When Halsey isn’t painting up technicolour dream worlds and manning the industry’s throne, she’s Ashley. A vulnerable 25-year-old from New Jersey who struggles to accept all the broken parts of herself as we humans do. It’s fitting then that the concept of Halsey’s third album Manic is one that revolves around the best story of all: hers. And it’s equipped with all the raw and personal emotion that we’ve been desperate to see from the artist since day one.
As a whole, Manic is a masterpiece that beautifully blends together to create something to stand back and admire; but it’s the uneven brushstrokes, lines and all the little details we see when we get up close that really make the artwork. As much as every song effortlessly fits with the other, it’s also the complete opposite with no two tracks being even remotely the same genre. Halsey, who has always been honest about her struggles with bipolar disorder, visually and sonically reflects her manic state and allows us to experience what feeling everything at once would be like.
Touching on everything from her explosive break-up with rapper G-Eazy (the angry ‘Graveyard,’ ‘You Should Be Sad,’ ‘Killing Boys’ and ‘Without Me’) to the quiet and lonely moments of self-reflection (the stunning ‘Ashley,’ ‘clementine’ and freestyle ‘929’), the album is a kaleidoscope of thoughts that burst out of the seams. Halsey addresses topics in a way that aren’t calculated or processed but instead like she’s just sat down for hours writing and writing in her diary.
On ‘Alanis’ Interlude,’ her brag-worthy collaboration with Alanis Morissette, Halsey touches on her bisexuality and the success of empowering women while perfectly reflecting Alanis’ trademark sound. She makes a movie with ‘Finally // beautiful stranger,’ a dance hit out of low self-esteem with ‘Still Learning,’ a feeling that transcends language with BTS’ token rapper on ‘SUGA’s Interlude’ and falls into the role of a punk princess on ‘3AM,’ feeding the narrative that money and success can’t get rid of loneliness (in a brilliant contrast, a voicemail from John Mayer recognising her potential is sampled at the end).
The album’s highlight though is the anticipated trio. Halsey fans know there’s one in every album, a stack of three songs that belong together. In this case it’s the creatively metaphorical ‘Forever … (is a long time),’ the bubbly TV jingle of ‘Dominic’s Interlude’ (with Dominic Fike) and the pop powerhouse ‘I HATE EVERYBODY.’ Despite representing three entirely different genres and concepts, the tracks blend together seamlessly as though they’re part of one big giant song. A subtle nod to the fact that mania isn’t always uncontrollable.
But Manic’s biggest moment of vulnerability is ‘More,’ a heart-rending track that opens up about Halsey’s difficulty, but real desire, to have children. A subject that’s been discussed by the star openly and honestly in interviews but never in her music, ‘More’ stands to be the most powerful love song Halsey has ever written and embodies who Ashley is more than anything else on the album.
The magic of Halsey is her ability to create a vision that can be admired and while the auras of her fantasy dystopias are strong, there’s no denying that her most honest and untheatrical album is her best. Manic is beautiful in its tragedy, loud in its loneliness and relatable in all its personality. And we’re so honoured to finally meet Ashley.