Welcome to the Badlands

Halsey. She's a biracial, bisexual, bipolar twenty-one-year-old rising singer/songwriter breaking the mold for modern female artists, and her debut album Badlands was released 2015, following her debut 2014 EP named Room 93.

Born Ashley Frangipane, she now uses Halsey as her stagename, and was discovered at just seventeen after posting a song she wrote and performed on her SoundCloud account. It garnered her a great amount of attention and she signed to a label. That song was called "Ghost" and it now features on Badlands.

Badlands is described as a concept album, meaning the songs it holds express a particular theme or idea. Halsey herself has described the Badlands as a dystopian society, inspired by post-apocalyptic movies, and surrounded by wasteland, meaning anyone in the Badlands are trapped there. This is a metaphor for Halsey's own personal mental state, and found writing it to be an escape from real life, despite describing there to be no escape from the Badlands themselves. She believes it to still be an optimistic metaphor because it is still an escape to her. This could act as comforting advice to her fanbase, filled with younger fans and those the same age group as her, going through similar struggles.

The honest and hard-hitting lyrics are gripping from the word go, and tied in with clever electronic melodies, it makes for a strong and complete collection of good tunes. Some are the kind one might sing along to loudly and obxiously in the car, while others provoke deeper thinking and emotion.

The album opens with the track "Castle", in which Halsey boldly proclaims, "I'm headed straight for the castle / They wanna make me their queen / And there's an old man sitting on the throne now saying that I probably shouldn't be so mean." I see a song about a woman taking back what she knows, taking back her personality, and not letting anyone stand in her way.

"Castle" blends into "Hold Me Down", a song about 'the devil' holding Halsey down. The dark subject matter is uplifted by the heavy beat, putting anyone in mind of Halsey's bold stage moves that she matches with this song, in which she drops to her knees on the chorus and thrusts/grinds her way through the lyrics. The song, however, is not so much a sexual one. It would appear to be a possible struggle with not feeling pure, and being restricted within this feeling.

The album's third track, "New Americana", describes the youth of today and their diversity; how different they are from their parents, their grandparents, and possibly even other people their own age, however "we don't feel like outsiders at all." That lyric has shown it is okay to own who you are, and with Halsey's alternative style, it is very believable that this is possible.

The next two tracks, "Drive" and "Roman Holiday", seem to deal with the classic teenage love story and the loss one can feel when it's over or too confusing. But with Halsey's sincere lyrics, there are no cliches spotted here. "Drive" is slower, sadder, but something people can relate to. "Roman Holiday", on the other hand, is much more bouncy and catchy, and gives the first blunt sexual reference of the album when she states, "Could you imagine the taste of your lips if we never tried to kiss on that drive to Queens? / 'Cause I imagine the weight of your ribs if you lied between my hips in the backseat." Halsey's straight-forward speak of sex in her songs is refreshing, and "Roman Holiday" also appears to handle the struggle of people believing her relationship with this person she's writing about to be an unhealthy one, as hinted by the title (a Roman holiday is described through a simple Google search as "an occasion on which enjoyment is profit is derived from others' suffering or discomfort.") and also by the lyrics that mention her father punching a wall, and how she stole her mother's perfume, and general talk of sneaking around.

The lovesick songs blend into "Colors", another one about a boy, but it's less romantic and more recognising how unhealthy he was and how it was to be with him. "Colors" is described even by Halsey herself as the fan favourite, and gathering by the countless lyric edits I have seen with my own eyes all over the internet, Tumblr in particular, with the spoken-rather-than-sung line, "You were red, and you liked me 'cause I was blue. You touched me and I was a lilac sky, and you decided purple just wasn't for you." Halsey has described those lyrics as being about changing yourself for a person, but that person ends up not liking the changed version of you, even though you did it for them.

The next song, "Coming Down", follows the theme of unhealthy relationships as well as the escapism with a partner that was explored in "Roman Holiday". Whether this escapism is meant to be from herself or others around her, Halsey isn't clear, but "Coming Down" is another song that hits hard. It appears to show insight to escapism through drugs, as well as being away from the real world when it mentions a hotel. There are more mentions of religion, of God, of the devil and demons, linking us back to "Hold Me Down".

Halsey repeatedly describes how she found God, the Devil, a saviour, a martyr, "in a lover" which would be assumed to be this boy, but at the chorus she also sings, "I've got a lover, a love like religion." The repeated mention of religious references shows a further struggle with purity or acceptance.

This song also features two further sexual references too, which are quite the contract when mentioned with religion, one being more daring than the other. The chorus proclaims, "...demons play, they run around beneath our feet / We roll around beneath these sheets." And then the second lyric, "With his educated eyes / And his head between my thighs." The brave mention of oral sex being performed on her in a song sung by a young woman, is the kind of change I find amazing to see. Nobody would bat an eye if it were a man, but Halsey has shocked people with her sexual innuendo and stage presence. It's something that a woman should be able to express, uncensored, and it's a welcome adaption to the industry.

"Haunting" and "Control" are the two songs that follow, and to me, "Haunting" is a weaker song on the album, but that's just my personal tastes. It describes being in a new relationship but being haunted by a past one, possibly that of the boy sung of in the few songs prior, showing the album taking place in a timeline.

However, "Control" jumps into a whole new realm of thought. Something that possibly tackles her process in handling bipolar depression at the lowest points, it's a song so many listeners could relate to, claiming, "My mind's like a deadly disease," which fellow sufferers would certainly agree with in their own pain and demons.

She sings, "I'm bigger than my body / I'm colder than this home / I'm meaner than my demons / I'm bigger than these bones." Beating the depression by being 'meaner' could be viewed as positive or negative, but in this case, it appears to be negative. The next few lines say, "And all the kids cried out, 'Please stop, you're scaring me.' / I can't stop this awful energy. / Goddamn right, you should be scared of me. / Who is in control?"

It sounds as if she sees herself as a monstrous entity, further fueled by the lyrics, "I couldn't stand the person inside me / I turned all the mirrors around." Despite feeling like a monster, she wants a grip on reality, she wants to be in control, and she is a strong woman capable of dangerous things. She feels she should have the control, but does she actually feel like she has gained it?

"Control" is a heavy-topic song, but fortunately is followed by the much lighter yet fiery "Young God". Halsey once amusingly tweeted, "There's a song on my album called "Young God" and I hope every single one of u loses your virginity to it."

As one might expect, the song describes an exciting relationship and the invicibility of being young and in love... and of course, Halsey's increasingly iconic sex mentions. The mention in this song is possibly the most unsparing and head-strong of all, outright stating, "There's a light in the crack that's separating your thighs / And if you wanna go to Heaven, you should fuck me tonight."

The song is upbeat and holds power to its words, and was the first Halsey song I personally ever listened to. And just like Halsey tweeted, it could be the perfect 'our song' kind of tune for some young couple out there facing the world together.

The final track of the album is "Ghost", the song that was Halsey's original claim to fame, and my personal favourite of the entirety of Badlands. It describes her attraction to those who might not be faithful, honest, or good people, but the excitement of that 'bad boy' image is too much to resist. The song appears to switch its genre, with the start almost reminiscent of a killer Nicki Minaj rap verse, with softer and slightly edgier vocals, before blending into what listeners grew used to hearing through the rest of the more upbeat side of Badlands, then becoming gentle and sadder at the chorus.

In the chorus, Halsey sings, "My ghost, where'd you go? / I can't find you in the body sleeping next to me / My ghost, where'd you go? / What happened to the soul that you used to be?"

The song, when looked at it in its entirety, deals with the pressure of trying to find yourself and who you are, losing touch with reality, and knowing that you're not going to find it in somebody else, but trying anyway.

Badlands as a whole is that struggle of self and self-doubt when everyone around is watching and expecting more, but there is no more to give. The Badlands are not a real location, but that's not to say their concept isn't one of the most important ideas expressed through music this year. And this is not even the deluxe album, which has a variant of other songs to explore Halsey's escapism in yet more depth. The fact that a girl so young has shown such a mature understanding of the world and her own honest view of the struggles in mental health is both astounding and wonderful, and perhaps just what we have needed to hear for so long.

Halsey is fresh, talented, and right at the core of today's youth. If there's anything someone young and lost needs to help find themselves the way Halsey is, Badlands is it.

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