Album Review: If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Remember the Halsey who announced they’d be having a break in early 2020? Well, they can’t come to the phone right now because they are busy with releasing a New York Times Best Seller Poetry Book, an amazing make-up line and their fourth full studio album with a movie and online performance to accompany it with, while they are pregnant. Honestly, I’m in awe. In everything Halsey does, they understand the assignment perfectly; even breaks out of assignment directions and form a whole new amazing direction, the new album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is no exception.
Halsey explains their album as “a concept album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth”. The concept itself is powerful and intense. While it is a celebration of motherhood and feminine power, it also represents fear, doubt and anger. As much as it is a celebration, it is also a challenge. Especially with the cover art, Halsey challenges people to “eradicat[e] the social stigma around bodies & breastfeeding”. While Instagram removing some of the reshares of the cover and the censored Target-special cover defies the point, no one expected the world to change overnight and this is still a powerful move towards change.
Without further ado, here is what I think of each song.
‘The Tradition’ is multi-dimensional. The quite medieval feeling of the album theme, as well as the title of the track gives the feeling that the lyrics are about female slavery. When you think about it in a modern context, the word ‘tradition’ feels more sardonic. It could be representing the quite archaic patriarchal thoughts still surviving in our society, women not having autonomy over their bodies, the disdain and the still surviving ‘witch hunt’ mentality. In a personal context, there is the feeling of confinement by fame; how her every action is public and everything they do, their body, their words, in a way belonging to the public, being a public display. This final interpretation, if not all, is possibly the truest to the message Halsey wanted as while talking about this album they also say “[m]y body has belonged to the world in many different ways the past few years, and this image is my means of reclaiming my autonomy and establishing my pride and strength as a life force for my human being.”
“All of this is temporary” has been a haunting phase for Halsey fans even before the album release and we finally meet the song it is home to. The echoing phrase throughout the song really makes the listener think about everything around them and how fleeting everything is. The melody feels a little repetitive for me personally so if I were to rank the tracks in the album ‘Bells in Santa Fe’ would be at the bottom for me (I’m sorry stans), which isn’t to say I don’t completely like the song, or in Twitter language, is a skip. No, I just simply believe Halsey has better songs both in and outside this album.
‘Easier than Lying’ is definitely my favourite in this album. The pop-punk style of this song is one of the reasons why this song stuck with me from the first listen. Halsey’s voice and style perfectly fit the genre. Lyrics are quite powerful and creative, too. I mean, “My heart is massive, but it’s empty/ A permanent part of me, that innocent artery/ Is gaspin’ for some real attention/ Some undivided hypertension”??? The anger, the chaos, the aggression is at the top level with the lyrics, her voice, the melody, the sound effects used. I just absolutely love this song.
‘Lilith’ was a little different than what I expected. When the tracklist was released before the album release, the title made me imagine this song to be similar to one of her previous tracks, ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Easier Than Lying’ was somewhat closer to what I expected of ‘Lilith’. For having the name of the first woman, who is also a demonic figure in mythology, ‘Lilith’ is rather slow and calm. However, the deepness and the anger expected from this song is very well-apparent in the lyrics. The ‘witch hunt’ and the demonification of women within the society theme continues in this song. I think the main message in this song is that women are expected to act in a certain way and otherwise they villainise us and mess with our heads. Though it didn’t end up being what I expected and lost the first place to ‘Easier Than Lying’, this metaphorical song is also a masterpiece.
One of the fan favourites, ‘Girl is a Gun’ is a little different with its techno sounds than the more punk/ rock focused rest of the album. However, the lyrics are so on-brand with Halsey with their aggressive nature and toxic male-female relationships theme.
“Go on and be a big girl/ You asked for this now.” Wow, Halsey, why hit me like that? Truly, ‘You asked for this’ hits differently. While in some ways the lyrics are very specific, they are also relatable to some extent. This song makes me feel like I’m watching a 00s Indie movie with a main character of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in her early 20s. I would watch that movie…
At first listen, ‘Darling’ feels like a song that Halsey was singing to their baby. The lyrics “I’ll see you in your dreams/ Darlin’, don’t you cry/ Head fast toward the light” made me believe maybe it is being sung to not Baby Ender but the baby they have lost. However, after multiple listens, I have started to see it as a song written for her little self rather than their babies, though “But only you have shown me how to love bein’ alive” is still a better fitting line for Baby Ender. So, perhaps this is a song to all three and also to the fans who are also like their children in a way. It is a soothing song, almost lullaby-like, with the message that we all have a place in this world. This is now one of my comfort songs.
I’m not okay since I found out ‘1121’ is the date Halsey found out about her pregnancy. This is a beautifully honest song on a topic that we don’t see often. The song talks about the anxieties of pregnancy including the fear of losing the baby, the change of body during the pregnancy and after giving birth, while also the developing of motherly instincts and how mixed with those anxieties there is hope and happiness, “But I won’t die for love/ But ever since I met you/ You could have my heart/ And I would break it for you.” This is just a very special song.
Okay, I’ll walk you through my first impression with ‘honey’. The intro starts and I’m like ‘ohh, very cool beginning, nice drums and bass, the kind of indie stuff I like.” Then, the lyrics start, I’m still vibing, then, they say “And so I opened it wide and then she crawled inside/ She’s on the tip of my tongue, she’s on the top of my thighs” and I’m like, ‘wait a minute, is she saying what I think she is saying?’ Then, I have a minute of shock, honestly, maybe a little bit of feeling awkward about the explicity but also like how poetic it still is. At last, I go, ‘okay, this is at top of my IICHLIWP ranking’. Like it could be seen as somewhat uncomfortable but it’s still a wonderful song. I love the melody, I love the way she has written the lyrics, very poetic, very Halsey. I would say this is in my top 5 at the moment.
‘Whispers’ is also one of my favourites, mainly because of its lyrics. It’s a perfect representation of anxiety and depression. “Sabotage the things I love the most/ Camouflage so I can feed the lie that I’m composed” hits you in the gut but that’s one of the things I adore about Halsey, she hits you in the gut, in the chest, in the head with the truth. I also love how this song is a slow one compared to the other chaotic punk ones. It contributes to the feeling of lying in your bed at 3 am and the thoughts in your head keeping you alive. Everything around you is quiet (the melody) but there is chaos in your head (the kind of monotonous continuous singing & lyrics) with interruptive thoughts (the back vocals). It’s another masterpiece.
THE SONG that’s on everyone’s tongues, ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’. I mean do I even need to say much about it? This song is the main song of this album and the song in which Halsey claims their identity. It’s honest as always but, though you don’t get that by just looking at the lyrics, it also feels quite empowering. Maybe it’s the repetitive, ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’ that creates that atmosphere. Like ‘Lilith’, music-wise it is a little different than what I was expecting it to be. Also, I must say that it is short. I have that problem with multiple Halsey songs, especially in the Manic album because I need more of them… But oh well, we still love them.
‘The Lighthouse’ is also in my top 3. I quite love the mythological, medieval themes in this album and although not named, ‘The Lighthouse’ brings up another villanized female figure from mythology, sirens, “And I’ll lure you like a landslide/ And I’ll show you lovely things/ If you rescue me, but they’re make-believe.” But hearing the story from the sirens’ perspective, we see again, similar to ‘Lilith’, that it is men that made women that way and men that spread the rumours about how these women are evil, so they are the real ‘Devil’, “I went swimmin’ with the Devil at the bottom of a lake/ And he left me there by my lonesome.” As I’ve been saying this whole article, I love the indie sounds that you also find in this song and it meets with mythology and metaphors and it just screams me. It’s always fun to interpret Halsey’s themes.
Finally, ‘Ya’aburnee’, which is a term in Arabic that means “you bury me”. It is one’s declaration of one’s wish to die before a loved one as it would be hard for them to live without that person. It’s sweet and sad at the same time because if you die before that person wouldn’t that mean pain for them? But for Halsey, it was written with good intentions for her partner, Alev Aydın. It makes me very emotional to see Halsey this happy and in love. This song gives me the feeling that we’re entering Halsey’s ‘Lover’ era and I couldn’t be happier for her. It’s such a vulnerable song which makes it absolutely beautiful.
Honestly, I can’t say IICHLIWP is my favourite Halsey album but I can say this is one of Halsey’s best works. You might say how’s that work? Some of her other works are more of my taste but I can still objectively appreciate the deepness in this album the incredible work done with music, lyrics, all the metaphors and double meanings – she is an absolute genius. I also want to remind you all that she also achieved many other things while preparing this album and did all these while pregnant. She literally gave birth a week after she announced this album on a live stream. I’m incredibly proud of her, if I have the right to, and I do not understand the people who recently made her feel like she needed to apologise for this era. It’s an era of success and happiness for her and we couldn’t have asked more.
Okay, this is becoming more than an album review so I’m going to stop here. Go stream If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – it’s worth it!
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