In 2020, I didn’t have the energy to write about music at all, even when I really wanted to. As such, I will be posting reviews of my favorite albums of last year — approximately as the anniversary of their release approaches — to allow myself to capture what made me love them so much. Here is the first!
Manic is an apt title for Halsey’s third record. Described by the singer as “chang[ing] its mind as often as [she does]” in the lead up to its release, the album is a hodgepodge of different styles, genres, and subjects held together by the cult of personality that is Halsey — or Ashley, as she’d rather be referred to this time around. Ranging from sweet country to biting pop-punk, tragic acoustic ballads to multi-language k-pop bangers, pansexual love stories to necessary self-reflection, the singer puts pen to paper on everything she’s experienced since her career took off with 2014’s “Ghost,” with most attempts exceeding expectations.
Breaking up her musical soliloquy with several interludes that foreground other musicians, Halsey briefly opens up the album to outside perspectives. Dominic Fike provides emotional support for the singer in the midst of a breakup on “Dominic’s Interlude,” Alanis Morissette makes a plea for LGBTQIA+ love on “Alanis’ Interlude,” and SUGA of k-pop group BTS helps our protagonist grapple with her discontentment with the music industry on “SUGA’s Interlude.”
Though several songs of the record make mention of a broken relationship (lead single “Graveyard,” “You should be sad,” “Without Me,” “killing boys”), Manic is most concerned with the relationship Halsey has with herself. Opening track “Ashley” is as direct a callout as one can get, “clementine,” “I HATE EVERYBODY,” and “3am” are all examinations of the singer’s inability to be alone, and “Still Learning” — an Ed Sheeran co-write — posits that her celebrity has warped her self-image. But it’s “929,” the album’s winding closer, where she gets to the heart of the matter; in a three-minute stream-of-consciousness, the singer reckons with the value fans place on her, paternal issues, and realizing she wasn’t in love with a partner before declaring she’s “still looking for [her] salvation.” Halsey doesn’t claim to have any answers, but she’s trying to find them, and it’s what makes Manic so enthralling.
Standout tracks: “You should be sad,” “I HATE EVERYBODY,” “killing boys,” “929”