Halsey's "If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power" album review
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Editor's note: Image cutlines have been edited for accuracy.
For reference, Halsey uses the pronouns she/they interchangeably.
Just around a year and a half after releasing "Manic," Halsey’s third album, the singer, songwriter and now mother gifts "If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power" to the world. Halsey’s newest and fourth album was released Aug. 27, 2021, just a few days after the release of the accompanying film of the same name featuring many of the new album’s songs.
The film, directed by Colin Tilley starring Halsey herself, was released at select IMAX theaters around the world ahead of the album’s scheduled release. The film was subsequently rated 9.1/10 by IMDB and their makeup line, "About-Face Beauty," was used for the makeup in the film.
"If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power" is a concept album featuring 13 tracks centered around the “joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth,” Halsey said in her album release announcement on Instagram. “The idea that me as a sexual being and my body as a vessel and gift to my child are two concepts that can co-exist peacefully and powerfully.”
The first track catapults the audience into a new world of Halsey’s creation, a world that captures the essence of the fire and strength of someone who has lived vicariously through the lives of characters and others. “The Tradition” brings forth a chilling tale of a girl whose identity is stolen and sets the stage for the themes of independence, strength and female empowerment that become the underlying themes of the album. This is not a collection of love songs or pity and sorrow. "If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power" is exactly as it reads: a declaration of power in sexuality and identity, and a scream - not a cry - of defiance.
Halsey’s impeccable lyrical and songwriting skills are showcased magnificently in "If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power," and arguably rival any other pieces of her previous songwriting. Paired with their haunting, sweet, and sometimes angry voice, a new Halsey comes into fruition.
Halsey - her real name being Ashley Frangipane - has changed quite a bit since the release of "Manic." Motherhood, a healthy and stable relationship and personal growth have changed the Halsey their fans knew.
“I’m getting arguably the first break I’ve had in seven years. I’m finally taking care of myself, eating my vegetables and getting sleep and I’m pregnant and everything’s amazing and then out comes this,” Halsey said of the album. Halsey’s take on womanhood, pregnancy, and independence is raw, unbridled, and raging in contrast to what motherhood is so often perceived as. Everything is not sunshine and flowers; there is emotion and turmoil, and Halsey refuses to adhere to what society has depicted pregnancy and motherhood to be while also highlighting the sweetness that comes with it.
With lyrics like, “So take what you want, take what you can / Take what you please, don’t give a damn / Ask for forgiveness, never permission,” from “The Tradition,” and, “From a tender age, I was cursed with rage / Came swingin’ like a fist inside a battin’ cage,” and, “Well that should teach a man to mess with me / He was never seen again and I’m still wanderin’ 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,” from “The Lighthouse,” it’s hard not to feel the infectious and sweet feeling of vengeance, rightful rage and empowerment. Halsey is angry, as they should be, and uses metaphor to relate to the squelching patriarchy.
More sentimental songs like “Darling” and “Ya’aburnee” (which translates to “you bury me” in Arabic) are odes of love to both their future child and partner and show the duality of which Halsey possesses: the love for herself as both a sexual being and creator of life and love. These bittersweet tales of love and longing for the future add comfort and genuineness that is hard to find in lyricism nowadays.
In “Darling,” Halsey sings sweetly to her future child: “Darlin’, don’t you weep / There’s a place for me / Somewhere we can sleep / I’ll see you in your dreams.” The song’s tenderness and love radiate throughout the gentle strums of the guitar to her sweet lullaby voice, showing the range of which Halsey can perform.
In contrast, songs like “Girl is a Gun” and the lead single of the album “I am not a woman, I’m a god” back up the theme of the danger of an empowered woman. Both songs and more, like “honey” and “You asked for this,” are contagiously poignant, high-energy and powerful.
This album solidifies Halsey’s success as an album artist with the songs meshing together like smaller, refined fragments of a whole story that fit together so well. The transitions between songs and ideas flow into each other as if they were created to be together but can most certainly be enjoyed just as much separately. Halsey’s establishment as a multi-faceted artist is easy to see when looking at their album as a whole in terms of lyricism, singing, creative production and artistry.
The ambitious creation of this album with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as the masterminds behind the production was brilliant and helped to transform the alternative pop Halsey into something new that resembles a rock star. The style of music is quite different, and the production is the cleanest and most beautiful of any of her albums. Halsey truly is not a woman, but a god (of music).
This new change in terms of both songwriting, production and genre calls for a new era that can’t be described as anything other than revolutionary and explosive. Halsey’s attack of the patriarchy and misogyny is performed strikingly, avant-garde and artistically from someone who clearly has full control over many different forms of artistry and artistic expression.
Halsey’s newest album catapulted into existence the same dramatic way it is experienced: spectacularly breathtaking, lively and irrevocably stunning and electrifying. It is poetic that Halsey unveiled the album cover and announcement of the album at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, considering how undeniably masterful and sensational it is. With “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,” Halsey creates a new collection of timeless and anarchic anthems to empower and resonate with listeners through raw emotional power, a new sound and a perfect capture of her emotional turmoil.