Deputy Editor Anne Chafer reviews Halsey’s latest album, Manic
There is an ancient saying that you have three faces. The first one you broadcast to the world; the second, you show to those closest to you; and the last one, you never show to anybody.
Halsey’s third album was one of the highly anticipated releases of pop. What she surprised us with was a compilation of songs that, unlike her previous albums, Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom, was not a concept album. The quote above, from her introduction to the enhanced album on Spotify, already says it all: although it is being released under her artistic persona, Halsey, Ashley Frangipani tries to capture something beyond what we have already seen of her, even beyond her “Ashley” persona she shows to her closest friends. She is showing us a little bit of that third face which no one ever sees. This, in itself, is already a very specific premise, and yet it is not as high concept as her previous works. She leaves complex aesthetic worlds behind to strip down the image she is presenting, and the result is something which, interestingly, is as layered as it is sincere.
Manic references the manic phases of Frangipani’s bipolar disorder, during which she wrote most of the album. This is reflected in many aspects of the record, from the striking designs and cover art of the singles to the genre multiplicity in the songs. The contrasts and brightness which she describes as a “carnal, uninhibited, explicit flash of colour and light hiding in the center of her chest” (also in the Spotify introduction to the album) are translated into a collage of references, collaborations and inspirations which keen listeners will unpick curiously.
She leaves complex aesthetic worlds behind to strip down the image she is presenting
The most striking of the parts of this musical collage is the variety and richness of the collaborations she included in this album. Often, we rely on other people’s music to help find ourselves in it, and having artists that have influenced your way of writing, listening or thinking on your record seems to be an extension of that. ‘Alanis’ Interlude’ is a great example of this, helping Halsey define herself and explore ways of communicating bisexuality and female sexuality and ownership to a wider audience through an admired bisexual figure such as Morissette. The collaborations are all very different, from the Korean pop group BTS’s Suga, to Morissette, to having Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums on what is probably the track that leans towards rock the most, ‘3am’. In its diversity, they each help channel different parts of what we can now see of Halsey’s innermost thoughts. Other presences are less distinguishable although always at the back of our minds, such as John Mayer’s voicemail about the single ‘Without Me’ right before the song itself starts, or Dominic Harrison (Yungblud)’s ghost in the ballad ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’. The latter is definitely one of the highlights of the record, with its tangible and vulnerable imagery of falling in love.
Other bits of the collage are presented in the shape of references to movies, such as the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fragments – the opening song, ‘Ashley’, features a quote from the film at the end which then transitions into the track ‘clementine’, named after Kate Winslet’s character in it. The samples of audio in the album also include her talking about her birth date or the aforementioned John Mayer voicemail. Even more references are included in her music video for ‘You should be sad’, a country song with rogue electric guitars after its chorus and a controlled anger boiling underneath the softness of the singer’s voice. In it, Halsey presents outfits and visual references to country icons such as Carrie Underwood or Shania Twain.
The most striking of the parts of this musical collage is the variety and richness of the collaborations she included in this album
The innovative eclecticism translates to the sound of the album as well – as mentioned, Frangipani goes from pop ballads to country to near hard-rock to rap, with euphoric and downplayed tracks in equal measure. Her voice, permanently conscious yet never strictly technical, soars and sinks always charged with emotion. And emotion, in the end, is a big part of Manic. The changes in register and the uneven feel of the piece of work as a whole make the record feel, perhaps, incomplete. Maybe Manic is too diverse to appeal to a single audience, yet too disperse to establish an artistic tendency that will build a fanbase. But as far as raw portraying of a person goes, the album succeeds and by far.
Manic is an album of documented growth, and a tribute to everything that had a role in that growth. Artistic and personal growth collide and merge in Halsey’s musical journal, a journal which certainly takes its time to grow on you. But then again, so do people.