If you’re not normally a fan of pop music, or only listen to a handful of artists, then introduce Halsey into your life. Despite being only twenty years old (the same age as this reviewer), she puts a mature and fresh perspective on your typical chart-filler pop. Bearing some aural similarities to Lorde, Ellie Goulding, and Chvrches, Halsey (real name Ashley Frangipane) is your latest indie crush. She’s already built up a sizeable following on social media, and like other indie pop breakout artists such as Gabrielle Aplin, began her career by posting covers on YouTube. On its release, Badlands reached number 2 on the iTunes Album Chart, and number 1 on the Alternative Albums Chart, proving just how dedicated Halsey’s fans are. So why is this album worth your time?
Halsey’s command of her voice and lyrics is impeccable. It would be very easy to dismiss her as having the typical, breathy “indie” voice that seems to span across media these days, but her voice melds so beautifully with the electro-pop instrumentals. She has the power to sound both euphoric (see New Americana or Roman Holiday) or haunting and bitter (see Castle or Young God). I’d be tempted to give this album full marks based on the song Colours alone, as the instrumentals, her voice, and the lyrics blend together to make a beautifully dreamy pop hit. The bridge is the most commanding part, a direct, spoken plea decrying her lover for originally showing interest in her (“You were red, and you liked me because I was blue”), but leaving her after she fell in love (“You touched me and I became a lilac sky / But you decided purple just wasn’t for you”). The kind of language communicated in Colours, and in many other songs, is irrevocably emotive and passionate, stopping you in your tracks.
The rest of the album is no less powerful. Castle adds a choir chanting Latin that evokes the haunting atmosphere that permeates the whole album. New Americana makes references to growing up, specifically Halsey’s own childhood and her parents’ musical interests (“Raised on Biggie and Nirvana/ We are the New Americana”). Roman Holiday is an ode to running away to better things from one’s normal life. Ghost, another one of her most popular singles, laments the disappearance of emotions from a relationship, and a desire to get out. It appears that many of Halsey’s songs, despite initially sounding joyous and emotive, have a morose theme running through each of them, either a lament or a wish that will be unfulfilled. As said before, Halsey is very much adept in channelling her emotions into lyrics that feel raw and powerful, and can leave you feeling somewhat unnerved. It breaks apart from the mould of happy “coming of age” songs that we hear so often, reminding us that growing up isn’t always the happiest of times. There’s also a very supernatural, witchy element to this album, separating it from typical, light indie pop. However, all of these things are hardly negative aspects, and it doesn’t stop the album being a joy to listen to.
Overall, Badlands is an album that it’s imperative you listen to at least once. By the end, you’re left wanting to hear more. It was difficult to put into words the sorts of feelings conveyed in this album, as it’s one of the most introspective and immersive listening experiences I’ve had from any pop album in a while. If you know one of those people that believes all pop music is the same, or derivative of “real music”, recommend this album and it might just change their mind.