Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Album of the year 2021

Overall I found 2021 to be a disappointing year in music.  There were only two or three albums I found very interesting and entertaining and in the end there was only 1 album that I think was interesting enough and good enough to be my album of the year.  

At this point I do want to say something about Not Your Muse by Celeste the runner up.  She's a 27 year old British singer who infuses R&B and Jazz and she has an incredible voice.  I really liked her album and never got tired of hearing it.  But there was never a time during the year where I specifically went out of my way to play it on repeat.  It was just a solid album and she has an incredible voice.  This video gives you a good idea of her sound and her vocals.  

But enough about Celeste let us focus on the real album of the year If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power by Halsey.  To fully appreciate this album from Halsey we have to go back to her album from a year ago Manic.  If you look at my review from last year here is what I said.  

If you want to dive into the angst of what it is to be a 20 something woman who is struggling with self worth, disappointment, and frustration then you've hit on a good one with this album. This album makes me think of so many friends I had in my 20's and their struggles. It is rare to find an album where the songs are so emotionally raw and revealing and it gives this album some real value to me.

OK now we have the same woman still with that same rawness to her lyrics, still struggling to find herself and understand her role as a woman, but now she has had a child.  She is still writing solid lyrics and matching it with solid music but she has packaged it in a way where it all flows together as a solid album.  There is a consistent sound to the songs, a consistent tone to the lyrics.  Often when people write lyrics that are so raw and emotional they go down a path that feels self indulgent or too one sided, but this is not the case with Halsey.  In Manic she was often found putting the blame on everything going bad in her life with herself.  She's in a bad relationship it's her fault.  This person doesn't love her it's her fault.  Part of my frustrations with that album was how she was so all over the place with her self blame.  In If I Can't Have Love . . . you can still see that same woman, but she has matured a lot and is now starting to see things differently and understanding that if she wants to blame herself that blame should come strictly from the choices she made and not about the person she is.  We also see her finding some real strength and hope from having a child who as she says in the song "Darling" was the first person to show her how to love being alive.  

Halsey has been very open about her mental health struggles and you honestly can't listen to her music without worrying about her long term well being.  Still that doesn't mean she hasn't produced a solid work of art and I think we'll go through it song by song and do a quick breakdown.  

Track 1:  The Tradition

Like many songwriters Halsey lives in the abstract, but we can still glean a lot from what she's writing about.  She opens the album with a song which essentially says women have had two choices in our society.  Either you are yourself and show your emotions and no one wants you, or you hide everything about yourself and put on a smile and your life is hell.  This is all told with the chorus about the men in  our society. 

So take what you want

Take what you can

Take what you please

Don't give a damn

Ask for forgiveness

Never permission 


Track 2:  Bells in Santa Fe

As I said Halsey writes in the abstract and so it is hard to know exactly what her songs fully mean sometimes, but the good thing about well written abstract poetry is that it works for people who find the meaning they want to find in the lyrics.  To me this song is the song of someone who has struggled with their place in this world, with the person they are, and now has this child.  What kind of a parent can they be?  Are they strong enough to be there, do they even want their child to know them?  There are two things she comes back to over and over in this song.  It's all temporary and don't wait for me.  This song reminds me of another great abstract writing mother Sinead O'Connor and her album Mother.  On that album she was questioning all this emotional turmoil that women go through when they become a mother and also all the joy.  This song is hitting hard on the turmoil.  Am I a good person, can I do this, should I do this.  The opening lines to the song are "Don't call be my name, All of this is temporary.  Watch as I slip away, for your sake."

Track 3:  Easier Than Lying

I hope that Halsey's relationship experiences in real life are not as bad as her lyrics make them seem.  Perhaps she's working from others experiences as well as her own.  This song seems to epitomize her take on relationships and touches back on the theme of the opening song, that women are stuck in this space where they can't be themselves.  The opening lines to this song are very smart.  

I'm only whatever you make me

And you make me more and more a villain every day

But you don't know, you reap, you sow

Whatever you give to me

From yourself you take

Well, if you're a hater

Then hate the creator

It's in your image I'm made


Track 4:  Lilith

Here is how the song opens, "I'm perfection when it comes to first impressions, I romanticize and then I get to stressing."  Having mentioned Sinead O'Connor before this song makes me think of something off of I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got.  

Track 5:  Girl is a Gun

I love the sound of this track and the lyrics here are the first positive lyrics we've gotten on this album.  

My newest baby's testing me lately

Making me crazy from morning to evening

I cannot take it, I love it, I break it

Need it, leave it

If I believe it's a waste of my

Time is a blessing, with me it's a lesson

And I can't be stressing to give you attention

'Cause oh it's never enough

So I'm giving you up

And you'll be better with a nice girl, darling

Now you might be wondering how that is positive lyrics.  Because she is deciding that this failing relationship isn't her fault, she's done what she can, but she can move on and be better off for it.  On Manic she could certainly see that she would be better off out of a bad relationship, but she could not help blaming herself for the failures.  Here she is letting that go and so that's real growth.   

Track 6:  You Asked for This

OK so we go from "Girl is a Gun" to this and we continue to see a different way at looking at things.  This is my favorite song off of the album.  Again we are tapping back into the first song of this album, this song is about the woman who is quiet and goes along.  Unlike the woman in "Girl is a Gun" who is saying OK I'm out, this woman is looking at her life and saying well I got what I wanted, which was stability and money and a "good life", but at what cost.  This all builds to the end of the song with the lines 

I want my cake on a silver platter

I want a fistful in my hands

I want a beautiful boy's despondent laughter

I want to ruin all my plans

I want a fist around my throat

I want to cry so hard I choke

I want everything I asked for

As someone who was friends with a woman who made this choice in her 20's to go into a marriage and have children with someone mostly because of the stability it all promised and knowing how horribly that all ended for everyone involved, this song really hits home for me.  

Track 7:  Darling

I have to say I find this song very sad.  I think it is the fact that she sees her vulnerability as being the thing that is more of a concern to her than the vulnerability of her child.  It's like the thing that can screw things up for her is her own issues with fitting into the world.  "Darling don't you weep, there's a place for me."  She's talking on this song about her need for meds with her mental health issues, talking about her life as being someone with no real home and knowing that this has to change for her child and she's promising to find her place in this world so that she can be there for her child.  I hope she can.  

Track 8:  1121

From what I understand this 1121 is the date she found out she was pregnant with her child.  Halsey is such a modern start in the sense that entire personal life seems to be out there for her fans to know.  Her miscarriages, her mental health struggles, her relationship struggles.  Maybe that's why she is so comfortable with being so raw and personal in her lyrics.  This song is simple in its thoughts and feelings,  "And I won't die for love, but ever since I met you, you could have my heart and I would break it for you."  

Track 9:  Honey

Another thing that Halsey is pretty open about is her bisexuality and so a song like "Honey" comes along and it instantly gets tagged as her LGBTQ song for the album.  I've always thought it is a mistake to try and group songs this way.  It doesn't matter that she's singing about a woman and she's a woman, what matters is what she's saying and is that something that we can all relate to.  In this song it seems to be more about this person she was with for a crazy, wild time in her life and the fact that she won't forget that time.  The idea is great and it's something most of us can connect with.  There was someone, maybe a summer fling, or sometime, when the people we were with were crazy and we were crazy and it's over and gone, but we have those memories and they sit with us sweet like honey in our mind.  It's a really smart song.  I think this lyric gives a good idea of the song.  

Out and about

Without a reason or rhyme

And now she's dancing on a table

And she spins on a dime

She's hell in a basket, just making a racket

I love every second, it's f#%(*& fantastic

Good things aren't easy to get

I know that I won't regret

Track 10:  Whispers

OK I've talked about her being an open book and I don't know that any song is more open than this one.  As I said we all know of her mental health issues and this song is obviously addressing those, but again what works for me is that the way she has constructed it I feel like we can all associate with it.  The voice in our heads that tear us down that whisper bad things to us we all struggle with those voices.  Obviously for some it goes beyond just our day to day doubts and fears and it's a real mental health problem that requires medication to control, but constructing this song in this way does make me realize in a tiny way what her struggles are like, because I can relate to it.  

Track 11:  I Am Not a Woman, I'm a God

One thing I find so interesting about Halsey is how she can so easily tear herself down.  Do we all do that?  She seems very adept at it and that's kind of what this song to me is about.  She often alludes to this idea that she is putting on a show.  That we don't know the real her, that she keeps that part hidden away.  This song I think is interesting because it explores that self doubt and then also mixes it with the way she's viewed by the public.  

I am not a woman, I'm a God

I am not a martyr, I'm a problem

I am not a legend, I'm a fraud

So keep your heart, 'cause I already got one

So that is how the world sees her but then this is how she sees herself.  

Everyday I've got a smile where my frown goes

A couple bodies in the garden where the grass grows

I take 'em with me to the grave in a suitcase

Maybe I could be a different human in a new place

Remember earlier in "Darling" she was talking about trying to find her place.  It's so right that she partnered with Trent Rezner for this album.  I'm not sure anyone else who could have built this song out the way he did.  

Track 12:  The Lighthouse

Well, that should teach a man to mess with me

He was never seen again

And I'm still wandering the beach

And I'm glad I met the devil

'Cause he showed me I was weak

And a little piece of him is in a little piece of me

This really is a solid album.  At twelve tracks in we get to something that is at the heart of so much what Halsey deals with in her songs.  She is this independent person who feels lost in the world.  These people come along who want to save her, and she destroys them.  She says something in this song though that I think shows some real growth when she says, " 'Cause I never wanted saving, I just wanted to be found."  So is it her fault?  She doesn't want to be a God, she didn't want to be saved, she just wanted to be found to find her place in the world.  She essentially just wants a partner.  

Track 13:  Ya'aburnee

OK last track.  Here is all you need to know about this one.  Ya'aburnee, It’s Arabic ( syrian - lebanese)  and it means  “A declaration of one's hope that they'll die before another person because of how unbearable it would be to live without them.”  I got this from one of the comments on YouTube.  I find this to be pretty strong writing as a song to your child.

But what's worse?

Telling you my feelings or to die without revealing

That you crawled inside my head and set a fire there, instead

Letting all my insecurity

Devour me with certainty

That love is just a currency, so take my pockets

Take me whole

Take my life and take my soul, wrap me in a wedding ring

You know I swear I'd give you anything


  1. I am so excited to work to this whole post today.

  2. Having read that she supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election, stupid me honestly guessed that "Ya'aburnee" was going to be a political thing.

  3. OK, you guessed correctly that I couldn't listen to this record without worrying about Halsey's long-term wellbeing.

  4. I see that Halsey was born in Edison, New Jersey, in 1994. I spent a goodly amount of time in and around Edison in the 1990s for work. I always find it interesting to learn about people younger than me and think about how their lives have intersected with mine. Halsey was born in Edison, along about when I was staying at a Sheraton there, expensing club sandwiches for late suppers at the hotel bar. Antonio Brown was born in Miami in 1988, when I was fixated on leaving behind childish things like the (6-10) Dolphins and filling my life with serious adult pursuits like ambition, dating and acquiring the correct CDs. Pete Davidson was 7 and lost his firefighter dad in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, while I escaped the news that afternoon by going out and playing basketball by myself on the outdoor goal of a Presbyterian church in Cary, North Carolina.

  5. But back to worrying about Halsey ... what I wish for her is plenty of safe, fun space and time with people who love her unconditionally. I don't mean to say that would "fix" her. I just know that makes me feel happy and whole, and I wonder if it would help her feel same.