Halsey embraces the intensity of motherhood in fourth studio album

Halsey wears a tunic and sequin dress while gazing at the camera. She stands in the MET Museum.
Halsey’s album art portrays her as both Madonna and The Whore. (Photo courtesy of Capitol Records)

Since 2014’s teenage-grunge Tumblr era, Halsey has been releasing albums that emanate the loneliness of growing up in today’s young generation. Her BADLANDS’ track “New Americana” explored dependency on “cigarettes and tiny liquor bottles” while her more recent hit “Walls Could Talk” reminisces toxic love and everlasting youth. 

Halsey’s newest album, “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,” employs emotive lyricism to stab at loneliness and emotional struggle –– this time in an entirely new way. The album is released alongside an IMAX film produced by Trent Rozner and Atticus Ross, known for their production of “Nine Inch Nails.” 

Reznor and Ross’s unique production, characterized by sirens to screams, fill the EP with texture and layers. Their work co-writing each song and creating such a serious project compliments Halsey’s growth as a songwriter while pushing her vocally out of the traditional pop atmosphere.

“If I Can’t Have Love” has no singles or features, instead focusing on creating an eerily emotional space emphasizing “the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth.” The album’s cover art, featuring Halsey in a Schiaparelli dress while breastfeeding, conveys Halsey’s sentiments surrounding her relationship with her body during this period of her life. The art was unveiled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the dress was designed by ​​Daniel Roseberry. The gown’s luxe sequin bodice and silk wrap skirt are central to Halsey’s effort to communicate the oneness of her sexuality and identity as a mother.

“The idea that me as a sexual being and my body as a vessel and gift to my child are two concepts that can co-exist peacefully and powerfully,” Halsey said in an Instagram post.

The contents of the album itself carry the grand gestures to loneliness and emotional struggle we have seen previously from Halsey. Her opening track, “The Tradition,” is made up of slow distant piano, melodic tunes and odes to a lonely girl whose “fear will eat her alive.” By the third track, there is already a major shift present. “Easier than Lying” reverberates around the room with intense guitar chords, yelling and heavy drum beats which change the song’s energy entirely. This EP uses an infusion of different genre elements – from icy gothic tones to heavier rock elements, the album’s dark production and hard tone shifts illustrate the turbulence of emotions that accompany pregnancy. 

Tracks “Lilith” and “honey” maintain the electric pop-elements of some of Halsey’s earlier work. “honey,” an ode to a previous love, features precise and funny lyrics set against an empowering drum beat. 

“But she’s hell in a basket, just makin’ a racket / I love every second, it’s fuckin’ fantastic,” Halsey sings, yearning for the thrill of her old lover with these lyrics. The track’s formula draws upon the elements of earlier hit pop tracks like “New Americana” and “Colors.”

The entirety of their EP touches on universal themes of love, despair, power and the complications of how one views oneself — allowing this album to enter new territories beyond Halsey’s former angsty teenage ballads.

“Sabotage the things you love the most,” Halsey says in “Whispers.” “Camouflage so you can feed the lie that you’re composed.”

Her lyrics reflect human tendencies of self-sabotage and hiding personal struggle. On the other hand, her work on “I am not a woman, I’m a god” results in an anthem marked by the duality of both self-love and self-worship. In one chorus, they reference themself to be a “God,” “problem,” and “fraud”, bringing light to the common tendency to simultaneously love and hate parts of one’s nature.

It is no doubt that the versatility of the album has allowed Halsey to trek down new paths beyond traditional pop. Although each single provides interesting depth, the highlight of their musical transition can be seen in “Girl is a Gun,” which heavily pulls on guitar, drum, pop-punk and throwback-rock elements to create a skittering uniqueness that preaches power and independence. 

As Halsey jumps between love, hate and confusion, one thing is for sure –– she has created an emotional space in which listeners can feel less alone in their personal struggle. They may not have provided the secrets to managing pregnancy or the internal duality of love and hatred, but by processing their own trials and tribulations surrounding love and motherhood, they fill the album with power and understanding. The final track, “Ya’aburnee,” brings closure to both the album and listener as Halsey melodically sings of finding immortality through a child’s love. 

“You know I swear I’d give you anything,” she sings to her one-month-old child Ender Aydin. “And I think we could live forever / In each other’s faces ‘cause I’ll / Always see my youth in you.”