On Manic, Halsey chases happiness through chaos
Halsey once called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the first film she ever loved. So it’s no surprise she samples dialogue from the movie’s manic pixie dream girl Clementine (Kate Winslet) on “Ashley,” the first track off the pop star’s cinematic new album Manic: “I’m just a f—d up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind.” That line sums up the record’s ethos — one where Halsey, as Ashley Frangipane, searches for joy in a world of chaos, fame, and heartbreak.
Unlike her sophomore record Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which embodied a dystopian Romeo and Juliet theme, Manic operates like the inside of Halsey’s subconscious. With her third album, the 25-year-old New Jersey native continues to be her own harshest critic. The ethereal piano track “Forever… (is a long time)” recalls the warnings of songs like “Sorry” or “Bad At Love” where she places blame on herself for doomed romance (“Cause I could never hold a perfect thing and not demolish it”). Her internal battles remain on the aspirational self-love anthem “Still learning” and “I Hate Everybody,” where she dubs herself her “own biggest enemy.” (Later she claims she’s “the worst of my enemies” on “3am.”)
Halsey toys with cinema yet again on “Finally // Beautiful Stranger,” where she has her own A Star Is Born moment, crooning like Ally to Jackson Maine (the accompanying music video, where she portrays a lovelorn club singer, further does the convincing). And fans of 2009 horror comedy Jennifer’s Body will be pleasantly surprised at a sampling of dialogue from the film on “Killing Boys,” as Halsey fantasizes about seeking vengeance against the men who have wronged her.
Through a smattering of electro-pop, sparkly ballads, hip-hop, twang, and ‘90s alt rock, no genre on Manic is off limits. Halsey’s appearance at the 2019 CMAs was a nice bit of foreshadowing for “You Should Be Sad,” a standout country banger and companion track to “Without Me,” where she recalls the broken dreams of a failed romance and future cut short.Manic also reveals Halsey as a master curator, with interludes featuring rapper Dominic Fike and BTS’s SUGA. Later, she duets with Alanis Morissette, as the two put a playful twist on John Mayer’s “Your Body Is A Wonderland” by moaning, “Your pussy is a wonderland.” Together, they give listeners a sequel to the bisexual anthem “Strangers.”
In the last six years, Halsey has risen from aspiring singer-songwriter to one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Manic reveals the toll it can all take. “I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met/ But forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed,” she says over twinkling chords on final track “929,” a nod to her growing fame and diehard fanbase.
Still, there are glimmers of hope in between the lines: “I’ve loved you for all of my life/ And nothing could stop me from giving a try.” As defeated as Halsey can find herself, there’s always a flicker of optimism that keeps her from falling too deeply into her heady thoughts. Over 16 tracks, Manic is a chaotic amalgamation of self-analysis, rage, depression, ecstasy, and growth that sees its creator managing the messiness of fame while trying to stay true to herself. We’re just along for the ride. B+