Crafting an ethereal, mystical landscape with her haunting vocal style, Halsey has seen her debut album propelled to number nine in the UK charts and number two in the US following its release on 28th August. Her success with Badlands is testament to the record’s pulsating aura, which consumes the listener and – at times – even threatens to overwhelm them.
The album is conceptually set in the landscape of the badlands, which serves as a metaphor for the desolate and lonely state of mind in which Ashley Frangipane found herself whilst creating the record. A dark and sinister mood is established with the opener, ‘Castle’, as Halsey declares she’s “tired of all these cameras flashing, sick of being poised”, she joins the hoards of women who have spoken out against the media in recent months.
Overall, this is a distinctly female-orientated creation – a defiant middle finger held up to the patriarchy. In ‘Hurricane’, Halsey becomes “a wanderess / I’m a one night stand / Don’t belong to no city / Don’t belong to no man”, simultaneously empowering herself by freeing herself from archaic gender obligations, whilst also recognizing a sense of loneliness, a sense of not quite belonging. ‘Ghost’ – which fans will recognize from the singer’s Room 93 EP – consolidates this feeling of being between places as she acknowledges she’s been “saying that I love him, but I know I’m gonna leave him”.
Perhaps this is because of the demons which plague Halsey, preventing her from being truly happy; several tracks on the record explore Frangipane’s struggles with her bipolar disorder – in ‘Hold Me Down’ she paints a picture of a dysfunctional relationship: “My demons are begging me to open up my mouth / I need them mechanically make the words come out”. In ‘Haunting’ she hints at a state of mental deterioration – “I was as pure as a river / But now I think I’m possessed”, and as Halsey admonishes “I hope you make it to the day you’re 28 years old” in ‘Colors’, she seems to be inviting the listener to think about troubled poetic souls. Like many tortured individuals, some of the lyrical content on this record suggests Halsey’s past is tainted with events which prevent her from forming close relationships out of fear of getting hurt, case in point with ‘Roman Holiday’ – “I remember when my father put his fist through the wall that separated the dining room”.
Whilst ‘Colors’ and ‘Colors Pt 2’ are musically reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s ‘Style’, unlike Swift, in ‘Strange Love’ Halsey seems reluctant to reveal details of her personal life – namely her relationship with Matt Healy of The 1975 fame: “I’m gonna write it all down, and I’m gonna sing it on stage / But I don’t have to fucking tell you anything”. It seems like Badlands is a private journal exercise – nonsensical and perhaps frustrating to you and I, but part of a healing process for the New Jersey native.
It’s a very personal record, but it’s this level of emotional fragility which fosters a very unique bond between Halsey and the listener. Whilst we might not necessarily be able to understand Frangipane’s mental health struggles, we can certainly appreciate the brave act she’s taken in laying bare her soul for all to see. The music even makes us feel physically close to the singer – in ‘Drive’ the click of a cassette player, the whir of seatbelts makes us feel like we’re on a journey together. And, in a sense we are. Throughout Badlands we’ve been taken on a tour of Ashely Frangipane’s innermost thoughts, feelings and desires. We don’t want the ride to be over just yet, so until Halsey gives us more, we’ll just keep hitting ‘repeat’.