One of the most anticipated albums of the summer, newcomer Halsey has landed with a bang. From her first EP Room 93, it was clear who would dominate listeners this year. With singles like “Hurricane” and “Ghost” from the EP, everyone’s ears were open to hear what was next from the dyed blue babe. She released a new music video for “Ghost” and immediately, we were introduced to a whole new world.
Badlands is, in her own words, “very conceptual and visual in a way that the EP couldn’t afford to be” because of its length. And she delivers on this, creating what must be the most intense and stunning debut albums I’ve seen to date.
This is my track by track review of Badlands.
We open the album with harsh production, pounding percussion and holy chants. Halsey’s voice slides among this beat, crawling slowly through the verses, something so visceral in her tone. The chorus is powerful, throwing itself in your face. As I listen to this, I can envision this world in front of me. This dirty, militant world of darkness. It’s beautiful.
I feel as if this is the perfect song to begin the album with. We really get to see this world for what it is. Halsey is a guide, showing us around what, for some, could be considered a land of nightmares.
Favorite Lyric: “Already choking on my pride/so there’s no use crying about it”
Hold Me Down
Contradictory to the previous track, “Hold Me Down” is has a surprisingly uplifting sound. The lyricism is still heavy and dark, but there’s such an airy feel to it at the same time. The way that she sings the verses, the ease in the chorus. It’s almost as if she’s carefree in a place that’s so dangerous. She’s used to this danger.
The devil’s trying to hold her down, but she’s lifting herself up. There’s something so beautiful and positive about this song. The production adds to the airy feel. There’s the deep emotion in the lyrics, but in a way, they don’t matter. It’s like we’ve entered some kind of euphoria that’s blinding us from the negativity that seems to envelop these lands we’ve found ourselves in.
Favorite Lyric: “I sold my soul to a three-piece/and he told me I was holy”
Halsey gives a peek into the world of the new generation: the New Americana. The militant sound is haunting, but there’s something so anthem-sounding about this song. Maybe it’s the backing chants in the background of the chorus, the rebellious lyrics.
So much is explored with this track. She tells the story of one of these Americans: a gay boy who’s in love with a friend on his football team. She takes the idea of who the new youth is and runs miles with it. Halsey explores sexuality and self-discovery in her music very well. She doesn’t do it for the shock factor. And if she does, it’s working to her advantage.
A song like this, a bold-faced anthem for the young people of today’s age, is what we need in today’s music. We don’t need another song about alcohol in the clubs, or the twerking of one’s backside. We need freedom, love. Complete eleutheromania is what the new generation is all about. The desire to be endlessly free.
A highlight of the album, for sure.
Favorite Lyric: “Viral mess/turned dreams into an empire”
We’re fully flung into the Badlands now and at the moment, we’ve found ourselves in a car. Halsey is there, but she’s not alone. She’s with someone and she loves him. This car is a prominent location in their relationship, or lack thereof. She loves him, and he might love her back, but they haven’t come together yet. A good bit of the song is ridden with car sounds, such as the starting of an engine or the skidding of tires.
The chorus is simple, with minimal production. The most of which being a guitar that leads into a soft percussion-synth mash that’s so pleasing to listen to. This is less of a standalone song and more of an expositional piece, giving us a little bit more of who Halsey is and what she does within the Badlands.
Favorite Lyric: “Carves into my hollow chest/spreads over the emptiness/It’s bliss”
Pulled from her Room 93 EP, “Hurricane” is the single that brought the first real bits of mainstream attention to Halsey. The production is very heavy, but smooth at the same time. There’s such a euphoric feeling here, but it’s not the same euphoria that was experienced in “Hold Me Down”. This is a darker version, plagued with paranoia and self-doubt.
This was worthy of its standalone single status. Extremely well done.
Favorite Lyric: “I’m a wanderess, I’m a one night stand/Don’t belong to no city, Don’t belong to no man”
This is probably the most pop radio-friendly tracks on the album. It’s got an explosive chorus, with image ridden lyrics and brilliant production. Halsey’s got company in the Badlands and they’re having the time of their lives. They drive into the madness head on for the first time together.
The feeling that is evoked in “Hold Me Down”, the sense of airy freedom, is positioned and pushed to the forefront here. This is the song that you can’t wait to hear live. The moment of the concert where you truly feel as if it’s a religious experience.
Favorite Lyric: “Cause I imagine the weight of your ribs if you lied between my hips in the backseat”
The first single off of the album, and the kickoff to the newcomer’s mainstream success. The production is very light and fluffy, but there’s a pounding in the background that seems to thump in your ears, reminding me of a heartbeat. This is about losing the passionate love that she once had and even though that person is still there with her, the lover that they were has now faded.
This is a representation, in my opinion, of how the Badlands can change someone who hasn’t lived through them. The air is just so toxic, poisoning every good thing that you’d thought you had. The way that her voice paints this track is something so depressing that it haunts you.
A fantastic choice of debut single.
Favorite Lyric:“You say that you’re no good for me/cause I’m always tugging at your sleeve”
Okay, let me tell you about this song. This song is my number one favorite song on the album. The visuals that can just be imagined from the image-woven lyrics throughout this track are just beautiful. This person that she’s singing about has become something of a religion to her. She wants nothing but to love them and for them to love her.
The chorus is explosive, creating this wall of color that shows us exactly who this poor soul is: a shell of a person that leeches off of other people to keep themselves going. It’s horrible that she’s fallen for someone like this, but she can’t help it. She’s obsessed. They’ve become a part of her, staining her with their misery.
This is one of those songs that I fear won’t see commercial light. It’s one of those tracks that’s the crown jewel of the record, but it won’t become a single for some random reason. It’s a shame, though, because this is Halsey at her best, especially in a lyrical sense. This is pure poetry. The bridge is something that has universally been adored by her fanbase. It’s imagery and color being so paralyzing to the listener.
Favorite lyric: “When you touched me, suddenly I was a lilac sky/And you decided purple just wasn’t for you”
Colors Pt. II
When I first saw this on the tracklist, I was intensely confused as to what this would be. An interlude, maybe? A stripped version of an additional verse? So, when I could finally hear it, I could finally hear the Badlands. This feels like we’re in an abandoned wasteland, surrounded by nothing but shattered glass and cloudy skies. The sun is hiding behind the clouds, but there’s still light.
It’s just an interlude, and I’m not that big of a fan of interludes. The track does something for the cinematic, visual aspect of things, but there’s not much substance to it. I wouldn’t skip it if it came on, but it wouldn’t be my first go-to.
There’s something so passionate about this song. Her voice still feels so delicate, but at the same time, it’s so strong and powerful. She talks about people’s views of her love life, how people constantly judge the person she’s with.
She’s explicit, using the f-word like a supportive claim to the way that they see her sexually. They want to hear about every inch of her sex life, no matter what, and she’s fed up with it. “That’s the beauty of a secret” she sings.
Damn right, Ashley. I’m with you.
Favorite Lyric: “They know you walk like you’re a god/they can’t believe I made you weak”
If it weren’t for “Colors”, this song would be my pride and joy. The production is seamless, relaxing. The chorus is so tranquil and filled with loving energy. This seems like one of those songs that just sets a mood.
It’s about a very physical relationship that Halsey has with her boyfriend at the time. She loves him hard, something ethereal. So magical that it’s like religion to her. The lyricism here is so delicate and pulled back, but at the same time, it hits you somewhere. Maybe the heart, maybe the gut. Either way, it leaves a mark on this album and on the listener.
This is where I feel as if we’re reaching a point in the Badlands where Halsey has started seeing the darker side of things.
Favorite Lyric: “He’s off to pay his crimes/and he’s got no time for mine”
This about a previous lover, someone predating the person that she’s with presently in the song, who is haunting her every thought. The thing is, though, she can’t let them go. She’s glad that this person is haunting her. She wants it to continue. I can’t help but feel as if this is about the guy from “Colors”. Someone that’s left such a mark on her that is impossible to erase.
But meaning aside, this is a beautiful track. The production is heavy, with intense synths and slightly robotic voice manipulations in the background. It feels elegant and beautiful, something that Halsey has a way of doing very well in her music. She has this sensuality that just sort of balances out with the upmost amazing songwriting I’ve seen in ages.
I was correct in saying that we’ve entered the dark side of the Badlands. This is where her world has become very depressing and she feels as if something is missing from her. Understanding Halsey’s mental state, given her bipolar diagnosis, you can in away see this as the negative side to mania. While we had euphoric moments of what appeared to be highs (Roman Holiday, Hold Me Down, Drive), we’ve now found ourselves deep in the Badlands.
This is where the monsters live, and where they repopulate like rabbits over and over again until you’re completely surrounded by darkness. This is illustrated perfectly in the sound of the production and in the intimacy of her lyricism.
Favorite Lyric: “We walk as tall as the skyline/And we have roots like the trees”
Again, this is her surrounded by the evil. She’s faced with the inevitability of the depression that’s entering her ears, but she can’t do anything but embrace it. We see her start to unravel, taunting the beasts, practically roaring at them with her… I don’t want to say sass, but there’s such a fire to the comments that she’s throwing at them.
The voice tuning on the chorus, and the way that she’s manipulated vocally here is just brilliant. It completely shows us the truth in her beautiful tragedy. We see not just the perfection that’s positioned on her surface, but the deranged damaged person on the inside, fighting off monsters that seem to be winning.
But they’re not winning by much. She pulls herself near their level, fighting words with words. It’s a display of pure insanity that’s just artistically flawless.
A highlight of the album for sure.
Favorite Lyric: “You can’t wake up, this is not a dream/You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being”
Here’s where I think she goes completely nuts. The voices have etched themselves into her mind and she’s losing herself within the Badlands. You can practically imagine her sitting in an abandoned building – I envision a church or something of that sort – with broken windows and light streaming onto her piece by piece. She hides from it, fearing as if she’ll be seen by the monsters, the demons that are plaguing the land around her.
The production perfectly illustrates this. It accompanies her vocals like they’re holding hands. Perfectly in sync. That’s the only word to describe this song: perfect.
Favorite Lyric: “I’m well acquainted with villains that live in my head/They beg me to write them so they’ll never die when I’m dead”
This feels like someone has dipped their hand into the water that she’s drowning in and just pulls her out. She’s still in crisis, but she has someone holding onto her. It’s almost like she’s caught in such a euphorically miserable state that she can’t really feel anything around here, but this person that’s got a hold of her just has a presence enough to keep her alive; to keep her grounded.
I love the soft production of this song. It’s not as harsh as the previous few songs, but it still has such a place in this album that it deserves. It helps convey this middle-mood that she seems to be welded into at the moment.
Not my favorite, but not a bad song in the slightest.
Favorite Lyric: “I’m a king and you’re a queen and we will stumble through heaven”
I Walk The Line
Halsey covers Johnny Cash. In what world did I see this happening? Oh, that’s right. None of them. This was completely unexpected for me, but at the same time, I love it.
The sweet, sultry aspect of the song is perfect way to express these lyrics. The production has that just becomes it. There’s a way that she sings these words that just feels like pure poetry to the listener. It’s romantic, sexy, and dignified at the same time. This is also what I would call one of the biggest highlights of the album for a reason that isn’t necessarily about the song on its own, because I don’t feel as if it should ever be a single or even have a video. It’s not about the way that Halsey just dominates the track, or how she makes it her own without taking away from the original’s glory.
It’s about the metaphor that it sets for the entire album. I offer you this dare. Listen to this track, and then re-listen through the whole album, keeping in mind that last track. It will make you see things in a whole new light. You will see that the Badlands are not just some place. The Badlands are not a destination left behind long ago that’s filled with ghosts and monsters.
The Badlands are Halsey’s mental state, through and through. We see her rises and her falls. We see the way that she completely loses her every sense of being and then finds it again. The Badlands are that place that you go in your head where everything’s kind of just yours. You created it, whether you knew it or not, and it’s your home. You’re stuck with it as long as you live and while it may be a fun place to get lost and find yourself in, it’s also home to some of the darkest, most sinister parts of you that you will never be able to escape.
Favorite Lyric: “You give me cause for love that I can’t hide”
This is singlehandedly the most stunning debut I have ever seen from any new artist. There is not a single song on this record that I would skip, or would give anything less than and eight out of ten. It is crystal clear that Halsey has put her heart and soul into this album, and is most certainly the best album of 2015. There is no competition.
With songs like “Ghost”, “Hurricane”, and “New Americana” already seeing major success and songs like “Colors”, “Roman Holiday”, and “Coming Down” still having time to see that success, I believe that we’re in for a lovely ride with Ashley “Halsey” Frangipane.
Welcome to the Badlands, ladies and gents, and enjoy the ride of your life.