Album Review: Halsey Evokes Raw Emotion, Lyrical Criticism, and Unique Sounds on Debut Album "Badlands"

(Capitol Records)

“I am Halsey. I will never be anything but honest. I write songs about sex and being sad.” –

If that quote doesn’t encapsulate the essence of Halsey’s debut album Badlands in one sentence, there is a loss for words of what will. If you mix the quirky airiness of Lorde and Lana del Rey with a badass punch of bubblegum pop defiance, the Badlands album emerges. 

Halsey includes a few potential breakout hits in Badlands, more specifically “Hold Me Down” and “Castle.” These two hold the alien-sounding intensity of the rest of the album while maintaining catchy lyrics that will attract viewers on mainstream radio. Halsey draws out the phrases “Hold me down” and “Knock me out” throughout “Hold Me Down” with a purposeful nature that creates a stuck-in-your-head result. At a concert earlier this summer, she explained that the inspiration for the song stemmed from an interaction with a condescending, older man she met. It reminded her that even if people want to make her feel small, no one can hold her down. Halsey’s up-and-coming pop stardom is unique because of songs like “Hold Me Down.” Though the lesson might be typically uplifting, her technique and lyrical usage creates a black sheep effect in the pop realm.

“Castle” is another catchy hit on Badlands that can be directly compared to the success of Lorde’s “Team.” As Lorde sings, “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air, so there,” in a sarcastic criticism of popular youth culture, Halsey tackles a similar subject in “Castle.” She declares, “Sick of all these people talking, sick of all this noise, tired of all these cameras flashing, sick of being poised.” Similar to Lorde’s message, Halsey dissects the negatives of famous lifestyle; this is an objective not accomplished often enough as many artists’ lyrics indulge on the riches and ignore the issues of the spotlight. In addition, the chorus includes catchy lines such as “I’m headed straight for the castle. They want to make me their queen.” The message seems to lean towards maintaining independence as an artistic voice, even if that means being critical, when entering an industry as foreboding and directive as the music business. Many artists seem to lose their voice during a career, but Halsey seems to have faith that hers will remain strong.

One other notable song on the album is “Colors.” Though it might not maintain the level of success as “Castle” or “Hold Me Down,” it is important in a way that further asserts Halsey’s uniqueness as a female pop star. Halsey uses colors to describe her relationship with a man; however, she twists Taylor Swift’s “Red” version of color comparison by adding in a deeper, intense touch. She sings, “Everything was blue.  

His pills, his hands, his jeans. Everything was grey. His hair, his smoke, his dreams.” The references to drugs are usually reserved for the hip-hop realm and not mainstream pop; Halsey artfully incorporates it in an honest manner that simply adds flavor to the song. It is honest, as her bio states, and it seems that nothing else Halsey will produce in the future will lack that candidness. 

Listeners of Halsey’s Badlands can expect nothing short of raw, thought provoking music. Her lyrics are metaphors intertwined with life lessons that are unlike anything currently on the radio. Halsey is on the path to be a punchier version of Lorde in terms of success in the pop realm. Next time you’re flipping through radio channels during morning rush hour, don’t be surprised when you hear, “But it’s the devil that’s tryna hold me down, hold me down…”

Purchase Halsey's debut album Badlands on iTunes by clicking here.