are Halsey’s sincere vocals with her “Well that should teach A man to mess with me Cause he was never seen again“. Plus these stand-out lyrics” I’m glad I met the devil cause he showed me I was weak. And a little piece of him is in a little piece of me“. The ending of this song prepares you for the finality of the album.
The story ends with Ya’aburnee
Now after you’ve simmered in Halsey’s turmoil of emotions, both good and bad, you have probably went on a self-discovery journey yourself. With that in mind, ‘ Ya’aburnee ‘, is the perfect last track. The song is dedicated to possibly Halsey’s son, Ender. Just like ‘Darling’ it’s sweet and beautiful with a soothing tone. It’s a confession and declaration of true unconditional love. Love that is so strong that envelops your entire being. And the song’s title is apparent in these heartbreaking lyrics, “if we don’t live forever maybe one day we’ll trade places darling you will bury me Before I bury you Before I bury you“. Ya’aburnee means that when you love someone so much that you cannot imagine a world without the one you love.
And with that secure love and faith, Halsey ends their story.