With her cropped electric blue hair and melancholic pop-electric sound, it would be easy to write off twenty-year old Halsey as a washed up combination of Lana Del Rey and Lorde, a product of her generation’s obsession with romanticizing sadness and showing a disdain for the ordinary. However, to do so would be a mistake, as Halsey brings something much more unique to the table: A raw understanding about the troubles and joys of adolescence.
Halsey has made no secret of the fact that she’s had her fair share of struggles, ranging from homelessness and drugs to the trials of being “tri-bi,” meaning biracial, bisexual and bipolar. It comes as no surprise, then, that the album, titled Badlands, is described by Halsey as a metaphor for her mental state. “Even if the badlands are all you’ve ever known,” she explained on her Twitter, “you can find solace outside them.”
The album listens like a novel reads: Each song a chapter leaving you wondering what will happen next. The opening track, “Castle,” is dark and electrically heavy, giving the listener an insight in Halsey’s current state of mind. Through her blunt lyrics such as “I’m heading straight for the castle / they wanna make me their queen / but there’s old man sitting on my throne and saying that I probably shouldn’t be so mean,” Halsey effectively conveys her conflicting feelings of simultaneous confidence and doubt.
The next track, “Hold Me Down,” delves deeper into the badlands. Halsey sings of selling her soul to a man, likened to the devil. The man, referred to only as a “three-piece,” constantly criticizes her, deepening her self-doubt. However, in the end it is she who wins, as she insists that criticism is what she lives for and only motivates her to prove others wrong.
From there, Badlands takes a break from storytelling and instead transitions with “New Americana.” This track is without a doubt the most radio ready song of Badlands. A generational anthem, it explains the ways in which Gen Y is more open than previous generations; a result of being exposed to different types of people through media and pop culture. It’s the type of song that makes you want to forget about your troubles, wrap yourself in an American flag and tell off anyone who criticizes your generation for being obsessed with technology.
The positivity of “New Americana” is brought down once again by “Drive:” a smooth and slow track, employing sounds you might hear on an actual drive, pulling the listener in and bringing the story to life. On “Drive” and the subsequent track “Hurricane,” Halsey truly begins to take notice of the dysfunctional relationships she’s drawn to and warns her partner of her self-destructiveness. Here, Halsey begins to show contempt for the badlands she’s in and longs to leave. She manages to do just that with “Roman Holiday,” a light and happy track in which she and her lover escape the badlands and embark on an adventure. “Roman Holiday” is Halsey at her happiest and is the turning point of the album. She has left the badlands with no intention of returning.
To finish off the story, the following “Chapters,” explains her decision to finally let go of the flawed relationships she has held on to and assert her control and independence. As she croons her final lyric, the listener is left with a sense of peace, knowing that she has managed to escape.
Badlands is everything a concept album should be. It brilliantly traces the ups and downs of the singer’s life and relationships, creating a clear picture in the listener’s head without boring her with repetition. It is, in essence, an audial movie. Halsey’s novel use of synth and electric noise distinguish her among her contemporaries.
You would think an album dealing with so many heavy and disturbing topics would be depressing. However, the catchy choruses and addicting hooks save Badlands from being too melancholy. Instead, Badlands is the type of album that makes you want to drive down an empty road late at night with your windows down, singing at the top of your lungs. Halsey, it is clear, is determined to carve out her own space in the pop arena — and she has succeeded in doing just this. So, if you’re reading this, take a trip through the Badlands. You won’t regret it.