As Halsey’s charged pop-rock anthem ‘Nightmare’ – the first single from an upcoming third studio album – climbs up the charts, it’s time to see the singer as never before.
“I don’t care so much about the way the world revolves around me, as much as the way it revolves in general”, Halsey told Ryan Seacrest whilst promoting ‘Nightmare’ last week. That’s evident as the angsty track sees Halsey retort, “no I won’t smile, but I’ll show you my teeth […] I don’t owe you a goddamn thing”. A track needed more than ever in 2019’s current social climate, the music video is a feminist empowerment clip aimed at society.
Now 24-years-old, Halsey’s songwriting has evolved over time. At 19-years-old, she released debut record Badlands. Set in a secluded post-apocalyptic city, it’s a world the singer created to escape the very world she snarls at on ‘Nightmare’. Two years later, sophomore record hopeless fountain kingdom arrived. Again, Halsey looked for a different space to make music in. This time, she inserted herself into Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet remake. Even debut EP, Room 93, saw Halsey’s music ducking in and out of hotel rooms.
In every way, those two albums were concept records (and perhaps the most exemplary examples of the idea from the past decade). Now, fans are hearing a different Halsey. For the first time in her career (2018’s one-off release ‘Without Me’ aside), ‘Nightmare’ sees Halsey sing as Halsey.
That’s not to take anything anyway from the authenticity of Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom. Records that burst out of music to take form in cinema, in theatre, in interactive experiences for fans – it’s Halsey’s unparalleled ability to bring worlds to life that has defined her career.
Back in 2015, she told Zane Lowe on Beats 1 that, “I can’t write any other way”, as she prepared for the release of Badlands. Clearly, four years later with two coming-of-age records under her belt, Halsey has grown to have a powerful voice and aged opinions of her own that, as she pens album number three, are about to reach fans without being told through a concept.
By no means were Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom not Halsey’s own voice. Those albums were the youngster’s adolescent tales, just shapeshifting into different storylines. In the same Beats 1 interview, she nervously admitted, “I’m about to put out a record that is a better reflection of me than I could ever possibly articulate”. Badlands is a debut record that stories Halsey cutting her teeth in seedy areas of New York, from the “bathroom sink” of ‘Strange Love’ to the “city pool” of ‘Roman Holiday” to the “boy behind bricks” in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn – all whilst “searching for something that I can’t reach”, as she opens on viral-breakthrough track ‘Ghost’. It’s Halsey’s unique New York teenage story, unfolding in the Badlands.
Worldwide success later and settling in to write the difficult sophomore album, Halsey realised not too much had changed from the searching girl at the centre of Badlands years before. When talking on the Zach Sang show in October last year, Sang asked” “hopeless fountain kingdom, when writing that, who were you?” Halsey instantly responded: “I didn’t know.”
When hopeless fountain kingdom came out, Halsey sat down with Zane Lowe again. She talked of obsessing over Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet before a eureka realisation: “That’s why I was so obsessed with the film. I felt like I was living it.” Recording part of the record whilst in the midst of a break-up with longtime producer Lido, it was a blow-up of two lovers not meant to be (see the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo & Juliet). This time she used Romeo & Juliet as “this hyperbolised smash-cut fantasy, Halsey cinematic universe, interpretation of this very normal relationship I went through”. The fight scene of ‘Now or Never’, the seething Quavo verse on ‘Lie’ and the rebirth of ‘Devil In Me’ had Halsey again telling her story through melodramatic metaphors – “it wasn’t me, it was Luna,” she admitted to Lowe.
“The universe does this thing where if you don’t learn a lesson the first time, it makes you learn it again, which is why I’m still writing about the same things”, Halsey joked to Zach Sang while promoting the breakup lyrics of ‘Without Me’. This time, however, Halsey was talking of music that was her own story, told at face value.
Now, with ‘Nightmare’ opening the artist’s third album era, it seems she’s understood what the universe was teaching her. As she sings, “I keep a record of the wreckage of my life”, it’s a nod to the finding-herself catalog of tracks from the past. “Writing this album has been a lesson in forgiving myself”, she wrote on Twitter.
“In being proud of myself and kind to myself despite how much this world is designed to make you hate yourself. I hope when it’s finally in your hands it brings you that same peace. It’s not a quiet peace. It’s a loud one.” Halsey seems prepared to lay down those award-winning concepts that she’d crammed her life into. ‘Nightmare’ draws on those cycles, its grit the same as the outspoken 19 and 21-year-old, Halsey is just using her voice like never before.
With interactive teasers during the single’s run-up and hidden easter eggs in the music video (or so fans on Reddit would have you believe), Halsey’s third album looks set to come to life in her trademark way just like all the others. The content, however, fans can expect to be like never before, tackling the issues she has always publicised on her social media and sharing the beliefs that endear her so much to her “frequency” of a fandom.
‘Nightmare’ is the start of a Halsey era like no other.
Are you excited for Halsey’s third studio album? Have you listened to ‘Nightmare’? Let us know @CelebMix on Twitter.