21-year-old Ashley Frangipane, better known by her pseudonym Halsey, has burst into the mainstream of the music world this summer with the release of debut album Badlands – follow-up to massive EP Room 93 – the definitive example of a collection of songs self-proclaimed to be about “sex and being sad.”
Pegged as a concept album, Badlands debuted at no. 9 here in the UK and number two on the U.S. Billboard 200. The artist’s recent London show in September sold out in under 60 seconds, her entire subsequent upcoming 2016 UK tour sold out in minutes, and pretty much every other tour date in between is doing the same – it’s safe to say that Halsey is firmly solidifying herself as an artist to watch, and understandably has quickly gained airplay across the world.
Despite the sheer number of artists available to listen to today, Halsey has a somewhat unique sound which is intensified by the synth-heavy tracks that make up a majority of the album. Sexually charged songs “Ghost” and “Hurricane” exemplify this, and whilst they have been carried over from her previous EP, they still pack a punch and remain standouts, alongside new tracks “Roman Holiday” and “Colors” – the latter of which contains conceivably some of the most powerful lyrics on the album, heavily laden with metaphors – “You’re ripped at every edge but you’re a masterpiece, and now you’re tearing through the pages and the ink.”
A key theme throughout the album is Halsey’s brutal honesty, which perhaps is why she has so readily accumulated such a loyal legion of fans, as she’s not one to shy away from mentioning her own exploits with drink, drugs, sex, and the struggles of her generation. The song this perhaps shines through most explicitly on is radio-friendly “New Americana,” which touches on topics such as same-sex marriage and has become an anthem for a generation who can relate to being “high on legal marijuana, raised on Biggie and Nirvana.”
Whilst there are a higher number of interesting tracks than not on Badlands; at some points the themes and ethereal sound that define Halsey fall flat, for example, on the deluxe edition, “Colors, Part II” immediately following its predecessor is a misstep, and songs such as “Haunting” and “Control” lose their appeal as they become increasingly repetitive, which is perhaps where Badlands falls down as a debut – despite its highs, it becomes a bit stale towards the end of the album. However, the album closer, a cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” is a standout in its own right, merely for the stark contrast between it and the original, with Halsey’s interpretation relying heavily on her echoed, haunting sound to create a track remarkably different – it may even take you a little while to work out where you’ve heard those lyrics before.
Overall Badlands is incredible when understood to be a debut, and it will be interesting to see where Halsey takes her music from here, but with biting lyrics and a distinctive voice, if she can explore more themes, the Badlands might just be the first stop on a very long journey ahead.
By Siobhan Fletcher