At this stage in her career, Halsey is a household name. Her two previous albums, 2015's Badlands and 2017's hopeless fountain kingdom, both came with elaborate backstories - designed to create a world outside the music.
It was somewhat of a left turn, then, to open this album with a track simply named Ashley (the lead singer's name). Everything about the album's opener signals a shift in attitude from past work from the singer - we're looking inwards, rather than observing from the outside. We're not being shown a facade, as some may have come to expect from Halsey's past work, but instead, a dive into her raw, unfiltered emotions. This is an album written by Ashley, not Halsey.
Manic might be the mood of much of the album, but it is a series of confessions - arguably best highlighted by the voiceover from actress Kate Winslet from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind that finishes the opening track. Manic is a deep dive into the world of Ashley, not Halsey, as she attempts to find peace as everything fluctuates around her.
This continues on clementine, another reference to Winslet's character from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. There's an internal wrestle that goes on through the lyrics of this track between wanting her space and wanting validation. This discussion is given space to breathe by the minimalistic production. More than ever, her vocals are brought to the forefront, as this album is not an exercise in complicated, extravagant production, but rather an investigation into Halsey's mind.
You should be sad is a dagger disguised as a country-pop-rock ballad, with Halsey talking about a failed past relationship. It's one of the most confident moments on an album filled with self-doubt - rather than shielding listeners, and herself, from past relationship breakdowns, she uses them to spur herself on. It's triumphant, and one of the album's highlights. Just don't try to understand the song's genre.
I Hate Everybody is a discussion of relying on potential romantic partners for validation, seeking it externally, rather than internally. The track, written by Finneas, Billie Eilish's brother and collaborator, is one of the freshest writers on the album, with Ed Sheeran, fun.'s Nate Ruess and The xx's Romy Madley Croft all contributing production to the album.
3am invokes comparisons to Avril Lavigne, lamenting the fact that when she's at a bar, she wants to ring everyone in her phone - otherwise, she'll be alone with her thoughts. It finishes with a voicemail from John Mayer, talking about the success of chart-topper Without Me off the album, the album's most successful moment. Released back in 2018, Without Me documents a couple's toxic relationship (and is quite likely referencing her relationship with rapper G-Eazy).
The album is light on the features from other artists, as Manic showcases just three other musicians: Dominic Fike, BTS rapper Suga and unbelievably, Alanis Morrissette. The result is three well-crafted "interludes", and it's clear that Halsey hasn't selected this trio by chance, but rather, found artists that she knew would deliver exactly what she wanted. That's evident across the album - even when it feels like it's about to slip from Halsey's grip, given the rollercoaster ride that's going on in her vocals, she manages to reel it back in.
Manic lives up to its name, well and truly. Halsey invites the listener along for the journey of self-discovery, even when it's confronting. It's a discussion of her journey so far, both as a human and a musician, discussing relationships, both with others with herself. It's almost undoubtedly Halsey's most intimate and powerful album yet, and as long as you're up for the ride, you'll learn a lot about yourself as well.