The past year has been a rocket ride for singer/songwriter Ashley Frangipane, aka Halsey.
Prior to the release of her full-length debut, Badlands, she had been building a buzz on YouTube and SoundCloud and toured with The Kooks. She then landed a deal with famed electronic label Astralwerks, made a big splash at SXSW, and embarked on tours with Young Rising Sons and Imagine Dragons. Through it all, Badlands remained Halsey’s strongest statement, and became one of the year’s most popular records.
Released in August, Halsey categorized Badlands as a concept record of sorts. The premise of self-identity weighs heavily throughout the album, and the songs live within the landscape of a fictional dystopian society surrounded by a desert wasteland.
Halsey’s vulnerability and on-point personal, oftentimes blunt, narrative serves to make the album endearing
The album’s character has Halsey examining her mental state and loneliness amid the rough terrain of survivalism, and she ultimately finds a road of optimism through self-reflection.
Produced by Norwegian hip-hop artist, Lido, Badlands is filled with downtempo swaths of electronic sound waves and droning percussion. It’s a heavy and desperate sound, but one that provides a perfect bed for Halsey’s intimate lyrics and powerful voice. This aided Badlands in striking a chord with listeners and it’s easy to see why — Halsey’s vulnerability and on-point personal, oftentimes blunt, narrative serves to make the album endearing.
The lead track, “Castle,” carries a pulsing beat accented by chorus-like background voices as Halsey examines her heightened level of public exposure and how the move toward stardom needs to be pursued on her terms.
The standout “New Americana” put Halsey on the map in 2015, and perhaps reluctantly made the singer the voice of her generation when she relayed what is was like to be “raised on Biggie and Nirvana.” While the song is directed to a specific generation of music fans, Halsey admitted in an interview with Rolling Stone that the song almost didn’t even make it onto to Badlands.
Halsey’s appeal extends beyond her generational observations
The single “Colors” further cements the breadth and impact of Badlands. Halsey sings about the intimate details of a troubled relationship from the standpoint of losing someone who has chosen a different path. She returns to this common trope on “Coming Home” and “Ghost.”
Halsey’s appeal extends beyond her generational observations, as none other than current pop poster boy Justin BiebertappedhertoappearonPurpose; Halsey provided backing vocals on “The Feeling” and worked as a foil to the Biebs. And when the duo performed on the Today show, it certainly raised eyebrows and Halsey’s profile in the public’s consciousness.
Cementing her image as an indie artist who is on the verge of bubbling over, Halsey continues to scrutinize her identification as a “tri-bi” (bisexual, bi-racial and bi-polar) person. Though she has since retracted this self-definition, it’s an illustration that she is still finding her footing in the rapid and hyper-sensationalized world of pop media and stardom.
Still, what Badlands offers throughout is a view of an artist in the early stages of a career that offers promise among all the chaos.
There is an unintentional dichotomy at play with Halsey and her rise. On the one hand, desperation saturates the attention showered on her and the world is cast as a desolate place. On the other, she is the one who is simultaneously feeding into the source of her struggles.
In the end, Badlands is a strong debut that showcases Halsey’s potential — and how it will be achieved on her own terms. It’s an accurate, and telling, snapshot of this young, talented and vital performer.