Something I love about Halsey (who uses she/they pronouns) is that they have seemed to have grown up with me. I found them in 2014 after stumbling on a Vine of them performing Hurricane. This was back when they were rocking long blue locks and enchanting my little 14 year old heart with ample angst and a queer-energy I could not yet identify. They were a human embodiment of Tumblr poetry, and once I heard the lyrics “[D]on’t belong to no city/ [D]on’t belong to no man”; I was hooked. Badlands sealed the deal. It put all of my restless teenage energy into song form and created some pretty great captions for my Instagram pictures of sunsets. I was very young and very deep and the album fit me like a glove. Their sophomore album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom remains my least favorite, but still found its way onto my aux on rides home from work at night. (In my opinion, music is best coupled with the echoes of exhaustion and stress of a service industry job.) Manic resparked my love for their art. It was 2019 and I was a stranger to the person who had connected so deeply with Badlands. I was no longer a kid and all the struggles of early adulthood weighed heavy on me. Songs like “Clementine” and “3am” were played over and over in my trusty 2008 Honda Civic following the release of that record. Which brings me to today and to If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. If the introduction didn’t already hint at this; I loved it.
A major theme of this album is pregnancy and parenthood. Halsey is now a parent; which is very obvious as the cover of this album is quite literally them sitting on a throne, clothed in an elegant gown, crown atop their head, bare-breasted, breastfeeding a child. (Did she stutter?!) Halsey has been our renegade for years, with songs that spit on the patriarchy and deadbeat ex boyfriends. Does their parenthood take away that edge? According to Spin, “Halsey grapples with a conventional future that leaves their misfit past behind on “You Asked For This”: “You wished upon a falling star/And then left behind the avant-garde/For lemonade in crystal glasses/Picket fences, file taxes.” But ultimately they find power in realizing it’s okay to embrace their growth. “I want everything I asked for,” they warble over guitar fuzz.” Halsey has never sugar coated anything before and they are not starting now; being a parent is challenging, especially for someone with their lifestyle. Halsey has been very open about mental health issues as well as the weight of fame. These aspects of their life did not disappear with the miracle of childbirth. In songs like “Lilith” and “Bell’s in Santa Fe”, Halsey wrestles once again with the destructive “Hurricane” characteristic that has always seemed to follow them.
My top 3 songs on the album are “The Lighthouse”, “Honey”, and “Easier Than Lying”. As a Greek mythology lover, “The Lighthouse” gives me major siren vibes as they sing “Well the waves were tall and they were crashing down/He’s laying in the water begging God to let him drown/So I showed him all my teeth and then I laughed out loud/’cause I never wanted saving/I just wanted to be found.” So badass. “Honey” brings us another much appreciated wlw anthem from Halsey as they sing of a short lived passionate love with a girl who is too good to be true. “Easier Than Lying” is definitely a song you can rock out to. With all the angst and passion of a person scorned by an apathetic lover, Halsey seals the deal on this track by slowing it down for the bridge and saying repeatedly “Losing you is easier than lying to myself that you love me” in a slow crescendo before exploding into a rage. I have found a mutual love for this song with my coworkers and we sing it in the kitchen while we prepare drinks for our guests.
It is very obvious that this album distinctly stands out from the rest of Halsey’s work. This is because Halsey felt that at this point in their career, they were established enough to take a risk. They had their radio hits, established a strong fan base and now were looking for an opportunity to be more experimental. This is where Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross of industrial rock group ‘Nine Inch Nails’ comes in. These artists have been in the game a long time and have had extraordinary careers including Billboard and Grammy awards. In an interview for Apple Music, Halsey gave Zane Lowe a look into the collaboration between the two musical powerhouses. “Trent said something to me that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life, where he was like, ‘Hey, the record is great how it is. He was like,
‘So you could not do this with us and put it out.’ He’s like, ‘Or, the way a lot of modern music is right now is it informs the listener not to pay attention. It says, this song is safe. You can put it on a playlist. You can listen to it in a car. You can play it on a party, and it’s not going to fuck up the vibe. It blends in with everything else. It’s a mood. It’s chill. But it informs you not to pay attention.’ “He was like, ‘Your songs, I think, deserve better than that, and I think that they should make people pay attention to what you’re saying.’ He said, ‘So I’m going to make some really weird choices.’ And I was like, ‘Please make weird choices. Make the weirdest choices!’
The creativity of the artists paired with the honest and impassioned lyrics have given fans a great record. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is by far my favorite of Halsey’s career and unless something Earth shattering comes out in the next 2 months, my favorite album of the year.