Halsey’s Manic is a Genre-Bending Masterpiece That Finds its Greatest Successes in its Flaws

Ashley Nicolette Frangipane. The name on its own might not immediately mean anything to you, but the pseudonym Halsey surely will; since her debut EP Room 93 was released in 2014, the New Jersey-born singer and songwriter has become known for her artistically driven aesthetic, distinctly unique sound, and unapologetic take on modern, socio-political issues regarding race, sexuality, and gender. Her most recent album, Manic, was released on January 17, 2020, and its title points to several integral parts of Ashley’s life, primarily against the backdrop of her public struggle with bipolar disorder. Manic represents so many things: the singer’s scattered thoughts and themes, the array of genres and influences making appearances on the album, or even her own personality: the dichotomy between Ashley and Halsey so beautifully complex that it seems to form an entirely new entity best summarized simply by the record itself. 

Marketed as “an album made by Ashley for Halsey,” Manic represents the singer’s first deep-dive into autobiographical musicality, forming a stark contrast to her previous albums: the electro-pop dreamworld of Badlands and the Shakespearian drama of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. On Manic, Ashley offers up her most authentic creation yet; there are no story-lines, no heavily padded aesthetics — only the frenzied thoughts and struggles of a young, bipolar, bisexual woman attempting to truly understand and accept herself. 

The album confronts a variety of themes: from the emphasis on female rage, framed within the circumstances of Ashley’s recent breakup at the hands of a cheating ex on tracks such as the chart-topping anthem “Without Me,” to a look at relationships and authenticity through songs like the ironically-titled “I Hate Everybody,” the punchline of which comes about in the singer’s follow-up quip: “but maybe I don’t.” On a different — albeit still emotionally wrought — note, the heart-wrenching “More” discusses Ashley’s struggle with endometriosis, a uterine disorder characterized by intense pain and increased difficulty in fertility, and her lifelong desire for a child of her own. In conversation surrounding the album’s release, Ashley stated that she has often felt like the supporting character in her own life; constantly battling stereotypical perceptions of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, she is sick and tired of her own trauma being treated as a tool to benefit someone else. This album is about that archetypal girl, and a guest appearance from the iconic Alanis Morisette solidifies the heavy themes of female empowerment and autonomy. 

Ashley is perhaps her most raw in the record’s closing song: 929, a reference to her September 29th birthday. On this spit-fire pseudo-freestyle explained by the singer to be written and recorded in one sitting, Ashley recalls angrily some of her greatest struggles: exploitation within the music industry, a strained relationship with her father, the loss of a loved one to drug addiction, and her own insecurities and shortfalls. This singular, short track can be used to summarize the overarching success of Manic and why it works so well as a whole; in her ongoing journey of self-discovery and recovery, Ashley is laying all of her faults bare for everyone to see. She isn’t hiding them, and she isn’t making excuses for them; she is coming face to face with the parts of herself that she’d like to change, and she is changing them. On an album characterized by imperfections, Ashley has masterfully performed the skillful feat of removing not only her brain, filled with thoughts and memories, but her heart, complete with all the love and truths she can muster, and giving them to us in one beautiful package.