By Maja Metera
The world gets darker than we all would like to admit. It is full of tragedy, broken hearts, self-hatred and sickness. Mania is one of two phases of bipolar personality disorder which is also known as manic depression. This album is the first in Halsey’s career that she, suffering from that disease, has ever written manic. It is one written “By Ashley for Halsey” – thus without hiding. She invites her fans into her life and mind for them to “see how it feels”.
As the artist said in Halsey Presents Manic for Spotify:
“There is an ancient saying that you have three faces. The first one you broadcast to the world, the second you show to closest to you, the last one you never show to anyone. The first is Halsey. The second is Ashley. But there is a third one that exists in the crack between them. It is the most carnal, uninhibited, explicit flash of colour and light that hides inside my chest. I’m Halsey, Ashley and I offer you a glimpse of that third face.”
Halsey (Ashley Nicolette Frangipane) let us to know herself in very rebel-angry form. So far, she has created two concept albums. First of them, Bandlands (2015), is based in the alternated version of our reality that is full of energised and rebellious youth “high on legal marihuana”. Second one, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (2017), is a twist on the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Halsey presents herself as a trouble-making Romeo who cannot be trusted with Juliet’s heart. She has always hid behind the mask of a character – be it a role played for the sake of the album or Halsey. Manic (2020) is nothing of such sort.
The CD starts with Ashley and clementine – two odes to the past. She is “committed to an old ghost town” as she used to see in the mirror only a stoner girl who made it. A girl who has built her stage personality based on Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a character so “proud and liberated in her own weirdness”. But Halsey’s unapologetic, manic self cannot be contained in those frames. She sings about the state of being single, coming back to the old love because she feels so lonely that it is better to go back to the pain than carry on alone. That special someone used to help her so much. Even if it hurts, she follows them blindly to the graveyard – and Ashley’s mum once said that relationships should not make you nervous or desperate – that butterflies are actually warning signs.
Halsey goes through the stages of grief. From prior denial, with the intro to the fourth song – You should be sad – comes restrained anger at the ungrateful partners who are so full of themselves that they do not see anything beside the tips of their own noses. She is proud of herself for surviving the toxic relationship “without breaking down”. Then, in Forever … (is a long time), she realises she has been doing everything to not only fix the partner but also the relationship while knowing it will be fruitless and sabotaging to her happiness. She blames herself – as in Sorry from Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – for not being a perfect match. Melody and the last verse flow smoothly into the next song.
Two interludes included on the album represent two different types of love. Dominic Fike sings about brotherly love and help that can be asked by loved ones for when in need. Because everyone in toxic relationships – or ones coming to an end – is subconsciously aware of it and should trust their gut feeling as “there’s power in the words they’re thinkin’ “. Whereas Alanis Morrisette participated in the queer anthem of Manic era. It includes the bisexual punchline of this album – changed lyrics of a “straight love song” written by Halsey’s friend John Mayer, Your body is a wonderland.
“Alanis represents sexual and professional empowerment. In case you missed any of the subtext on my last albums, I’m bi. And I wanted this song to be very queer. Who better to do it with than Alanis, who’s one of the women who helped me feel comfortable with my sexuality as a young person?” (Halsey for Apple Music).
Then comes the realisation that this all should be about relationships with oneself. The partnership ends but she wants to be with somebody so desperately she falls for anyone creating her own image of them, begging them to like her back. She spirals down the hole of relying on people for self-esteem and not sitting alone with her own thoughts.
What is unique about the tracks on this album is that they cover a range of topics. From one-sided relationships, through fans’ expectations to serious illness. Halsey is not only bipolar but also suffers from endometriosis which in the past has led to miscarriages and an improbability of her ever giving birth. More is a love song to someone who had never been born. It incorporates the sounds of a child’s musical box and a sonogram. Artist said that this is “one of the most special songs she’s ever made”.
929 is Ashley’s reflection on norms and expectations. She starts the CD with revealing what is under the mask of Halsey and ends it with freestyling the truth about her life and that a huge part of it is a lie. Throughout the album, she reminds her fans that we should not “assign her our own peace of mind”.
Halsey fulfilled her promise that this album will not be anything that anyone could have expected. It is a powerful mix of styles and genres that gives strength to everyone struggling after break-up and much more. Halsey put herself in the role of a guide through a path to self-acceptance. For example, Still learning asks a question – how others are supposed to fall in love with you, if you do not love yourself? Because after all – life is what we made of it and we should not rely on the world to make us happy.