If you can say anything about Halsey, aka New Jersey native Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, it’s that they have a clear-eyed artistic vision, and it colors absolutely everything they do. Few pop stars have been so effective at pushing boundaries, (rightly) calling BS, and being the change they wish to see in every corner of the music industry, on social media, and even in their own lives.
Over the course of four albums, starting with 2015’s BADLANDS and leading up to 2021’s monumental If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, Halsey (who goes by she/they pronouns) has worked with an ambitious spectrum of artists from all over the genre map and pushed the limits of how audiences perceive pop music. And all the while, the hits just keep on coming.
From hopping on K-pop collabs (“Boy With Luv”) to causing the critic community to salivate over their latest album, the high-concept If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, Halsey has accomplished more in the last decade than most artists their age – and far older. In case you need a primer on Halsey’s expansive – and growing – catalog, here’s a helpful breakdown of the best Halsey songs.
(Boy With Luv, Be Kind, Forget Me Too, Him & I, Closer)
In addition to being a chart-topping performer all on their own, Halsey has quite a reputation for recording successful collabs with a genre-crossing spectrum of fellow artists. One recent smash has K-pop kings BTS joining forces with Halsey for “Boy With Luv,” which was featured on the band’s 2019 album, MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA. Singing with the septet, Halsey’s breathy vocals fit seamlessly into the mix, and together the group forges an instant pop classic for the ages.
Elsewhere, in 2020 Halsey teamed up with DJ kingpin Marshmello for the epic EDM banger “Be Kind,” which finds the singer calling for trust and vulnerability in a partnership. And speaking of EDM, one of Halsey’s most famous collaborations has to be their guest spot on The Chainsmokers’ 2016 chart-topper “Closer.” Clicking into gear with finger-snaps and rhythmic synths, “Closer” stands out for its crisp vocal duets, not to mention that ultra-satisfying drop.
Finally, Halsey shows up on rapper G-Eazy’s 2017 hit “Him & I” – a Bonnie & Clyde-inspired tune inspired by the duo’s onetime coupledom (they split the following year). More recently, Halsey skewed punk with Machine Gun Kelly on the high-energy ballad “Forget Me Too.”
Based on the above rundown, Halsey’s ability to hop on just about any track — of practically any genre – says so much about their versatility as a pop artist.
(Girl Is A Gun, You Asked For This, I Am Not A Woman, I’m A God, Bells In Santa Fe, Easier Than Lying)
If you’re just reading up on Halsey, one thing to know is that their latest album, 2021’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, is practically in a league of its own.
A highly complex, conceptual album, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is first and foremost a rumination on motherhood and childbirth. Sonically, Halsey teams up with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who give the entire album a gothic, industrial punch. Lead single “I Am Not A Woman, I’m A God” finds Halsey thinking about all of the societal standards that are imposed on pregnant people, typically breaking women down into oversimplified Madonna-whore archetypes (“I am not a woman, I’m a god/ I am not a martyr, I’m a problem/ I am not a legend, I’m a fraud”).
Meanwhile, on the skittering “Girl Is A Gun,” Halsey considers what their power looks like minus a partner and kids (“No, I’m not your daydream / I won’t have your baby / Stop ‘cause you’re killing my vibe”). Follow-up “You Asked For This,” pulls back with a vulnerable Halsey acting fearful about becoming a mother when they still feel like a child themselves (“You know I’m still somebody’s daughter, see / I spilled the milk you left for me). The theme of fear shows up once again on the dissonant, orchestral “Bells In Santa Fe,” which contains brutal lyrics about Halsey’s previous miscarriages (“Don’t call me by my name / All of this is temporary”).
Later, “Bells In Santa Fe” seamlessly transitions to the thrashing “Easier Than Lying”: a chaotic earworm recalling 00s pop-punk leaders like Avril Lavigne and Paramore.
(New Americana, Ghost, Gasoline, Bad At Love, Strange Love)
Among the music tastemakers out there, Halsey stands out as one of the most unapologetically herself, totally unafraid to speak their mind. A rebellious streak runs through Halsey’s catalog, whether they’re mocking the status quo (“New Americana”) or self-flagellating at their perceived inability to be in a relationship.
Let’s go back to the start of Halsey’s career with a look at one of their breakthrough singles: “New Americana,” from studio debut BADLANDS, is a satirical observation of counterculture gone mainstream (“We are the new Americana / High on legal marijuana / Raised on Biggie and Nirvana”). Sidebar: When “New Americana” dropped in 2014, audiences took it at face value – how’s that for irony? – to such an extent that a frustrated Halsey doesn’t play it live anymore.
Also on BADLANDS is the yearning “Ghost,” an early-career ballad that, after bubbling up on SoundCloud, earned Halsey major-label attention. Thematically, “Ghost” is a vulnerable song about an emotionally unavailable lover Halsey knows they shouldn’t want to be with, but they can’t help but admit: “I don’t like them innocent, I don’t want no face fresh / Want them wearing leather, begging, let me be your taste test / I like the sad eyes, bad guys, mouth full of white lies.” Girl, join the club.
Then there’s the midtempo “Gasoline,” where Halsey is struggling with feeling out of place among the glitterati (“Are you deranged like me? Are you strange like me? Lighting matches just to swallow up the flame like me?”).
The equally brooding, R&B anthem “Bad At Love” – from 2017’s hopeless fountain kingdom – is a bittersweet track where Halsey grapples with their spotty romantic history. “Look, I don’t mean to frustrate, but I / Always make the same mistakes,” they sigh.
Zooming up in their catalog a bit, there’s the all-caps “I HATE EVERYBODY,” which faces down Halsey’s inner demons. “I know I’ve got a tendency / To exaggerate what I’m seein’ / And I know that it’s unfair on me / To make a memory / Out of a feelin’,” they admit.
Emotionally Raw Love Ballads
(Now Or Never, Without Me, Honey, Darling, Finally // Beautiful Stranger)
Despite their perceived romantic flaws, Halsey remains the master of writing a desperately raw love song. The grooving “Now Or Never,” which shows up on hopeless fountain kingdom, professes their feelings with no hesitation, as Halsey croons: “Baby I done, done enough talking / Need to know that you’re mine.”
Elsewhere, the Justin Timberlake / “Cry Me A River”-inspired “Without Me,” appearing on Manic, is technically a break-up anthem. Still, its chest-bursting lyrics are a snapshot of Halsey’s singular ability to emote. “I said I’d catch you if you fall,” they promise. “And if they laugh, then f*ck ’em all (all) / And then I got you off your knees / Put you right back on your feet.”
It makes sense Halsey’s latest album would contain some of the most stunning love songs they’ve ever written. Synth-pop jam “Honey,” for starters,” is a celebration of queerness, utilizing “she” pronouns, thus openly acknowledging Halsey’s bisexuality. Also on If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is the minimalist “Darling,” a stripped-down melody about finding a profound kind of love.
Equally romantic is Manic’s “Finally // Beautiful Stranger,” a slow dance comprising twanging guitar and a soft, mid-tempo beat. Lyrically evoking the 1999 Madonna tune, Halsey sings about a “beautiful stranger” with hips like Jagger and two left feet: “Here you are in my arms / But I think it’s finally, finally, finally, finally, finally safe / For me to fall.”
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