Halsey’s Badlands: A Raw and Honest Journey Through a Fictional Dystopia

Sarah Gruber ’19
Contributing Writer

Profound, authentic and deeply resonant with Halsey’s audience, “Badlands” establishes a rising star’s place in the modern music industry.
A concept album at its finest, “Badlands” is a journey to a fictional dystopian world created by the singer. Halsey, the moniker of 20-year-old, aqua-haired Ashley Frangipane, described the Badlands in an interview with Billboard magazine as a “metaphor for [her] mental state,” a city ruled by gluttony and lust, surrounded by barren desert wasteland. The album takes the listener through her journey into the Badlands with the track “Castle,” her exit from the city with “Drive,” and her reflections on her time spent trapped in the Badlands with the tracks in between.
Halsey starts off strong, opening the album with “Castle,” a hip-hop based track about wiping away her past mistakes and taking down anyone who stands in her way. She sings, “There’s an old man sitting / On the throne that’s saying / I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut.” Following the angsty and beat-driven “Hold Me Down” is “New Americana,” a summation of the Badlands as a whole. A party song on the surface, “New Americana” unabashedly praises the individualism and strong self-identity of today’s youth. Lyrics like “We don’t feel like outsiders at all” and “We know very well who we are” resonate with her audience, making the song an anthem for the ages. “Roman Holiday,” the most pop-radio-friendly song on the album, coincides with the freedom of “New Americana,” perfectly capturing the feeling of being in love for the first time and the inevitability of it falling apart.
When Halsey is at her most honest, her songwriting skills and ability to connect with her audience shine. Whether it’s the production-heavy “Drive,” in which she sings about her fear and reluctance to tell someone she loves them, the vulnerable “Ghost” about a lover who is slowly slipping away or the Lana Del Ray-esque “Hurricane” where she reminisces about her adolescent relationships, Halsey’s songwriting skills are her strongest asset. The star example is the track “Colors,” wherein she laments a former relationship and how she’s been severely changed by it. One of her most quoted lyrics — “You were red and you liked me because I was blue / You touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky / And you decided purple just wasn’t for you” — comes from the bridge of this track.
Towards the end of the album, as she reflects on her time in the Badlands, the songs take a darker turn. With bonus track “Strange Love,” Halsey gives a giant metaphorical middle finger to the people who pry into her romantic relationships, a slightly more vulgar and honest version of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” “Coming Down,” filled with references to the intersection of love and religion, is the most atmospheric track on the album.
“Haunting” and “Gasoline,” both stellar examples of Halsey’s typical production value, show the darker aspects of life and relationships, with lines such as, “I’ve done some things that I can’t speak,” and, “I think there’s a fault in my code,” leaving an impression. On the dark and enigmatic track “Control,” written about her struggles with bipolar disorder, Halsey sings with such raw emotion that you feel the song deep in your bones.
Even though “Badlands” takes place in a fictional world, Halsey perfectly captures the rise and fall of love, life and everything else that goes on behind bright lights and neon signs.

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