Singer-songwriter Halsey released her debut album, Badlands, August 28. This album features songs from her EP Room 93 as well as many new ones, and fans everywhere were eager to hear her original songs for the first time.
Upon hearing the entire album for the first time, I was in love. Sure, I’d heard the songs from her EP dozens of times before, but combined with the new ones and put all together, it was a whole new world. The ‘Badlands’ are a fictional place Halsey created, the place where her singer persona lives and experiences everything she goes through in her songs. Unhealthy relationships, pretty rich kids with bloodstained knuckles, a young girl who is repeatedly taken advantage of by herself and by her lovers. Her songs compile a story in which she is the protagonist, trying to take control of her life and the world around her.
Though I loved Badlands, it’s not an easy album to listen to. When it comes to Halsey, there is nothing light or digestible. As an artist, she’s unapologetic, direct, and truthful, and the contents of Badlands are no different. The Badlands are seen and heard to be a terrifying, grimy, dark place, not the most welcoming vacation getaway. Even the words, “Those are the Badlands. We don’t go there,” leaked before the album was released set the mood for a creepy, uninviting setting.
Though Halsey technically falls into the indie-pop category, the songs featured on Badlands are dark, dangerous, and almost the stuff of nightmares. But when sung in Halsey’s sugar-sweet voice, they are made more eerie than ever, and leave you with the urge to look over your shoulder every couple of seconds.
One of the main reasons why I love Halsey and her music is because of how unafraid she is. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, doesn’t leave out any of the unappetizing parts. Some of her songs will make you want to lie down and process the world for a while, while others will have you screaming the lyrics out of the car window.
The first track on the album is Castle. It opens with an eerie chiming sound, followed by almost an industrial noise, setting the scene in the Badlands.The lyrics tell us how sick of the Badlands Halsey is, how she longs to leave and take control of her life, but there’s no use crying about it since the Badlands are inescapable.
The following two tracks are Hold Me Down and New Americana, both of which were previously released before the rest of the album. Whereas Hold Me Down tells the tale of an unhealthy relationship and trying to conquer inner demons, New Americana follows a group of teenagers living through twisted dreams and cheap success, ‘survival of the richest’ and a new generation of rebellion.
Drive has a road-trippy vibe, showing Halsey’s desire to escape the Badlands, how it’s never been a home to her. Hurricane is another form of truthfulness on the album. It tells the listeners that Halsey can see herself for what she truly is, a storm, the good and the bad in her despite the Badlands’ twisted reality. Roman Holiday tells us of Halsey’s longing to escape the Badlands with someone else, heading for a new place where the sun shines. A “Roman Holiday” is when someone gains satisfaction from a negative event, and in the lyric “Let’s get away on a Roman Holiday,” it is implied that something bad has happened in the Badlands, and Halsey needs to get away from it.
Ghost, another previously released single, hints at Halsey’s struggle to find someone who can commit to a relationship. Colors and Colors Pt. 2 are the turning point of the album, a time when she is contrasting the oppressiveness of the Badlands and the freedom of the outside world, how the Badlands wipe away all emotion. In Colors Pt. 2 you can hear a gate opening, representing that she’s finally leaving the Badlands, finally starting a new life—or so we think.
The next track, Strange Love, exhibits Halsey experiencing her newfound freedom away from the Badlands. Expected from Halsey, it’s rough and dark. Coming Down connects religion to love, showing the highs of a healthy relationship. Haunting contrasts the previous song by showing Halsey’s desperateness for someone in her life, even if it means they’re haunting her. One of the most truthful, deep songs on the album is Gasoline. It tells us that even though Halsey has now left the Badlands behind, her new life isn’t paradise either. It challenges the way media and society have impacts on our lives; it represents that she is aware of everything happening around her since becoming famous, the pressure and the false images. It forces us to think of what society is becoming, something Halsey is not naive to. In the lyrics, “You are not a human being, with your face all made up, living on a screen,” we see how toxic the real world can be, forcing us into thinking things that aren’t necessarily true.
Control is one of the most interesting, complex songs on the album. Halsey is in a castle of some sorts, empty except for herself. She was ‘sent away’ there, and feels trapped and isolated, both within her body and within the home. She is trying to take control of both of these obstacles, telling herself she’s meaner than her demons, trying to find comfort in the loneliness. She transforms herself into a cold hearted, ruthless being, an inevitable result of all that’s happened to her so far, and now, at last, she has control.
Young God shows us how Halsey has finally, at last found a relationship worth fighting for, the desire she has to keep it. With the lyrics “the two of us are just young gods” we feel Halsey’s urge to be somehow larger than life itself. The album closes with I Walk the Line, a brash and sultry cover of one of Johnny Cash’s most famous songs. With the soft, acoustic, sweet-sounding piano as the background music rather than the sharp and dangerous backtracks to all her other songs, we feel a happy ending and a sort of contentment. Ending with, “because you’re mine, I walk the line,” a sense of victory is shaped. She can be who she is without fear of the Badlands over her shoulder at any given moment. It is freedom, it is finally having escaped the Badlands and all the demons and nightmares that went along with it. She’s learned from her experiences, and it’s shaped her into a new person, a person without villains in her head. It’s easier to be herself now, to live happily.
To me, and hopefully all other listeners, Badlands is more than just an album. It is a story, a journey through Halsey’s life, including the good and all of the bad. It’s evident that Halsey incorporated everything she had into the album; her mental state, her relationships, her religion. Typical of her, she didn’t leave out anything, and stayed raw and honest throughout the whole thing. I loved this album and will continue to worship it, but it is most definitely not for the easily spooked.