On Aug. 27, two-time Grammy nominee Ashley Frangipane, better known by their stage name Halsey, dropped their fourth studio album titled “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power.”
According to Halsey, the album is heavily influenced by their journey of conceiving and having their new baby. The tracks on the list feature expert lyrics and religious iconography used to dissect societal and institutional concepts on womanhood as well as femininity.
Halsey is no stranger to creating avant garde worlds that act as conduits for real life themes within their music. From sexual assault, abuse and mental illness to fertility issues and self healing, Halsey has constructed a detailed symbolism for their artistry. On par with this creative pattern is the production and release of an immersive IMAX movie of the same title as the album.
“If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” the movie tells the story of a pregnant queen’s quest to take back power from an abusive king. The movie is designed to pair with themes that inspired the tracks of the album.
The 13-track album begins with a somber, almost sinister critique on fame, in the song “The Tradition,” which tells the story of two parallels of the same girl sold to men who she tells to “Take what you want, Take what you can and don’t give a d***,” as part of a vague tradition within the song.
Right away, Halsey explores the duality of self loathing and superiority, a theme expressed throughout the album. This dichotomy is one that the singer has regularly discussed as a person with bipolar disorder.
“The Tradition” bleeds into a melancholy lament charged with regret and almost a tinge of hopelessness in the song “Bells in Santa Fe.” Sticking with religious symbolism by petitioning Jesus Christ in the song, the lament is written from Halsey's perspective to both a lover and the audience as Halsey wrestles with themselves to either ensure or avoid self-destruction.
What sets “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” aside from many other pop albums is the incredible mastery of lyricism that burrows into the dark recesses of the listener’s soul and brings to light the darkness that lives within the expansive femininity of every human.
This concept is demonstrated expertly in the second verse of this second track when Halsey addresses the audience and Jesus Christ himself.
“Jesus needed a three day weekend to sort out all his bulls***, figure out the treason. / I’ve been searching for a fortified defense / four to five reasons / But, Jesus, / you’ve got better lips than Judas, / and I could keep your bed warm / otherwise I’m useless / I don’t really mean it / Cause who the f*** would choose this?”
In this verse, Halsey uses the symbolism of betrayal with Judas Iscariot and resurrection with Jesus, while simultaneously exploring salvation through one of the only avenues they know how to as a woman: through sex. This is seen through the haphazard pass to keep Jesus’ bed warm, spoken almost as if out of habit, followed by a quick retreat and the pre-chorus that damns the singer to hell at Halsey’s own behest.
The use of religious iconography as a means to explore femininity is a persistent theme with songs such as “Lilith,” named after the Judeo-Christian myth of Adam’s first wife who refused to submit to man and fell in love with the devil instead, and “The Lighthouse,” which tells the story of a scorned siren who makes a deal with the devil to take revenge on sailors playing savior to use and abuse the women they save.
As the album goes on, themes of motherhood are heavily juxtaposed to the use of heaven and hell as institutional cages for true womanhood, which is both nurturing and destructive from the eyes and lips of Halsey.
“1121” and the final track “Ya’aburnee,” which translates to “you bury me” in Arabic, directly address Halsey’s new child and the love they have for the baby. According to Genius lyrics, Nov. 21, 2020 was the day Halsey found out they were pregnant after years of fertility issues and miscarriages.
The joy of finally bringing a child into the world is set opposite to the grief of losing multiple babies through the years, and this profound love and pain is made most apparent with the chorus of “1121.”
“I won’t die for love / but ever since I met you / you can have my heart / and I would break it for you.”
Musically, “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” relies heavily on heady bass tones, eerie minor chords and lamenting melodies that serve an astounding catalyst to the emotionally charged lyrics that crackle with the untapped power of femininity and humanism that resides in each and every person.
In its entirety, this fourth studio album by Halsey is a chilling anthology of human complexities, patriarchal gilded cages and the ethereal bond shared between a mother and child. Despite the album being set in a medieval dystopia full of austerity and menacing rule, somehow Halsey manages to fit real world critique and contemporary emotion into the dark and alluring world of “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power.”