If Billie Eilish is the US pop star already defining the 2020s with her low-key rasp, then 25-year-old Halsey feels like the Pink to her Robyn. Both have grammar-averse tracklistings and are celebrated for their “hyper-specific” lyrics, whatever that means, ticking off subjects including depression, drugs and body image. Halsey’s amorphous sound, however, while hoovering up clickety R&B, alt-rock, country and Lana Del Rey’s oeuvre, also reaches the blare-your-lungs-out heights of emo bands such as My Chemical Romance. A guest feature from Alanis Morissette suggests a passing of the angsty baton.
Halsey is less a pop chameleon than a musical magpie and Manic is a pristinely produced album that sounds a bit like everything you know, but better (Still Learning is a banger, like Evanescence with steelpan). Her songs illuminate the anxiety of fame, questioning her own narcissism and neediness with unusually brutal detail. She is, possibly, as underlined by the film dialogue lifted from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Clementine, “just a fucked-up girl looking for my own piece of mind,” which is far more relatable than a ponytail-perfect star singing about empowerment. It’s no wonder her music is finally connecting.