Girl Holding Vinyl Record

Why Manic is My Favorite Halsey Album

I’ve been a fan of Halsey since before she released her debut album, Badlands. At the time, she had only released an EP titled Room 93. In terms of production, the EP was simple:  its opening track, “Is There Somewhere,” was originally recorded on GarageBand, while her hit song, “Ghost,” was written in a friend’s basement. However, even in the early stages of her career, Halsey’s music always had an extra layer. She has always created concept albums. In the case of Room 93, she explored the “human intimacy of hotel rooms and how it's like an alternate universe.”

From there, Halsey released her first full-length album, Badlands, in the summer of 2015. Again, the project was a concept album, wherein Halsey created a fictional dystopian world called The Badlands: a “desert wasteland [surrounding a corrupt] city, keeping the inhabitants... captive.” The Badlands acted as a metaphor for feeling trapped in a bad mental state. Halsey even went as far as making the world feel real to her fans by creating interactive events that they could attend.

Two years later, she released her sophomore album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. The narrative of the album was a theatrical, but modern take on the story of Romeo and Juliet, and it opened with Halsey reading the play’s prologue. Perhaps even more intricate than Badlands, Halsey created another alternate universe with original opposing houses and star-crossed lovers. Her fans were equally immersed in the story and even made quizzes to determine where they belonged in the world of HFK.

On January 17th, Halsey released her third studio album, Manic. For the first time in her career, her album was completely about herself and her life, rather than hidden behind a metaphor or made-up world. The album is titled Manic because Halsey lives with bipolar disorder, which is characterized by periods of depression and mania, and this was the first album she wrote while in a manic state.

When she first announced the album, Halsey changed her Instagram bio to “hi, my name is Ashley. it’s nice to meet you.” Fans have known for years that “Halsey” is simply an anagrammaticized stage name. It also doubles as a reference to a street in New York that influenced the singer during her adolescence. However, once she changed her bio, fans theorized that it was a hint at the concept of the album - a “split album,” where half of the album was by Halsey, and half was by Ashley.

As soon as the album was released, it was clear that this theory wasn’t correct. Rather, the album was written entirely by Ashley, and it is the most truthful record that Halsey has released. Manic opens with a track in which Halsey confronts the fact that she has created a character she now has to live behind, and the personal consequences of this choice. Fittingly, the track is titled “Ashley,” because Ashley is the one who will be left behind when Halsey stops creating music. By opening the album in such a raw and intimate way, Halsey sets the foundation for the other intimate themes revealed throughout the album.

Many other tracks also give Halsey’s listeners insight into her internal dialogue. Specifically, “clementine” is about her struggle with wanting to be independent while always needing reassurance from everyone around her. This theme is revisited in “3am,” which is about the anxiety and aftermath of a fun night out, and needing to feel loved after the high of the night has died down. Similar feelings of self-doubt are explored in “Forever… (is a long time)” and “I HATE EVERYBODY”. However, perhaps the most raw example of this theme is in “929.” The track gets its name from the singer’s birthday, and it is what Halsey calls a “stream of consciousness ranting confessional” about all of her flaws.

However, the track that stands out to me the most is “More,” which is about Halsey’s intense desire to be a mother, and her ever-growing love for her future child. Halsey has always been open about her struggles with endometriosis; however, in 2016 she revealed in a Rolling Stone interview that she had also suffered a miscarriage. As a fan, having this background knowledge before hearing the track added to its emotional weight, and although the song is beautifully written, it is sometimes hard to listen to.

Before the release of Manic, I had been a fan of Halsey for over 5 years and had met her 3 times; however, there was no point in her career where I felt closer to her as an artist than the first time I listened to the album. I admire the fact that she’s allowed herself to be so open with not only her fans, but anyone who chooses to listen to Manic. If she has reached this level of intimacy with just her third album, I can’t wait to see what the rest of her music has to offer.