Touring the US and slowly developing a goldmine of devoted fans, thanks to her emotive songwriting and fresh sonic identity as a modern-day songstress, as well as rocking some arrestingly bright turquoise hair to boot, Halsey may not be a household just yet, but with her brand of wrenching, catchy songs, she’s well on her way to true success.
Badlands works as an album for the most part because of its sonic consistency — while there are a dozen or so producers on the album, they manage to keep to a cohesive sound, one that edges more into melancholy than joy; album opener ‘Castle’ is a perfect example of this, interplaying lyrics that are darkly triumphant with pounding beats, to create a song that isn’t a ‘hit’ per se, but more than lays out the template for Halsey’s body of work to date.
The hits, however unusual and offbeat they may be, are plentiful here; on the anthemic ‘Colours’ she delivers the newly-iconic lines ‘You were red and you liked me ’cause I was blue/You touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky/And you decided purple just wasn’t for you’, describing the way that we all imprint onto each other through relationships; sinister album standout ‘Gasoline’ is a glitchy, catchy tune that transforms questions about sanity, addiction, and self-esteem into robotically sinister commands, while ‘Drive’ is an alternative jam that will end up shouted out at sold-out shows across America.
Halsey channels her inner demons on tracks like the commanding ‘Control’ which demands that she is ‘bigger than my body’, conjuring up images of a goddess, while on the sonically upbeat ‘Roman Holiday’ she deals with a serious case of Schadenfreude. In this, she’s adapting the molds of the artists who came before her — she’s not Lana Del Rey, trading in the glossy hip-hop nostalgia of Del Rey in for more modern views, nor is she an artist like Marina & The Diamonds who is more of a conventional pop star than Halsey seems to want to be.
This might be best summarised in the album’s true anthem, ‘New Americana,’ as close to a mainstream alternative-pop hit that Halsey might have right now. In it, she name-drops her influencers The Notorious B.I.G. and Nirvana, celebrates LGBT marriage, and raises proceedings to torch song levels with a chorus that speaks about the new generation being ‘high on legal marijuana’. Halsey may not float everyone else’s boat, but while she continues to strike at her target fanbase, the ‘new generation’ (or as she dubs it, ‘new Americana’) with powerful songs effulgent with emotion, then she can rest assured she has a colourful future ahead of her, turquoise hair and all.