Published Jan 17, 2020Halsey, like many pop stars, has a specifically crafted persona. Her persona has evolved with each of her concept albums, from the blue-haired dystopian tumblr princess that debuted with Badlands in 2015, to the blonde pixie cut bisexual Romeo/Juliet found on 2017's Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Through her high-profile relationship with equally internet-famous rapper G-Eazy, she played into the leather, slicked-back rock star girlfriend look. It came crashing down in the public eye, and she made the shocking decision to debut her newest persona, herself: Ashley Nicolette Frangipane.
Manic is her most personal album to date. Opener "Ashley," introduces us to the person behind the personas. Immediately, she lets you know that this version isn't one that can be pinned down or simplified. "Ashley" uses vocal pitching to create distortion and chaos before introducing you to a dichotomous mentality of disliking and relishing her time in fame. These conflicting viewpoints are echoed across the album which, as the title might give away, reflects on her experiences being bipolar. "Ashley" ends with a clip from from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. "Too many guys think I'm a concept," Clementine explains in the sampled clip. Halsey cited Clementine as one of her influences in creating her appearance in a Rolling Stone spread. She pays homage to Clementine with despondent, twee rendering of the mood swings and spontaneity she is known for.
Powerful emotions that characterize a manic episode guide her actions and act as the precipice on radio-friendly hits "Graveyard" and early single " Without Me." "Graveyard" chronicles her dedication to a toxic lover, whom she was willing to follow to the end of the world. "Without Me" acts as a sequel, showing that even though she kept trying to lift them out of the grave they dug themselves, she ultimately had to choose herself. "You Should Be Sad" directly address her relationship with G-Eazy, unfolding like the kind of letter you would write in a rage and tuck into a book to forget about.
Manic features a number of interludes from Alanis Morissette, Dominic Fike and SUGA (from BTS). They don't stand out on their own, but help to provide structure and split up a rather intense album. The strength here lies in the songs buried in the second half, where she lets her anti-persona crumble. "Finally // Beautiful Stranger" is an acoustic, stripped-down confessional that explores opening up after a toxic relationship. She is melting for this person, but still has hang ups. "Dancing in my living room and up come my fists," she sings, before cloaking her feelings in bouts of sarcasm. "929" closes out the album with a reflection on her early 20s and her fame. She bounces from the moral responsibility that stems from her teenage fan base to her nameless lovers to her absent father in quick-paced spoken word. "Who am I, I am almost 25," she ponders with the kind of frenetic energy and anxiety that is characteristic of a quarter-life crisis.
The standout track on the album is the heartbreaking confessional "More". Halsey opened up about her struggles with a miscarriage and endometriosis in a moving speech at the 2018 Blossom Ball. She has also been vocal about how important motherhood is to her and how much she wants it, especially in light of these frightening experiences. It's one of those rare tracks that comes from allowing for complete vulnerability. It's haunting, heartbreaking and breathtakingly beautiful. (Capitol)