In her third studio album Manic, alt-pop princess Halsey works through the death, rebirth and growth of her identity as a young woman.
Halsey, whose legal name is Ashley Frangipane, has been open about her bipolar disorder diagnosis and its influence on the album. The dual nature of bipolar disorder, with its high highs and low lows, is well-represented in the album’s pleasing structure and reflected in the title of the album itself. It begins in a low place of personal exploration with “Ashley” and ends in uplifting reflection with “929.”
More specifically, “Ashley” leads with impactful lyrics that lament decisions made by her past self and the responsibility foisted onto her current self of putting the pieces back together. “Apart from my beating heart/It’s a muscle, but it’s still not strong enough to carry/The weight of the choices I’ve made” are some of the most striking lyrics in the track, expressing her desire to grow and lack of know-how to get there. Writing from a place of great pain and starting with her given name, Halsey is using her feelings of weakness and emotional inadequacy to fuel her desire to grow. The 25-year-old artist is struggling to reconcile the person she was with the person she is in order to become who she’s meant to be — but not for long.
The closing track, “929,” is a reference to both Halsey’s birthday and time, according to an audio clip included in the first few seconds of the song. From “… don’t meet your heroes, they’re all f***ing weirdos” to “And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee/And hoped that my father would finally call me,” Halsey offers advice and observations to her listeners after reconciling the Ashley of past, present and future in a way conducive to positive growth. This gives the album a coherent beginning and ending that are almost cyclical, which lends to listening on repeat and an allusion to the cycle of birth and death.
Other tracks Halsey has chosen to include are as varied as they are purposeful. She released 10 singles between this album and her last, but only four are included on Manic. This is a boon to the album’s thematic structure, where songs such as “Eastside” and “Nightmare” would have radically changed the message of self-discovery and examination by bringing in competing thematic elements such as avoiding emotions and grief. “Suga’s Interlude,” a single included on the album that is a collaboration with BTS, would have benefited from remaining a single or being paired with another BTS collaboration, “Boy with Luv.” Ultimately, its position in the album and general tone don’t quite mesh.
Conversely, the included collaborations with Alanis Morissete and Dominic Fike indicate the tonal shifts of the album, from sad and self-reflective to an indulgent middle ground and then a riot of self-love. Alanis Morissette and Halsey complement each other well on “Alanis’ Interlude,” with the richness of Morissette compensating for Halsey’s breathiness. It’s not the best example of Morissette’s iconic voice but is definitely worth hearing to experience the pairing of their wildly different voices.
The structure of Halsey’s Manic is reflective of the artist’s intense care for and devotion to her craft, and is distinct from her previous work. Mainstream enough to appeal to listeners who may have found her previous work too left-field, Manic is an honest answer to the questions raised in Hopeless Fountain Kingdom regarding how to love oneself after a breakdown: gently.
Rating: 5/5 stars