“We are the New Americana / High on legal marijuana / Raised on Biggie and Nirvana.”
This August, Halsey released her highly-anticipated debut album Badlands to the public. For her already large group of fans, the album has been a long time coming: ever since releasing her EP Room 93 in late 2014, Halsey has been building an impressive social media presence, resulting in an enormous and solid fan base even before her debut album released. The way she did this was by using Twitter and Instagram to frequently speak up about both social and racial issues. The twenty-one-year-old singer (who goes by the name of Ashley Frangipane in real life) identifies as “tri-bi,” biracial, bisexual and bipolar, and is not about to hide her real identity from the world: “Please don’t erase my race because I’m white passing. There is literally nothing I can do about my complexion,” she tweets.
Both in her social media messages and her song lyrics, Halsey is direct and not afraid to critique our current Zeitgeist. In “New Americana,” the first single of the album, which can be described as a powerful anthem for the post-millennial generation, she directly criticizes our society, in which “survival of the richest” is the norm. But for the New Americana, it is normal that women can be successful on their own accord (“Turned dreams into an empire / Self-made success, now she rolls with Rockefellers”) and everyone is able to love whomever they want (“Football team loved more than just a game / So he vowed to be his husband at the altar” ). In “New Americana”, Halsey also sings about her upbringing as the daughter of an African American father and an Italian American mother (“We are the New Americana / Raised on Biggie and Nirvana”). She celebrates diversity and explores the blending of conventions and cultures, both in this song and the rest of the album.
Halsey establishes her feelings towards our current society from the first Badlands song onwards. The opening track, “Castle,” is calm, collected and broody. It’s also a blatant stab at the patriarchy: “I’m headed straight for the castle / They’ve got the kingdom locked up / And there’s an old man sitting on the throne and saying I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut”. Her unflinching honesty can also be found in “Gasoline,” in which she discusses the way women are often criticized in the media. “Do the people whisper ‘bout you on the train like me? / Saying that you shouldn’t waste your pretty face like me?” and “You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being / With your face all made up, living on a screen.” Through every song on Badlands, Halsey’s attitude jumps out, making her a powerful and relatable artist who is not afraid to speak about the difficult things in life.
The sound of Badlands is a combination of Halsey’s powerful vocals and an electronic alt-pop sound. Although most songs on the album have a similar vibe, there is definitely a lot of subtle variety as well. From the atmospheric “Drive” and the haunting “Control” to the more pop-influenced “Colors” and the upbeat “Hold Me Down,” there is a song for every mood – but all still equipped with a critical message and raw honesty. Badlands is an eclectic mix of influential lyrics, ethereal melodies and some pop-influences, think a cool mix between Lorde and Lana Del Rey, with some Chvrches thrown in for good measure. Unapologetic, unfiltered and refreshing.
On February 26, 2016, Halsey will be performing in the Melkweg, Amsterdam.