Halsey continues to impress with her fourth album, “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,” a journey into the intense emotions and complexities that come with being a woman in American society. Halsey uses this album to explore essential emotional crosses that society asks women to bear: motherhood, men’s desires and unrelenting anger. Her sound is still unfailingly unique and yet clearly a darker shift from her earlier works, making for another stellar showcase of both her songwriting and singing abilities.
The thesis of the album is the opening track, “The Tradition.” Halsey sings about a girl who is beautiful but miserable. The song opens with “the loneliest girl in town is bought for pennies a price. We dress her up in lovely gowns, she’s easy on the eyes.” The story continues, telling listeners about the loss of autonomy for the loneliest girl in town, an autonomy that may have never existed as this practice was “in the blood and this is the tradition.” The production on this track is slow and simple, letting the lyrics set the pace and keep listeners engaged—or rather, keep listeners enraged. I am rooting for the poor girl trapped in what she thought was her dream, but I know that this story likely doesn’t end happily ever after.
Though “I’m Not A Woman, I’m A God” is far from heavenly, Halsey is clearly divine on the track. Similar to most of the album, the song is intense, with almost overwhelming production as she works her way through the song. She is not a soft forgiving god of angels and light; she is a woman scorned while refusing to be a damsel in distress. The song is reminiscent of old Greek gods: powerful, angry and ready to stand up in defense of herself. She, similar to the girl in “The Tradition,” is trapped in her life of fame, a god among her fans. She loves it; she hates it; she can’t get out. Halsey uses a lot of religious imagery in the album, from Jesus references in “Bells of Sante Fe” to an entire track called “Lilith.” Here she breaks free from that traditional, biblical sense of angels and demons and defines herself as a new type of god: a fearless, misunderstood woman in a position of power. I love good uses of biblical imagery, especially when used to go against traditional ideals, and Halsey uses these metaphors flawlessly.
Though there is a lot of anger, there are a few more positive numbers. My favorite track on the album is called “honey.” It’s upbeat and fast, a love song about goodbyes. The song starts fast and fun, “She was sweet like honey! But all I can taste is the blood in my mouth and the bitterness in goodbye.” There’s no regret in this song though; Halsey sings about the appreciation of a lover long gone. This track is almost happy, a true headbanger that I hope to be able to see live one day. “honey” has such smart lyrics, it almost makes me want to make a 2015 style Tumblr post about it. I’m obsessed with the way Halsey uses repetition of sounds in this song, with my two favorite examples being “she’s on the tip of my tongue, she’s on the top of my thighs” and “she stings like she means it, she’s mean, and she’s mine” Interestingly, “honey” is written lowercase, the only track on the album to be formatted in this way. I’ve yet to come to a conclusion about this detail, but perhaps it is the only song that highlights women’s desires as something positive?
Another light song is “Darling.” The production is delicate, almost acoustic, yet still incredibly beautiful. The track is a love letter and lullaby to her child, as Halsey embraced her pregnancy and the idea of motherhood while making this album. Halsey sings of her own troubled past, but she promises to make sure that her kid’s experience is better than her own. The opening verse starts with “really can’t remember where I left my spine,” but the track ends with promises to her (at the time) unborn child, saying “only you have shown me how to love being alive.” Between this and the closing track “Ya’aburnee,” also dedicated to her kid, it is clear that Halsey will love her baby endlessly and unconditionally. The song starts so sad, but ends so hopeful. I love the idea of ending a cycle of trauma, of dedicating yourself to making a better and brighter legacy.
Halsey’s legacy will clearly be one of fantastic music. “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” is mostly dark in a heavily-produced way, using Trent Reznor of rock band Nine-Inch Nails. The few lightly produced tracks fit in seamlessly, serving to tell the story of women as multidimensional human beings. Halsey is always unapologetically feminist, but her songwriting is only improving with practice. She wants power and this album proves that she has it, in addition to my love.