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ONTD ORIGINAL: If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power - A Layman's Review for the Halsey-Hesitant

Hello all! If you're like me you know who Halsey is mainly for their shenanigans, teenage melodramatics, avacaddies and/or bananies, and that awful song with the Chainsmokers that you can never escape (but also Nightmare which isn't bad at all). You also know who Nine Inch Nails (NIN) are and have respect for them as musicians, so when this album project If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power was announced you were intrigued. THEN you saw the visuals for it and you're obsessed with medieval/roccoco/elizabethan/gothic/whatever-I'm-not-a-historian aesthetic so your interest was violently peaked. Then you remembered who Halsey was and you were a bit apprehensive. These days I'm in the business of listening to popular artists I normally would ignore, so I figured I'd bite the bullet and listen to it so you don't have to (but can if you want).

Some notes I want to cover before I get into it:

[Disclaimers]-up until this album i've never intentionally listened to a Halsey song unless it came on the radio
-that being said i don't dislike her, i haven't canceled her in my mind or anything, i just associated her music with the most annoying people in my life (the whole manic pixie dream vibe is what i get) and find her music/lyrics to be a little contrived and bordering on cringe but as a person i think they're beautiful and seem pleasant enough
-i am a fan of rock music, i would've been in middle school or highschool when paramore was just starting to hit their stride. however i am definitely one of those fake rock fans where if some dude in a smells like teen spirit shirt were to ask me to name 5 songs i'd just twirl my hair and giggle. i am familiar with NIN but again i'm not a huge fan or anything, i just associate them with what was popular at the time of my gentle emo phase in middle school.
-in between some of my listens, posts would come up with information about the album and intent behind some of the songs. i did skim them out of curiosity but i tried not to get too far into the comments in order to avoid having my opinions influenced. My Opinions Are More Or Less My Own(TM).
-my music expertise extends to taking vocal music and composition all throughout highschool with some production courses here and there, so i have no credentials i'm just bullshitting lmao.
-i'm not trying to be mean about anything here, i'm just trying to be as clear about my feelings so people....understand how i feel i guess lol

-Basically, what I care about here is does the collaboration with NIN elevate Halsey's artistic abilities as a musician without overwhelming what makes her unique as an artist


Alright let's go! First impressions will mostly be my train of thought listening to the song the first time and final thoughts are my complete opinion after listening several times in various settings. Oh yeah and despite me linking the lyric videos here I didn't actually watch any of them so I don't know what the official lyrics are for each song.
WARNING - MEDIA HEAVY!

[Click for Reviews!]
The Tradition



First Impressions: This song sounds dated rather than nostalgic and Halsey's vocals are a little grating. The lyrics are also quite contrived in a "This Is About Misogyny!!!!!!!" way, but the production is definitely high quality. If NIN's contribution continues to be this sort of level then maybe other songs will be more interesting. 4/10, wouldn't mind listening again but it definitely wouldn't be by choice if I did.

Final Thoughts: So I do remember what this song sounds like, but I would still categorize it as "forgettable". I always want to skip it in my listen-throughs of the album. The layering and harmonies are pretty good though I guess. I still absolutely hate the lyrics lmao. I mean it's not a bad song by any means but I literally have nothing to say about this song because I find it so empty. Dropped to a 3/10 due to the fact that repeat listens have made me dislike the song more.

Bells in Santa Fe



First Impressions: Beautifully haunting instrumental while also being unique. Not sure I understand what the lyrics mean like The Tradition but I would love to figure out, this makes me want to try and find the music video. Her voice sounds pretty good here and gives off kind of mid-naughts vibes somehow. 7/10, the song is lovely but it doesn't really go anywhere then transitions straight into the next song?

Final Thoughts: For whatever reason the lyrics were easier to hear without headphones on, there's a line that goes something like "Jesus needed a 3 day weekend to sort out all his bullshit and figure out the treason" and I just think that goes so hard lol. I also feel that now that I know what I was meant to expect from the song that I can appreciate it a little more so it gets bumped up to an 8/10! The work on her vocals in this really helps the melancholic comfort in the track along with the hook "Everything is temporary".

Easier Than Lying



First Impressions: That transition was really sudden, holy shit lol. Her voice is once again tolerable here, kind of giving Paramore? Production once again goes tf off, lots of really cool guitar moments and vocal layering. And then the post-bridge!!! This shit goes hard. Solid rock song! 7/10, something about the way it's constructed in the beginning makes it feel slow but it does eventually get to where it needs to be.

Final Thoughts: Okay I figured out what was bothering me in the first half of the song, the heavy drumline would be expected to come in right away the way it does in the 2nd chorus but it doesn't start until the repeat of the refrain ("I sleep with one eye open one eye closed" blah blah blah) in the 1st chorus. I suppose that choice was made to focus on the guitar work that's going on but it doesn't build up the song in a way I think is good. Maybe a different person would be less bothered by it though? It bothers me literally every time I listen to this song so I'll keep my score at a 7/10 lol. The screaming/siren at the end is a consistent headbang moment.

Lilith



First Impressions: Halsey's avacaddies and bananies goat vocals are back and I guess that's a conscious choice that I do not support :/ I can see people liking this but it's not for me. Oh wait nvm the bridge/outro is kinda cool but I'm also glad the song is short. Lyrics are solid, they feel honest and relatable without being overly simple or forced. 5/10 better than the first track mostly because it's shorter and the outro is cool. The production on this feels kinda lazy because nothing really interesting is happening except for the sorta reggae vibe.

Final Thoughts: I like the chill vibe of the song but her vocals really do the song a disservice, they don't match in a way that is disonant and almost unpleasant for me. A tiny desk cover of this by someone else could be fun. The instrumental pulls me in at the beginning and then she starts singing and I hear that Spongebob frown noise in my head lol. And then it's even MORE emphasized because they stop singing like that near the end of the song and it's instantly more enjoyable. Stays 5/10 because it really is wasted potential but I've learned to just tolerate the vocals for the sick instrumental. I'm partial to bass-heavy songs.

Girl is a Gun



First Impressions: Something about this reminds me of a Blackout or Circus-era Britney song...? This is a better use of Halsey's upper register/baby voice than the last song because it matches the sort of digital grrl power vibe of the song. Sometimes you listen to songs and go "oh this would be perfect to listen to while working out" for example, but I can't think of an application for this song. I'd still listen to it again though, wish it was longer so 6/10 for the more enjoyable wasted potential than Lilith.

Final Thoughts: Without headphones or if you had really high quality ones, the frantic drumline is really fun and makes you feel immersed in one of those infinite running games (think Magical Girl Mirrors Edge/Temple run lmao). I don't really like the lyrics because I find them a bit juvenile, but I could see certain people liking them. I find them a bit ~weaponized femininity~ish in an unsubtle way, but I could also just be misunderstanding them. I'll bump it up to a 6.5/10 since I would listen to it again but only in the company of other songs and it probably wouldn't even be the first I'd come back to.

You asked for this



First Impressions: Something about the melancholic melody juxtaposed with the distorted and intense instrumental is really hitting me. There's something of a breakdown in the middle of the song and again I think more could be done with it, but I think that's just my R&B bias coming out. 7/10, there's something missing but it's good!

Final Thoughts: Maybe of all the songs on the album I think this one sounds most like a mid-00s/early 10s song. I could definitely see my 13 year old self listening to this in the dark at 2am being sad. I like the fact that this one sounds good whether you're just emotional and need something to listen to, or just in the background while you're doing other stuff. I can't really comment on the lyrics here because I found them hard to focus on with everything going on in the instrumental and the layering of the vocals. There's a line about spilled milk and crying that wasn't cringey like it could've been though! I'll bump it to an 8/10 since I found myself wanting to repeat it many times during my listen-throughs.

Darling



First Impressions: I usually hate songs like this but the lyrics are very sweet and something about her voice here has more weight than some of her litigious contemporaries who inhabit the genre. I think it's the lack of affectation. 6.5/10, its a good song but still couldn't overcome my bias against Mumford and Daughters music.

Final Thoughts: I think this song benefits from not being cloying or self-indulgent like others in this genre typically are. It just feels like a simple song she wrote in a good mood about a specific person in her life. Halsey staying away from overdoing the vocals also really protects it from being ruined. I probably wouldn't listen to it again because I think there are better love songs in this genre AND I have a quota on embarrassing teen love songs I can have in my romantic playlist, but it is a good song. I would recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary acoustic ballads. I would also pull some lyrics for ig captions ;) (eg: "Only you have made me love being alive"). 6.5/10 stays!

1121



First Impressions: What I like most about this song is that it's finally offering what I think is the optimal amount of Halsey edginess and innovation on the nostalgic girl rock vibe compared to the rest of the songs on this album. Vocals are very Evanescence. 8/10, I wanted to replay it before it even ended.

Final Thoughts: The little synth notes really add a cool ambiance to the song. Without them it would be like what other people are doing right now: recreating the most popular nostalgia songs from the 00s unsuccessfully. I would pick this as the most representative song for idea of "Halsey x NIN". I also would say despite the fact that it's a bit more chill, it's not a boring song because there's some really cool bass riffs in the background of the song so the production really comes out here. Stays at an 8/10 because there weren't any new revelations as I repeated it but I continue to enjoy the song!

honey



First Impressions: Oh shit these drums????? Okay I'm SUPER into this! The vocals are excellent, a great use of Halsey's tone and the melody is so catchy. This song has more of the dynamic elements (like the way the focus switches from guitar to drums, dipping out of some instruments, changes in melody and contrast between each section of the song) I expected from some of the earlier tracks, it's a bop! 9/10! I would add a bit more unique elements to the song but I LOVED this.

Final Thoughts: The flow of the lyrics, the vocalization, the production, everything works together to keep my interest and keep me amped while listening. The lyrics could've gone the unsubtle route in a Girl is a Gun way, but I think they just managed to keep it fun, simple, repeatable yet poetic. I'm absolutely obsessed with this song but because I still think they could've done even more with it in the 2nd half to make it fully epic, I'll keep my score at a 9/10. Definitely coming back to this song the most.

Whispers



First Impressions: Something about this feels more mature and artistic than I would expect from Halsey? It's not really a "song" because the instrumental isn't really there but the lyrics themselves are great for if you're having an angsty moment. I can see myself listening to this again at night, in the dark and in my feelings. 8/10 because of the novelty and the emotionality I love, but I think more could've been done to make it listenable. Probably not for everyone.

Final Thoughts: This song would be fun to sing drunk with my friends when I'm sad lol ("Saaaaaabotage the thiiiiings I love the moooooost!!!"). This song made me respect Halsey more as an artist. It's really more like what the alt-pop gurlies have been doing in the form of an "interlude" but full length, and I do tend to like those if they have some sort of artistic integrity/high level production to them and this song hits that threshold. Keeps the 8/10 because without the headphones you can't hear the instrumental as well however the lyrics become more impactful so it's equality.gif.

I am not a woman, I'm a God



First Impressions: I guess this is what us k-poppies would call a "title track" lol? It's good I guess, I kind of expected more theatrics but the production is interesting and fun. It's more mellow than expected. 6/10, it's a good song but I'm really disappointed with it compared to the earlier songs, it never goes off the way I would want and the lyrics kind of oscillate between fine and cringey edgy stuff I don't like.

Final Thoughts: So I'm still not sure how to feel about this song. I love the synth layers and I think it was a creative place to take this song, at the same time I think this song relies way too hard on Halsey's vocals to build tension, energy, and impact. I just don't think that's something they can or did deliver. The song instead needs a stronger bass or guitar riff to sort of boost the impact without changing the midtempo energy that I guess they were going for. The album order I think also hurts the impact of the song, so maybe I would listen to it again but put it before Girl is a Gun/honey/You asked for this to keep the vibes going. I'll keep it at 6/10 because I see no reason to knock it down but I'm still just really ????? Maybe it's just not for me although I do find myself chanting "I am not a woman I'm a god, I'm not a martyr I'm a problem" sometimes. Nothing if not catchy.

The Lighthouse



First Impressions: Digging the vibe of this one, excellent production and this has more of what I was expecting in earlier songs. It's fuller, every component works together and nothing feels like it's missing (even while writing this up I find it hard to focus because I'm so engaged by the song). There's also less copy and paste between the A parts, more variation in the choruses and just in general you can tell there was a lot of thought put into the track despite it being a chill track. And then we even get the gift of a breakdown??? 10/10, fokkin love it m8.

Final Thoughts: Once again a great use of Halsey's throaty vocals and it's used tactically so it doesn't get grating. This is another song I think could be emblematic of the partnership because the melody, production of the vocals, and lyrics are very Halsey but something in the instrumental feels very NIN? I will drop to 9.5/10 only because without headphones a lot of the details are lost, and that does this song a massive disservice. Also I'm not sure there's repeat listenability to the track but every time I do end up listening to it I find something new to appreciate.

Ya'aburnee



First Impressions: Oh god I'm scared for another ballad but so far this is good? It's definitely sadder and slower and not romantic at all lol. I like the lyrics, exceeds my expectations tbh. Very bittersweet. 8/10, I think it's a good closing track but the missed opportunities in other tracks sort of blunt the closure this track should provide.

Final Thoughts: Halsey sort of sounds like Selena Gomez here??? LOL anyways earlier I said they ~just don't have the range~ to carry a song but I think here it works because of the simplicity of the song. Nothing is lost here because of the way they chose to sing it, and I also think that other people would not be able to sing this. So great for Halsey, and it's quite a nice song! I am curious though what it would sound like sung by a bit stronger of a voice like the Paramore lady. Stays 8/10 since my opinion never changed, just got deeper.


[Summary of my thoughts in case you dont wanna read the whole post :)]General Thoughts: the first few songs in the album feel like buildup for something that never really comes. The only other sort of album-movie I know is Lemonade and imo the organization of that is basically perfect even without the visuals, even though I believe some of the songs on that album are duds. This album almost suffers from not being bold enough. The project is good, and definitely way more than what I was expecting but I feel like Halsey held back or something. There are also some places where I think the NIN fellas had way too heavy a hand in production, almost to the point where I thought "damn Paramore bout to cop another cheque" because the music just sounded SO old. That being said, the album is actually good and nice to listen to which was a shock for me. I think Halsey deserves the success they've seen from this project and maybe even more. I also look forward to future projects from her because of this album. There's a lot of fun things going on here, versatility, and music for every sort of mood you're in. There's probably a song for everyone on here.

First impression average score: 7.03/10
Final average score: 7.11/10


Source: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 + my spotify account and ears

Oof I really meant to have this up earlier but life got to me. This is my first post here I think so I was really nervous too, but I had fun listening to the album as someone with like 0 expectations except skepticism. I wish I could've made this post prettier but all I know how to format now are lab reports haha. I hope this was okay! Let me know what your favourite track on the album was and why? :) A reminder that Halsey's pronouns are she/they which means alternate between the two if possible!
Tags: halsey, music / musician (pop), ontd original, review
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There are a few really great tracks: The Tradition, Girl is a Gun, Darling, YAFT, IANAWIAG and overall the album is cohesive.

I do think that the production sometimes (often?) outshines her vocals so i feel like there is a bit of a discord between the two but perhaps that just adds to the overall feel of the album.
Cohesive is a good word, the only way i struggled through my listens of the full album is that i wanted to repeat tracks but otherwise it is easy to listen to from start to finish.
great post, op, thank you. Ya'aburnee, The Lighthouse, Whispers, honey, Easier Than Lying, 1121, Bells in Santa Fe - all of these songs are on repeat since this came out. upon first listening, i didn't like the album at ALL. now the only song i auto-skip is the title track. it's cheesy af.

bells definitely sounds like a trent song. and yeah, those lyrics about jesus and judas randomly pop up in my head from time to time and i think - ahhhh ok i love those lyrics, gj ashley.

the whole thing gives me pretty hate machine vibes sometimes, which is one of my all-time favorite albums.
What's the title track?
idk why i wrote title track, but i meant first release (i am not a woman, i'm a god)

where_i_begin

3 days ago

their shenanigans, teenage melodramatics

i was going to stop here bc... please, but this ended up being pretty fair for the most part. i love the album, and don't think the production overpowers her unless it's meant to lend itself to a noisier sound, but everyone's mileage will vary. i'm just appreciative to see someone deviate from giving her no credit for how good the music is, like trent and atticus came to the rescue and led her out of the paper bag she couldn't possibly create her way out of.
it's actually surprisingly how low-key the production is on some tracks. Reznor and Ross showed restraint and gave Halsey room to breathe in their own musical space.
That seems odd to me after having actually listened to the album, guess it's just misogyny and a lack of respect for Halsey as an artist biasing their attention.
that's exactly what it is
Oh also now that im more awake i want to address/re-iterate that Halsey's public persona i think is overblown, i think for all their "theatrics" i have never really seen them as problematic or a "bad person" which was actually one of the biggest reasons why i committed to making this post. Shes an example of someone very publicly finding themselves and i wouldve hated if she released something that indicated that growth and people (including myself) didnt even give it a chance bc of some arbitrary hang-up. Like yes its valid to just dislike people but i was kind of like 🤷🏿‍♀️ why not give it a chance yknow? Esp w the pregnancy, i was very happy for her bc fertility/maternity/womens rights were a huge part of her public identity and it felt like she deserved a break during this happy moment in her life.
IANAWIAG makes me want to walk with purpose or something lol. Also, I weirdly love the synth descending scale before the chorus parts.
i just realized it's the same walk-with-purpose feeling i get from "army of me"
Walk with purpose lol!!! Yeah like i play it sometimes in the morning for the chant but it doesnt really awaken me, more just helps with my ~affirmations~

the first three times I tried listening I thought it was very outdated and just underwhelming overall. maybe I’ll give it another try. There’s so much being released.

ia there is so much to listen to, what has been on your radar / repeat?

bicth

September 15 2021, 00:51:31 UTC 5 days ago Edited:  September 15 2021, 00:51:59 UTC

Off the top of my head, I’ve been nonstop playing new Casey Musgraves, J Balvin, Aaliyah; I’m also revisiting Olivia rodrigos and bad bunny’s since I didn’t give them a proper listen the first time. What about you sis?

melancolour

3 days ago

i am not a halsey fan and ever since the avocadies/bananies & 'Miss U' vids, that voice just can't get out of my head lol

BUT, i appreciate this album and i really enjoy a good chunk of it - mainly because of Trent & Atticus as producers, but it really helps that her voice isn't as grating or is masked by the production
still a solid album & my faves are Bells In Santa Fe, You asked for this, and I am not a woman, I'm a god

You asked for this reminds me of my bloody valentine so i luuv, Bells is soooo captivating - i find myself getting lost to it, and IANAWIAG is fantastic and slaps in the car


irajaxon

September 14 2021, 22:20:57 UTC 5 days ago Edited:  September 14 2021, 22:31:55 UTC

i think this album is good, but points to even greater potential. i think the opening 3 tracks are great, but then it kinda dips and muddles together, peaks with IANAWIAG (which without a doubt is the highlight), then ends in a bit of wimper.

i hope they all work together again and use IANAWIAG as the starting point because an album with that energy would be absolutely killer.

edit to add:
This album almost suffers from not being bold enough.The project is good, and definitely way more than what I was expecting but I feel like Halsey held back or something. -- totally agree with you there, op.

There are also some places where I think the NIN fellas had way too heavy a hand in production -- also agree. there are parts of this that feel like a backdoor NIN album and it's honestly a disservice to halsey. NIN has too distinct a sound and reznor/ross have generally been good about keep that separate from their other work, so i was kinda bummed to see that line get too blurry here.
Part of being a great artist is knowing what producers can help bring out what you’re trying to convey. That’s what’s so genius about her pick for this album. I think she had a lot of hands on with the album as well and she deserves just as much credit as them for how great this album is. If I’m gonna skip a few tracks it’s gonna be 1121 and Darling. Darling feels a little out of place to me and 1121 I’m meh on. They’re both really great tracks but the other ones are so damn good I want to listen to them more.
This whole album was such a snooze for me, it all felt minimum effort

nametags

September 14 2021, 22:35:19 UTC 5 days ago Edited:  September 14 2021, 22:35:41 UTC

So idk of others mentioned it but both Darling and Ya’aburnee were written for their son
That was my impression (particularly with Ya'aburnee) but i wasnt fully sure, the contrast between both ballads becomes even more interesting.
I think Ya’aburnee is also meant for their partner but the main focus was her bb
I've been obsessed with this album, favorite of the year so far for me, and I've never previously been a Halsey fan.
i liked more songs on 2nd/3rd listen

girl is a gun still top, but loved bells of santa fe & lilith too

this is an album it's actually fun/interesting to listen to repeatedly
Awesome post, op! I only listened once through so far. I liked it more than i expected. I am a much less sophisticated listener than you are, so this is a very fun read to me!
I liked so many songs on this album and I think I would have LOVEEED it if there was a more powerful voice for some of the songs.

I kept wanting to hear a voice like Florence Welch belting out to The Tradition. I need Florence's haunting voice on some of these tracks tbqh.
I appreciate your work OP. I might come back to this post in approx. three months.
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