Halsey has always been a storyteller. When she released her 2015 debut album “Badlands,” she told the story of a warrior living in the Badlands and their journey of survival in that wasteland. In her 2017 album “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom,” she told her own version of “Romeo & Juliet” and focused on the toxic relationship that would have taken place had Romeo not gone with Juliet and stayed with Rosaline. We never got to meet her through these albums because she was telling her characters’ stories, not her own. That changed when she released her third album “Manic” on Jan. 17, 2020, when she opened herself to us and reintroduced herself as Ashley.
Halsey was born as Ashley Frangipane and, although she would occasionally refer to her personal life in previous songs, she never focused on herself in her music. Most popular artists like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Finneas and Selena Gomez put their lives at the center of their music, but Halsey is not like most artists. She addresses this in “Ashley,” the first song of the album, in which she sings, “Took my heart and sold it out to a vision that I sold myself.” She is referring to how she gave her feelings to Halsey and focused on her, rather than on what Ashley was going through. In the song, not only does she introduce herself, but she also cautiously tells us that this might be the most honest album she will ever release by singing, “Someday, someday, when I burst into flames / I’ll leave you the dust, my love / Hope a bit of it’ll be enough to remember the / Days when we came to this place.” She also asks if she does not release another album as honest as “Manic,” will we remember her or not?
Before releasing the album, Halsey tweeted that she is a “firm believer that the first time you hear an album should be front to back,” begging her fans to listen to the album in order because “some songs go together.” This is clear with “clementine,” which immediately follows “Ashley.” In the second song of the album, Halsey sings, “And in my world, the people on the street don’t know my name,” once again acknowledging that Ashley is almost nonexistent in comparison to Halsey. We hear two voices in this song, one singing and one yelling; they represent Halsey and Ashley, respectively, with Ashley yelling in the background, desperately wanting to be heard.
“Graveyard” and “You Should Be Sad,” two of the album’s singles, follow. In the former, she sings about finding red flags in her relationship, but ignoring them to follow her partner to the graveyard. The latter is Halsey’s major breakup country song; she decided to sing in that genre because “the most petty and heartbreaking songs all come from country.” Here, she calls out her former partner, telling him, “No, you’re not half the man you think that you are / And you can’t fill the hole inside of you with money, drugs and cars.” Although these songs come back-to-back, they seem as if they could belong on two completely different records. The artist tweeted in November that no songs were alike and retweeted a fan who said that “Manic” would “have a song for everything.” Despite the songs’ differences in sound, they share messages of love and pain, and they follow each other because they showcase these emotions from completely different stages.
Continuing with the heartbreak theme, “Forever … (is a long time)” comes next. Halsey opens up about falling in love yet sabotaging it: “‘Cause I could never hold a perfect thing and not demolish it / What am I thinking? What does this mean? / How could somebody ever love me?” Halsey’s voice is strong and stripped down as she sings about feeling unworthy of someone’s love; she comes across so honestly that it’s impossible not to immediately feel sad for her.
Right when the listener falls into a deep feeling of sorrow, “Dominic’s Interlude” starts playing next. Surprisingly, Halsey’s voice is nowhere to be found, it is entirely sung by Dominic Fike. The happy song is a response to the unhappy Halsey we listened to before, with Fike letting her know that she is not a vehicle for heartbreak. He offers the option that she is not to blame for the end of a relationship and that sometimes it’s her lover’s fault: “He treats you cold and so mindless.” Fike also encourages her to love again and tells her, “You can take a chance, come take my hand.”
However, Fike cannot have the final word, Halsey must respond, which she does through “I HATE EVERYBODY.” The transition is done so flawlessly that the songs appear to be one song rather than two separate ones. Using the same happy and optimistic beat, Halsey tells Fike that “I know I’ve got a tendency / To exaggerate what I’m seeing / And I know it’s unfair of me / To make a memory out of a feeling,” admitting to her friend that she lets her feelings take a hold of her. She also sings about how she occasionally depends on her significant other to love herself: “If I could make you love me / Maybe you could make me love me / And if I can’t make you love me / Then I’ll just hate everybody.” But, at the same time, she questions if her hate is real: “So I just hate everybody / Well, then why can’t I go home without somebody? … Maybe I, maybe I don’t.”
“3am” — a pop-punk song — narrates the aftermath of the previous song. Halsey sings about desperately calling friends and lovers, needing them to tell her that they love her in any way possible: “I’ll take fake moans and dial tones.” The song ends with a recording of John Mayer speaking about her best song, “your best song is a song that’s currently on the radio. How many people can say that? That their best song is the one that’s currently about to be a massive hit?” Mayer’s recording is the message she wanted to hear as she rapidly sang the lyrics of “3am” to gain self-worth. At the same time, it also works as an introduction to her next song, her biggest hit, “Without Me.”
I initially questioned why Halsey placed “Without Me” here, rather than with the other breakup songs of the album. It seems like “Without Me,” “Graveyard” and “You Should Be Sad” are about her relationship with G-Eazy — who, according to different media outlets like Distractify, cheated on Halsey. But after analyzing the lyrics to “3am,” I realized this is where “Without Me” belongs. After receiving Mayer’s voicemail and getting a form of self-worth, she questions G-Eazy’s ability to live without her: “You know I’m the one who put you up there / Name in the sky, does it ever get lonely? / Thinking you could live without me.” This could allude to how “Him & I,” G-Eazy’s song featuring Halsey, is one of his best-performing songs. Halsey rightfully asks G-Eazy if he can even be as good of an artist without her. Halsey’s instrumentation in “Without Me” sounds muffled, as if coming from underwater, suggesting that she was drowning in the relationship.
Another country song, “Finally // beautiful stranger,” follows. To make up for the tragic meaning behind the previous one, Halsey sings about the possibility of loving again and opening herself up to a “beautiful stranger:” “And I think it’s finally, finally, finally, finally, finally safe / For me to fall.” This is one of the most optimistic songs on the album, and it also marks the end of all of the exclusively-love-related songs.
“Alanis’ Interlude” comes next. Alanis Morisette and Halsey sing a drum-heavy track about Halsey’s discovery of her bisexuality, including Halsey’s first sexual encounter with a woman when she was a teenager, “And my girl, she always wore a skirt in the classroom / Eating my dessert in the bathroom.” Halsey said that she wanted this song to be as queer as possible and with lyrics such as the previous one and many others, I would say she succeeded.
In the next track, “Killing Boys,” Halsey sings about being angry, moving on and realizing that she is enough: “And I’m not breaking, I won’t take it / And I won’t ever feel this way again … ‘Cause I don’t need you anymore.” The third and last interlude, “SUGA’s Interlude,” focuses on her and the BTS rapper’s struggle with fame, both of them recognizing the true life of a career in the music industry. They wonder, “What’s in store / If I don’t love it anymore?”
“More” is the hardest song to listen to. Halsey has been very open about her reproductive health, admitting that she has had three miscarriages because of her endometriosis — one of which happened before a concert in 2015 — and about how, according to a Rolling Stone interview, she wishes to be a mother. “More” is a love song, not for a lover, but for her unborn child. During the bridge, the song turns into a lullaby and it becomes almost impossible to not imagine Halsey rocking her baby back and forth as she sings, “And when you decide it’s your time to arrive / I’ve loved you for all of my life.”
The last two songs are “Still Learning” and “929.” In the first one, she sings about needing to work on her self-love and self-esteem, “I should be living the dream / But I go home and got no self-esteem.” Sound-wise, the song has a similar production to Ed Sheeran’s “Put It All On Me,” which comes as no surprise since he co-wrote the song. “929” is a freestyle where Halsey finishes introducing herself as Ashley, allowing us to walk through some parts of her life, from living in a cheap apartment, being taken advantage of by her heroes, quitting smoking and losing the love of her life to cocaine, to knowing that she has a long way to self-preservation. Halsey is still growing up and that is okay.
This is, by far, Halsey’s best and most meaningful album. Despite how different the songs are from one another, the album is perfectly cohesive. After going through the journey that is “Manic,” I feel like I just read through her most secret diary and I am taken by all of her confessions. I have been Halsey’s fan since she released her first EP “Room 93” in 2014, and I am so thrilled that, six years later, I finally got to meet Ashley Frangipane. It was an absolute pleasure.