LIZ FOSTER ’22
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power shows Halsey, née Ashley Frangipane, reaching her full potential in a tight thirteen track nod to love, sexuality, and the “joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth.” The album follows the birth of the artist’s first-born child Ender, an impressive effort given that both IICHLIWP and its accompanying movie of the same title were all filmed in the past year. Sans features, Halsey’s fourth studio earns her an appropriate addition to the pop-rock genre with a helping hand from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power follows a minimalistic promotional release with no radio singles or any major hints besides trailers for its homonymous film.
Describing the album as the one they “have always wanted to make, but never believed I was cool enough,” Halsey embraces the alternative tri-state area pop punk and alt-rock that raised her. With “Brand New” and “Taking Back Sunday” as consistent references among Halsey’s inspirations, an edgier release in her discography was imminent. “Bells in Sante Fe,” one of the strongest tracks on IICHLIWP, directly nods its head to Brand New’s song “Jesus Christ” with its second verse: “Jesus needed a three-day weekend to sort out all of his bullshit.” In the same melancholic style as “Ashley” off of 2020’s Manic, “Bells” favors haunting melodies and introspection with an added electro-industrial twist.
After releasing “Nightmare” in 2019, a particularly timely song when contextualized among the tangible threats against Roe v. Wade that grew throughout that summer, Halsey was showed her prowess as an off-the-cuff performer. The track marked Halsey’s first step away from the more traditional indie-pop genre. Their debut Badlands, released six years prior, was catalogued under the “alternative” genre and subsequently faced criticism for such; on IICHLIWP, there’s no such ambiguity. Tracks like “You asked for this,” a grimy ballad about the feminine plight, and “Easier than Lying,” a distinct and quick-favorite of the albums, are filled with heavy guitars and vocals more fit for Warped Tour than Coachella—and this package works perfectly.
“Girl is a Gun” similarly grinds its gears in a deliciously horrifying threat: “This girl is a gun, before you know it, it’s done.” Halsey has consistently showcased a struggle to balance self-obsession, self-sacrifice, and selfishness, particularly in the landscape of relationships. “I just fuck things up if you noticed/Have you noticed? Tell me, have you noticed?” she drones on the minimalistic, jammy “Lilith.” Since 2014, Halsey has sung that she is “Bad at Love”—bluntly saying so in 2016’s hopeless fountain kingdom. More than ever, this duality is apparent on IICHLIWP.
In 2015, Halsey’s Instagram bio read “i sing about sex and being sad. i will never be anything but honest.” Ever since, she has promised raw authenticity. Sometimes this honesty dawdled in the medium of more mainstream pop sounds, like “Now or Never” or the wildly successful “Without Me,” lack the sparklier qualities of the singer’s earliest works. However, Halsey’s songwriting skills have consistently earned her praise, at a mere twenty-two years old, she became a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
From the persona se7enteenblack to the popstar Halsey, IICHLIWP gifts us the rawest version of Ashley Frangipane that we’ve seen yet. No longer coding her words in wide-reaching metaphors, Halsey conjures vivid images, painting vocal landscapes while weaving in the exceptional work by Reznor and Ross. “The Lighthouse” is a masterful tale of a girl turned siren leading men to their deaths with her prowess; “honey” is an homage to a girl that Halsey gleefully sings is “mean and she’s mine.” With lyrics describing the relationship as “she was sweet like honey/But all I can taste is the blood in my mouth and the bitterness in goodbye,” we know it’s doomed from the start. The song is equal parts charming and sad but carries fanatic energy over its traditionalist pop punk instrumentals.
Halsey’s always been a star; whether as a Tumblr micro celebrity with a first LP that debuted at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, a multi-platinum artist, or the deeply complex person she’s put on display to the public. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is a perfectly performed exercise in the synthesis of technicality and personality that earns Halsey the proper title of rockstar.