Album Review of If I Cant Have Love, I Want Power by Halsey

Spinning Halsey’s powerful and enchanting new album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. Photo taken by Grace Sorensen.

Pregnancy and motherhood are daunting experiences, yet mothers and mothers-to-be are always told what a gift they are: creating and giving a human life. What about all that they take from you? The mental and physical tolls of pregnancy are many. And a pregnancy after a miscarriage will greatly amplify the fear of loss and failure . Halsey (she/they) said their newest album, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, produced by Capitol Records, is them being honest about her own experience with a rainbow baby pregnancy, especially in the eyes of the media. She called the album her “concept album about the horrors and joys of pregnancy and childbirth.” In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, they mentioned how this album is what they wish to say to their new child, to their partner, and partly to themself, in the process of coming to accept themself fully. 

Halsey has long been a figurehead of women’s rights movements and protests. Her Women’s March speech from 2018 is a perfect example, calling out a lot of the mistreatment she experienced as a woman, as well as the experiences of numerous women around her. Halsey has no shortage of examples of all the times they have stood up for women by using their voice. The song “The Tradition” is following the pattern once again. When asked his opinion on the song, Luke Balmer (he/him), a senior at Benson Polytechnic High School, described it as a cautionary tale to young girls, a story of a woman waltzing with no visible emotions, with flashes of visions with the same woman running in the mountains, feeling free. The song doesn’t reach me the same way though; I see it as a callout to the society that raised women to feel like we are less than men, like we are here as their toys, with the line “They said that Boys were boys but they were wrong.” It’s calling out rape with the lyrics, “Take what you want, take what you can/ask for forgiveness, never permission.” “The Tradition” is all about rape culture and how we raise men on “boys will be boys.”

Men and boys aren’t completely at fault. Society raises boys in that way: to treat girls like toys, like they are less. Women and girls were raised in a corresponding way, that we are to be treated as toys for men, it’s our main use. That’s just the way it is.

Women aren’t always victims either though, they are still capable of hurting people; they are capable of treating our partners like they’re temporary. Or we can refuse to admit we aren’t ready for a relationship of a certain kind. The song “Bells in Santa Fe,” in my opinion, is about a repeating one night stand relationship, no emotions, trying to run from the commitment your partner wants, but you know you can’t give them. Balmer compared this song to “Montero (Call me by Your Name)” by Lil Nas X, saying that Halsey’s song is its counterpart, that they are two sides of the same coin. “Montero” represents the pure want and desire in a relationship and how nothing gets in the way of that, while “Bells in Santa Fe” is more about how you know you are hurting your partner, so you are trying to distance yourself. On another hand though, it could also be about being a woman in itself, and how their pregnancy led to a gender identity crisis. The opening lyric, “Don’t call me by my name,” followed shortly by the repeated line, “All of this is temporary,” could signify how she perceives her gender, or it could go back to the first idea, of being in a temporary relationship and running from commitment. 

The song “Easier Than Lying” is an aggressive song, one of the angriest on the album. Halsey sings about how she never trusted her lover, how nothing was ever equal in the relationship and her partner was using her while lying to and manipulating her. They were willing to do anything for the relationship, for the satisfaction of their lover. Balmer said he sees the song as an angry goodbye voicemail as you drive away from your ex-lover in the middle of the night, which could not fit the vibes of the song any better. 

Balmer interpreted the next song “Lilith” as a young teacher missing the good old days of her rebellion when she didn’t have as many responsibilities, and how she is trying to go back to the life she misses. I see it in a similar light, with a strong person who knows they are powerful, and everyone else does too. The person is arrogant because of their power, but they have earned their arrogance; they worked to achieve the things they have. 

“Girl is a Gun” has a complimentary vibe. It’s more about a powerful woman who owns who she is in every way, one who doesn’t need a committed relationship. Balmer saw it as a heist/gambling montage in Vegas, running away with the stolen money, the rush of adrenaline. I see it more as a warning to Halsey’s lovers that she doesn’t want to commit due to old issues. It’s a mix of Halsey empowering themself and warning their potential lovers of the drawbacks of being involved with them.  

The next song, “You asked for this” is very, very different from “Girl is a Gun.” It’s a story of a young girl being manipulated and told no one will believe her. That young girl grows into a woman who left behind her dreams to follow her lover, while still being manipulated by them. She is then being forced to live a long, trapped life with someone who doesn’t make her feel the way that she deserves to feel. She’s not living the life she wants to live because that’s not the life her partner wants for her. She is making herself less than she is for them. Balmer sees it a bit differently; he sees it as something Halsey would say to themself during a midnight pep talk, during an existential crisis. I would add to this by saying maybe she was giving herself a different kind of talk. I think she was blaming herself for the way her life turned out (“You asked for this, now”); they’re putting all the blame on herself, which led to the existential crisis.

A few years ago during a concert, Halsey began bleeding through their clothes, and began to realize something no one ever should. She was having a miscarriage, in front of thousands of people. They haven’t shared which concert, or which album even, but they were performing when they lost the pregnancy. We do know now, many years after, that she had decided to freeze her eggs to protect herself and her future. I interpret that is what the song “Darling ” is about: she is singing to the baby she had to say goodbye to, and her hello’s to her new child. The song is about love, loss and everything in between. They sing of how they aren’t afraid of dying, they know they’ll be safe within the memories of their loved ones, they are only scared of saying goodbye and leaving them behind. Balmer said he imagined the song as a lullaby, either sung to a lover or child, a song about never having a home as a child, so you make your own. To fit with the lullaby theme, she sang:  “Only you have shown me how to love being alive.” This line could have been sung to their partner, of the pregnancy she lost, or to the child she just successfully had. It has the feeling of bringing safety and security to someone just as they drift into sleep.

“1121” is a failed love, something she lost and that hurt her deeply to her core. It could be about her lost pregnancy, or a past lover, it could even be her mourning a part of herself. Balmer said it could have been the day they found out they were pregnant, a song full of love and hope, instead of a song of loss and fear coupled with mourning something they couldn’t control, no matter how badly she wanted to. I believe instead of the day she found out she was pregnant, it was the day she lost the pregnancy. In her Apple Music interview with Zane Lowe, she said “I wake up every day in fear I could lose it,” “it” being the pregnancy that inspired the album. The loss of their first pregnancy a few years ago left them with a lot of unresolved feelings. In the Lowe interview she said how guilty and shameful she felt for losing it. Many fans, as well as Halsey themself blamed them for not being able to carry the child to term.

Continuing on, the next song up is track nine, “honey”, which gives the feeling of a love you are addicted to. Balmer used the term “Bonnie and Clyde vibes,” which fits well with the lyrics and the tempo, specific lyrics being, “She stings like she means it, she’s mean and she’s mine.” It’s watching from the sideline as your powerful, independent partner stands up for themselves and anything else with such ease and power. The awe in watching someone else’s confidence. It’s about the kind of lover that draws you in and won’t let go, even though they aren’t even trying to hold on.

“Whispers” is a song about Halsey holding onto her sanity and mental health for dear life, so close to falling off the edge and into a downward spiral she can’t escape. Some of the song even comes from the perspective of the part of her that provides the intrusive thoughts, the part of her brain that hates herself. During the Zane Lowe interview they said about the album, “the reason the album is sorta this like horror-theme…. is because this experience in a way, has its horrors.” Being pregnant in the eye of the media is surely horrifying, to know everyone knows so much, not only about your life, but the life of your child. Balmer described the feeling of the song like dancing in a fancy ballroom, disguising yourself to look composed and content on the outside but feeling manic and panicked on the inside. It’s the song of feeling like you are at fault for the destruction in your life, as well as the lives of those you love, like you are sabotaging everything you care about, no matter how hard you try to stop, to be ok again.

The most popular track, “I am not a woman, I am a god,” is about being the most powerful, the most ruthless person in the room and having everyone know it. This would explain why the song is the most popular on the album. What Balmer said about the song is that it’s like Halsey is showing up to a party uninvited, stealing the show and being the biggest enigma, the air of danger around them, drawing everyone else in. This is an absolutely perfect way of describing such a powerful song. Many people may compare the song to Ariana Grande’s hit song “God is a Woman,” but they simply portray different aspects of being a woman. Grande’s song is mainly about the sexual power a woman holds, while Halsey’s song focuses on the aspect of pregnancy, of creating life. 

Halsey wrote a poem called “Lighthouse” that was released in 2020. The poem greatly resembles the song “The Lighthouse” on the album. The poem was allegedly written about her abusive ex-boyfriend and the father of her lost pregnancy, G-Eazy. The line from the poem “His bedroom was a dark, cavernous prison at the bottom level of the house,” I find, correlates very closely with the line “I went swimming with the devil at the bottom of a lake” from the newly released song. She refers to G-Eazy as the devil in this line, and later in the song refers to him as a sailor in the lines: “I met a sailor on a ship with promise in his eyes/He kissed me on the mouth and dug his fingers in my thighs/But a sailor ain’t a savior ‘cause they only tell you lies.” She is describing her abusive relationship with G-Eazy in this song, yet also shows her own growth and how the relationship made her change in the progression from the line: “And I’m glad I met the devil ‘cause he showed me I was weak” to the line “And I will lure you like a landslide/And I’ll show you lovely things/If you rescue me, but they’re make believe/The lighthouse by the sea.” Halsey refers to themself as a lighthouse in both the poem and the song, which I believe signifies the fact that she had been alone and independent for a lot of her life, hence the line, “I’m still stranded on the shore line there” from the song. Referring to themself as a lighthouse also signifies the light they provide, and how she draws people in with such ease, yet makes sure she is still saving some light in life for themself. 

The title of the final song on the album, “Ya’aburnee” is an Arabic word that roughly translates to “you bury me.” It’s a way of saying you hope to die first, as living without the other would be too much to bear. This is the most love-filled song on the album; the line “love is just a currency so take my pockets/Take me whole” is absolutely beautiful. Halsey was so, so deeply in love with whoever they wrote this for. It could partially be about her child in the line “I’ll always see my youth in you,” or it could be about her lover/spouse because of the line later in the song, “Take my life and take my soul, wrap me in a wedding ring/You know I swear I’d give you anything.” Balmer said he sees the song as the sun and moon arranging an all-encompassing love between two humans. The common theme between Balmer’s mindset on this song and mine is that no matter what, the love in this song is so incredibly strong. 

Halsey has always been known for their thought provoking music and how she challenges society’s standards. This album is no exception. They said in her interview with Lowe how they were scared she would lose who she is once she became a mother, but said “I still get to be disruptive.” They get to continue to prompt people to think about things in a different way, a way that makes the world seem safer for more people. Though this album does follow her style, it is still so different from anything she’s done before. If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power is all about love, loss, womanhood and pregnancy. It’s Halsey’s acceptance of who they are , and who they want to be as a parent to their new child. This album was Halsey’s fresh start.

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