Halsey is an artist that skyrocketed to fame a couple years ago and I’m not surprised about it at all. Considering her unique voice, very well written lyrics and spot on production, along with being an interesting performer, she’s got all the characteristics of a successful musical artist. And yet, I can’t help but admit that I’ve fallen off the Halsey bandwagon a little while ago. I haven’t really been enjoying her most recent releases and so I pushed her music to the back of my mind. But then one day I came across her debut, Badlands, and remembered how that was the only record I listened to for, like, three months. Going back and listening to it again made me remember why I was so intrigued by Halsey in the first place and all I can say is, her debut album is an absolute masterpiece.
Before hit songs like “Without Me” and “Him & I” were blaring through everyone’s radio stations, Halsey’s sound was more indie pop/ electronica based, which suited her voice and aesthetic very well. Badlands dives deep into this dark world composed of personal experiences but keeps them contained in lyrics that are general enough to be relatable for anyone. Halsey was the main writer on every track, including no more than four other songwriters, although most of them only include one other songwriter. The production is nicely executed where they’ve managed to incorporate acoustic instruments and various sound effects without it feeling out of place. The artistry and effort put into this release is something so extraordinary and even years later, it’s safe to say Badlands is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time.
So, with that being said, we’re going to shake things up a bit for this one. I will be choosing a standout lyric from every song along with a small synopsis of each track on the standard edition of the album.
“I’m headed straight for the castle/ They wanna make me their queen/ And there’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying that I probably shouldn’t be so mean”
Introduction tracks are supposed to be attention catching and “Castle” is a perfect representation of what “attention catching” is. It’s essentially the “opening gate” of Halsey’s world that she built Badlands upon, where it introduces us to her feelings on the music industry and in particular the people who run it. The heavier vocal layering during the chorus bring a sense of spookiness and the the mid tempo beat makes it feel serious, yet all together we’ve got a very confident and pleasant sounding first track.
“Hold Me Down”
Unfortunately for this one, I’m not able to find any lyrics that really stand out to me. However, the overall message of opposing those who are trying to repress you and to never let anything hold you down from reaching your potential is spectacular. It’s a perfect addition right after “Castle” and enhances Halsey’s confidence but at the same time shows human vulnerability through lines such as “I’m helpless, clinging to a little bit of spine” and “Throw me in the deep end, watch me drown”. It’s not my favorite sounding song, but I do like the way it helps set up other themes on the record and how it pieces everything together.
Okay, if I’m being honest, there is nothing about this song that is pleasant to me and it’s unfortunately one of the only pitfalls of the record. The contradictory lyrics far too centered around “modern society” while referring to musical artists Biggie Smalls and Nirvana from thirty years ago and the rather heavy production for such a lifeless song are confusing. I also don’t particularly like the melodies or the way this one is sung. With that being said, let’s not dwell on this any longer. On to the next one.
“All we do is think about the feelings that we hide/ All we do is sit in silence waiting for a sign”
The musical portion on this one is spot on, especially with the incorporation of car beeps and noises associated with driving, and even mixing in an acoustic guitar in there without making it seem out of place. It’s a little spooky sounding, a little dance inspired and a lot personal, making it one of the more memorable ones on the record.
“Oh, we’ll be looking for sunlight, or the headlights/ Till our wide eyes burn blind”
The imagery of this one is stunning and the lyricism is so perfectly crafted, however I have to admit that I really dislike the production on this one. The choruses feel a tad heavy and are just a little too overproduced for my liking. Even though the way it sounds isn’t particularly my favorite, that’s not to say I won’t skip it if it comes on shuffle; it’s still a great song despite the oversaturated feel of it all.
“You’re dripping like a saturated sunrise/ You’re spilling like an overflowing sink/ Your’e ripped at every edge but you’re a masterpiece/ And now you’re tearing through the pages and the ink”
THE ABSOLUTE BEST TRACK ON HERE. PERIOD. “Colors” takes on the idea of this relationship Halsey has with a boy where he’s imperfect in every way yet she’s still as obsessed with him as can be. The lyrical imagery of various colors including grey, blue and red brings the song to life, and the even production with fun melodies makes it enjoyable to listen to. This song is perfectly written, perfectly balanced and one of my favorite songs ever, not just one of my favorites from this record.
“I’ve got a lover, I love like religion/ I’m such a fool for sacrifice”
This was probably the song that really made me want to listen to Badlands as a whole, all those years back. The flow of it is immaculate, with constant vocals and limited indie inspired instrumental. The story this one tells is put front and center; the way Halsey talks about this toxic person is intriguing but not necessarily dark, refraining from becoming uncomfortable. The way she compares this person to religion is a really interesting comparison on how dedicated she is to them, along with other metaphorical moments describing their situation.
“We walk as tall as the skyline/And we have roots like the trees/But then your eyes had to wander”
At this point, I’m sure everyone already knows how well produced this album is. However, if you need another example of that, its right here. I don’t care too much for the lyricism of this one but what mesmerizes me are the vocal melodies during the pre-chorus and the way this one builds up and breaks down before every verse and chorus. Nothing feels awkward and every beat drop is so perfectly placed, along with the darker, but not heavier, production technique.
“And all the kids cried out please stop you’re scaring me/ I cant help this awful energy/ Got damn right you should be scared of me/ Who is in control”
This is another one of my favorite tracks from the record and if I had to rank these, I would probably put this one right behind “Colors”. Halsey describes what it’s like to live with a mental disorder with this one, and it’s a little dark and spooky, almost making the listener feel like they’re in a haunted house. The lyrics and instrumental line up perfectly, where the imagery and the layering all add to this terrifying effect. It’s really an eye opening track amid the horror movie feel behind it and definitely one of the best written ones on this track list.
“If there’s a light at the end, it’s just the sun in your eyes/I know you wanna go to heaven but you’re human tonight”
Melodically one of the best tracks, if not the best track in regards to melodies, on here. That’s all I really want to say about this one.
“My ghost where’d you go/ I can’t find you in the body sleeping next to me”
Ugh, this one really isn’t my favorite and I hate to end off on a sour note. However, honesty is the best policy, as they say, and the main thing I dislike about this song is all the tempo changes. All of the separate pieces feel very disconnected; the verse is fast and rap like, but moves into a pop sounding chorus that also breaks down into another tempo change. With that being said, the lyrics on this one are some of the best on the record, and Halsey’s vocals are stunning.