The 2020 Manic album is exactly that. It is a little chaotic, it is contradictory, it is empowering. It hopscotches between delicacy and aggression in a way that, to me, perfectly embodies the complexities of womanhood and gives depth to some fairly familiar aural experiences. From early 2000s pop-rock to channelling Shania Twain, Ashley Frangipane (known by their moniker of Halsey) offered one of the most personally impactful albums I’d ever had the pleasure to witness at the ripe age of 20. As a young woman, settling into her second year at university and blissfully unaware of the looming danger of a fun little pandemic, Manic was the soundtrack to both my romanticisation and catastrophisation of daily life.
Moving away from her concept albums of Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, wherein an overall fictional story and visual narrative was developed for each (and was revisited for the glorious 2021 release, If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power), Manic offers a simple collection of what feels like a step into Ashley’s mind at the time, and simultaneously the mind of many a young woman. The almost autobiographical album addresses it all: self-love, mental illness, the pressure of success, sexuality, loneliness, feminism, friendship, existence. And it does it in such a sonically solid way. Whilst the album is cohesive and confident, there are a few real standouts.
‘Clementine’, accompanied by a gorgeous, aquarium-set music video featuring Halsey and her younger brother Sevian with contemporary style dance, is a true comfort. It (perhaps in reference to Halsey’s own bipolar disorder and their fleeting emotions) offers the hook “I don’t need anyone, I just need everyone and then some”. This is such a simple statement and yet perfectly embodies that intense feeling of being on the edge of a meltdown, convincing yourself that you are an independent person despite knowing how much you depend on others and their company, and how much you miss them. For someone in the midst of her academic career, and living away from home, this resonated with me to no end.
‘I HATE EVERYBODY’ and ‘3am’ offer opportunities to express that much-needed rage at the world. When everything gets on top of me, and I feel an overwhelming desire to be loved, or to connect with someone in person, or to overthink the aspects of myself I sometimes wish I could wipe away, these two tracks are the perfect remedy in completely different ways. One a delicate, satirical vision of loneliness, the other a pop-rock, anthemic track, the songs simply present the acknowledgement that these feelings are universal; everyone gets mad or gets lonely and sometimes it simply needs to be heard.
‘Alanis’ Interlude’ (featuring Alanis Morisette) and ‘killing boys’ give confidence in female bisexuality by countering typically male-centred narratives in love songs with praises of sapphic love and tales of frenzied revenge towards a male ex-lover respectively. As a bisexual woman, it is so refreshing to hear such unapologetic pieces, even if the musical style isn’t quite to my taste. Too often is sapphic love depicted for the male gaze in media, and to hear a bisexual figure like Halsey sing “my girl” and include radical excerpts from the iconic Jennifer’s Body feels so empowering.
Following poignant odes to dreams (‘SUGA’s Interlude featuring BTS’ Suga) and dedications to her future child (‘More’), Halsey delivers ‘Still Learning’, a gorgeously angsty track about the journey of self-love and being able to be overcome struggles even through success and adulthood. Despite its simplistic, tropical-esque production, it acts as yet another insight into the pop star’s head, and therefore a comfort that these experiences are felt by all.
Even though the Manic album is not Halsey’s best or most adventurous work by far (with her 2021 Grammy-nominated album If I Can’t Have Love I want Power showcasing her skills to an outstanding level in both its alternative genre and its storytelling lyricism) it is certainly one of my favourites because of what it means to me personally. It offered the score to my 2020, comforting me, providing background noise, accompanying me as karaoke on long drives to and from university, empowering me, and presenting the opportunity for memories made at her incredible London show in March of 2020, both of joy and tears.
Image courtesy of Te Nguyen