Halsey’s “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” is her Strongest Release Yet

Halsey’s new record is one of her most conceptual and introspective records to date.

Halseys If I Cant Have Love, I Want Power Album Cover by Lucas Garrido

Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power Album Cover by Lucas Garrido

Bobby Liming, Entertainment Editor

With her ever-growing success since the beginning of her career, Halsey has been releasing records that, though may not be critically acclaimed by any means, have gotten major amounts of recognition from an incredibly large and diehard fanbase. Personally, I had discovered her music around the time of the release of her debut record, BADLANDS; a record that, despite points that have been aged poorly through either instrumentation that’s been overused since then or lines that go over poorly, is a major high point for her to this day. This is an album that featured production that’d go on to be popularized even more than where Halsey brought it with releases like Reputation by Taylor Swift, and much later was likely a key release in inspiring the production style now being popularized by artists such as Sub Urban through apps like Tik Tok. Despite me personally being somewhat of a fan of this record, I was originally at a loss of what to make of her sophomore record Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. After returning to it, though, the record has grown on me – it shows Halsey seriously improving her vocals while also updating her sound to something much more interesting and unique than even BADLANDS

Later, though, her third and most recent record until now, Manic, was something I’m still not a fan of. The bright production she utilizes isn’t as good as her prior releases, and her vocals aren’t anywhere near as catchy or even interesting, either. Despite this being a project with some of her highest production value and biggest features, it ended up being her worst release so far. As a result of this, I was genuinely unsure of what her next record would be bringing. The best prediction I could make is that we would get another Manic-esque release expanding on what seemed to be a major collaborative era with other large pop artists like BTS. However, these expectations got completely thrown out of the window upon the announcement that Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame, would be producing the record. 

When I first heard this, I immediately had low expectations. Not only had the most recent Nine Inch Nails releases been middle-of-the-road in terms of their enjoyment for me, but the idea of this collaboration between him and Halsey sounded like something that wouldn’t go over well. Although, the more I began to think about it, the more I realized how wrong I was in this mindset. If there’s anything that defined the early work of Halsey’s that I loved, it was the somewhat cryptic and almost edgy atmosphere each track created. The possibility for a collaboration between these two could mean an interesting expansion on those concepts that weren’t fully fleshed out as much as they should have been. 

Thankfully, my hope for the record’s potential being executed as well as possible would mostly be confirmed. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is Halsey’s most consistent release to date, her most unique project, and does all of this with genuinely engaging storytelling and production. The opening track, “The Tradition,” sets this record up perfectly. The track is heavily inspired by classical music (similar to that of artists like Alister), with amazing production, an intense atmosphere, and incredibly well written and performed vocals. The chorus is one of Halsey’s best throughout her entire discography, and manages to set up the themes of the record in an amazing way on top of its performance quality. The lyrics go into depth on the feministic themes that play through the entire record, telling a story of a girl being bought and sold by people for her positivity, only to be returned for her internalized depressive state. This has ties not only to Halsey’s views on her fame, but also is similar to biblical stories, of which continue throughout the record in order to establish an aesthetic based on religious atmospheres and ideas. 

The following “Bells In Santa Fe” picks up the energy only slightly by introducing a bit more instrumental range through the inclusion of synth arpeggiations and bass. The track features these harrowing repetitions of the phrase “everything is temporary,” and explores even more themes of fame and biblicality. The track then distorts towards its end, leading into the first heavily rock influenced track on the record.

The loudest track by far on the record, “Easier Than Lying,” is where we first start to see the influence of Trent Reznor’s production on the record. Though I appreciate the sound of the track, which features industrial guitars and production as loud as something on a Palaye Royale or My Chemical Romance song, the poor mixing of the vocals kills the energy the song has. The muffled quality of Halsey’s singing, though clearly a creative choice on their end, doesn’t fit here at all. If this one change would have been made, I genuinely feel like this would’ve been the best track on the record. 

This issue of muffle effects continues on tracks like “You asked for this” and “honey.” These tracks have huge influences from Riot! era Paramore, and have genuinely well-done lyrics. For example, the first track I mentioned dives into Halsey’s desires for a normal lifestyle without her fame, and shows how she had to make a decision of  either denying her creative side or getting to the point where she is now. The track has lyrics that cleverly tie back into many tracks off of her debut record, suggesting that that release was the moment she made this decision. Despite these lyrical and songwriting positives, the production doesn’t do the lyrics justice through its muffled quality, with the exception of an admittedly grand sounding beat switch towards the end. 

Some of the best production, though, comes on the fourth track, “Lilith.” It has a heavy, jazz-inspired bass similar to the tracks “Lost Cause” and “Therefore I Am” off Billie Eilish’s most recent record. The vocals also even have cool production points on them, with details like Halsey’s voice getting a glitch effect as she says the word “corrupted.” This is also one of the most well written tracks on the record, which links itself to the story of a demonic creature in Judaic mythology. The story, which has major negative views on femininity and female empowerment, gets used by Halsey here to personify her own views on these subjects. By embodying this character, she justifies her own, more progressive views on the subject. 

Other tracks on this record, especially into the second half of the project, go into depth on her own personal experiences and mental state since her last release. The acoustic guitar ballad “Darling,” for example, is an introspective track playing out almost as a self-talk to her as a young child. Aesthetically, though the style can be overused, it has an amazing execution. The song doesn’t overstay its welcome, and has an incredible placement in the record’s tracklist. 

Other tracks, like “Girl is a Gun,” explore her relationship issues over digital blastbeat drums that wouldn’t feel out of place on a JPEGMAFIA track, and synth usage that sounds straight out of Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. Despite this, though, I feel like these themes get explored much better on the later track, “Whispers.” The production returns to the aesthetic of tracks like “The Tradition,” but this time explores her mental state and experiences with bipolar disorder and mania, while taking an introspective and harrowing look into the relationship issues she discussed on “Girl is a Gun.” The track uses whispered vocals to portray a mental voice, essentially personifying her experiences with the mental disorders she’s had to deal with. 

My personal favorite track on the record, though, is only due to its production. The second to last track, “The Lighthouse,” distorts everything in the mix almost beyond recognition, giving it a sludge and ambient rock soundscape seen with artists like 80’s-era Swans. With the inclusion of a pulsating and built up distortion to an abrupt stop, I feel like this could have been the perfect closer to this record. 

Despite this, though, the album finishes off with one more track, “Ya’aburnee,” which feels like a credits-roll moment for the record. Yet, I feel like the track doesn’t go much of anywhere sonically that makes this moment worthwhile, especially in comparison with the track before it. 

I think one of this record’s biggest strengths is its ability to much more clearly demonstrate the perspectives Halsey takes on herself. Her tracks throughout her music career show two major sides of her; a “soft” side and a side that is self-ideologic. Though these can come off in a variety of ways, these two core concepts clearly become cornerstones of what makes Halsey herself. Whether this be from issues with mental health to her conceptual ideas, these points are clearly illustrated here on this record, more so than any other point in her career. It’s by far one of her most introspective releases, and with a storytelling method more compelling than anything she’s put out prior to this moment in her music. Though If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power does have several tracks that display issues that definitely should have been improved on, the overall tone of the record comes off incredibly well, and should serve almost as a victory lap for Halsey.