To Halsey, an album is a body of work, not just a collection of songs. Nowhere in her discography is this ethos more present than on her new record Manic, out Jan. 17. Across 16 tracks, the singer who was born Ashley Frangipane presents an album “made by Ashley for Halsey,” and it’s her third album, but the first of its kind in her history.
Listening to Manic, it’s easy to imagine how much love and enjoyment she put into the organization of it, the audio samples and interludes almost serving as chapter breaks. It’s an accumulation of who she is in a specific moment.
Back in September, she talked at the Grammy Museum about the way the album’s purpose shifted over time. “I tried to be angry, and I was so calm and so happy and proud, and felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” she said. “I sat down to make a list of things I didn’t like about myself because I thought it would help me make an angry album, and I wrote it and I cried. I read it and let some of my friends read it, and after writing it, I couldn’t find any anger at myself, I just found forgiveness. I looked at the list and said, some of these things are true, some are not. You may feel that way about yourself, but it’s okay, you’re going to be okay." Manic, an album about acceptance and shifting emotion, is the embodiment of that statement.
For fans, the album comes with listening instructions from the artist herself. Two days before her album release, she tweeted a request: follow the track list order for the first album listen. “Some songs go together. Halves of a whole. so when Manic is out, pls don’t skip ur excited asses to a random song,” she wrote. So this is our review of Manic, in order, track by track, parts of a whole.
When Halsey first released her track list, from the title of this song alone it was evident that Halsey’s mindset approaching album three would be different. As far as introductions go, this one is heavy. Halsey doesn’t mince words — this is going to be an album about pain. Her lyrics are blunt: “Took my heart and sold it out/To a vision that I wrote myself/And I don’t wanna be somebody in America/Just fighting the hysteria/I only wanna die some days.” This album was hard for her to write, so it should be hard to listen to too. The track ends with an audio sample of antiheroine Clementine Kruczynski, from one of Halsey’s favorite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “I'm just a f*cked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours.”
“Some songs go together. Halves of a whole,” Halsey said, and right off the bat, she is braiding her tracks together based on the title alone (another callback to Eternal Sunshine). “Clementine” was first released as a promotional single ahead of the album, but placed next to a line from the film that inspired it, the song is a different listening experience. From the start of the album, Halsey introduces herself as the antiheroine.
“Graveyard” feels the most sonically congruent to the artist we knew Halsey to be prior to this album: the slant rhymes, the tempo, the young energy mark it as pure Halsey. The song is surprisingly bright, coolly antithetical to subject matter. The lyrics before the final chorus, “It’s funny how/The warning signs can feel like they’re butterflies” are punctuated with an annotated gasp, like she’s out of breath. The natural sound doesn’t feel gratuitous, instead adding extra emotional ferocity to the moment.
“You should be sad”
“You should be sad” was released before the album release as well, and on its own, it’s a kiss-off ode to all the things you wish you said at the end of a relationship, with a revenge-fantasy music video that references work from pop queens Lady Gaga, Shania Twain, and Christina Aguilera. On the album, some of that snark dissipates, leaving a complex, layered feeling in its wake. Less anger, and more relief.
“Forever…(is a long time)”
Halsey described “Forever” as a song about “the journey of falling in love and then sabotaging it with your own paranoia and insecurity.” Self-sabotage comes up often on Manic, and the lyrics here are simple to allow the song’s energy to come from its melody and tension in the elongated piano accompaniment. By the end, thanks to the production overlay on her vocals, you feel like you’re drowning, feeling every bit of the mess the narrator of the song has made.
This track is the first of three interludes with other artists that Halsey includes on the album, this one centering American singer and rapper Dominic Fike. Its most notable features are the bouncy piano and Dominic’s almost jazzy vocals; the effect feels descended from Frank Ocean. The final verse of the song, “Talk to your man/Tell him he’s got bad news comin’” parrots the closing lyrics of its preceding track, “Forever…(is a long time)”, setting up exciting climactic moments to come.
“I HATE EVERYBODY”
If “Manic” had a thesis, it would be, “I HATE EVERYBODY”. Halsey’s songwriting finds strength in repetition: “If I could make you love me/Maybe you could make me love me/And If I can’t make you love me/Then I’ll just hate everybody” are some of the most imminently relatable in their simplicity. The marching band in the instrumentals on the track awaken the angstiest parts of us all — this song sits at the same lunch table as My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome To The Black Parade.”
Speaking of MCR’s era, “3am” has the kind of song lyrics that would have ended up in the caption of a moody selfie or a signature on AIM. Everything about this song sounds so 2008 rock, from the opening guitar and chorus to the song title and early Internet vibes behind lyrics like “I need it digital because baby when it’s physical I end up alone.”
The song even ends with a recorded phone call with John Mayer: “Your.. your best song is the song that’s currently on the radio. How many people can say that? That their best song is the one that’s currently about to be a massive hit. It’s already a hit, it’s just gonna get more massive. How many people can say it? Not very many. Congratulations!”
“Without Me” is, of course, Halsey’s biggest solo song to date, finding fans in its intense f*ck you vibe, in its anger. But “Without Me” exists on this album, a year and a half out from its initial release, as a victory lap. Her best song is the song that’s currently on the radio. How many people can say that?
“Finally // beautiful stranger”
Though this song was released beforehand, the impact of its vulnerability multiplied as part of a set. The song, with its Swiftian details (dancing in the living room, singing in the street), demarcates a shift in the album’s mood, but it’s not abrupt, instead calling back to the themes of self-sabotage and insecurity that had previously hindered her romantic relationships. She’s different now, more ready. She sings, “And I think it’s finally, finally, finally, finally, finally safe for me to fall.”
On the most overtly queer song on Manic, Alanis and Halsey do something interesting: they turn a song about a high school crush into a cocky pop hit with a dad-rock refrain. While the lyrics Alanis sings can come off a little cringey (“Cause he is she is her/And her and he are love/tirin’ all these labels” recalls the kind of placid progressivism found in a song like Keith Urban’s 2017 dad-feminist anthem “Female), the verses are Halsey at some of her best, braggadocios as she sings, “Your pussy is a wonderland/And I could be a better man/It doesn’t matter to me.”
Keeping with the theme of queerness, Halsey segues into a sample from the cult classic Jennifer’s Body where Megan Fox’s character relishes in killing boys, who are just “placeholders.”The song itself is driven by drums and quippy verses sung in quick cadence as Halsey sings about not needing a person anymore, adding, “And all I want in return is revenge.”
Halsey collaborated with Korean rapper Min Yoongi, also known as BTS memberSuga, for this interlude. The song is rapped in Korean, with shorter, slower verses from Halsey in between. Halsey’s verses describe a battle “between the having it all and giving it up.” Yoongi’s verses mirror that idea of achieving one’s dreams and then dealing with the loneliness: “The dawn before sunrise is darker than anything/But never forget the stars you hope for only appear in the dark,” according to a Genius translation. It’s no small thing so see Halsey put an almost entirely Korean song on her album, allowing Min Yoongi to take the lead on the song’s storytelling. The movement in Min Yoongi’s parts is palpable even if you don’t understand Korean — evidence that the musical impact of a voice can be greater than just the words.
“More” is further proof that desperation can be made beautiful. The intense longing she sings of in this song comes across as perfectly, commonly human. Accompanied by the starry xylophone pattern and choral sounds in the background, she sings simply of lost love, regret, and longing.
Without even looking at song credits, you immediately sense Ed Sheeran’s prints on this track, and his cadence in her verses is unmissable (the rhythm moves a lot like her other Ed collab, “Eastside”). Lyrically, this song ties up a lot of loose ends about self-love and self-hate from “I HATE EVERYBODY”. Halsey is not the first person to sing about being unable to love oneself. However, the delivery of her messaging is unique in that it refuses to divorce her love of herself and her love of others. There is overlap in her relationship to herself and her relationships, and when tasked with writing an album as autobiographical as Manic, she makes no effort to separate them.
“929” is one of the songs Halsey said she was most scared to share with fans; the album version is “the one and only” version she ever recorded, “I was so out of breath and agitated by the end. in a good way.” You feel that when you’re listening. The lyrics sound like every individual thought Halsey has had since becoming a recording artist, talking about providing for everyone in her family, hoping her father will call her, and meeting a fan in Michigan who told her, “Ashley you gotta promise us that you won’t you die/Cause we need you.”
She bookends “929” with voice memos. First, she insists she was born at 9:29 a.m. on 9/29. By the end, she’s recanted her statement. That move, from absolute certainty to gentle, good-natured skepticism, is its own form of growth and self-love. If there’s a concluding moral to Manic, it’s that you can think you know yourself and still be surprised, you can think you’re one way and be wrong all along. A song that was originally about revenge can be about strength.
Let us slide into your DMs. Sign up for the Teen Vogue daily email.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Halsey's New Album "Manic": 27 Best Lyrics
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue