Image Source: Snapshot from interview linked below
This week I’m coming at you with a bit more linked content than usual, but it’s something that personally really moved me that I wanted to share!
Halsey premiered her third full album “Manic” this past week, and reintroduces herself as Ashley (her birth name). This incredibly introspective and raw album is now out for purchase or can be listened to in it’s entirety on youtube (48 total minutes, linked above). Ashley also did this awesome, in depth interview with Zane Lowe (1 Hour 2 minutes, linked above) about “Manic”. Both the record and interview are prime examples of a lovely human navigating life and learning from her struggles. The wisdom and insight this one has is so incredible! Honestly I’d rather you just click off this blog and dive into the linked content because I’m going to tell you write now that I am not doing her enough justice, but if you don’t have time for either right now, I’m going to try to sum up some of the takeaways from this body of art. There is so much valuable material in this record (best explained by the artist herself), and I hope there’s something in it that makes you feel seen too.
Initially when listening to the album, I was really struck by how honest it really is. Not that I think that Ashley doesn’t want to be honest, but she clearly has done an incredible amount of self reflecting to be able to express this much, and then there’s the decision to make all of these realizations public. I’m really grateful that she decided to share it all with us, to let us know that it’s okay to admit when we aren’t okay. There is so much pressure in our society these days to be perceived in certain ways, especially because of all of the media we consume. It’s so easy to fall into the trap where we dress, act, say, do things in a certain way, just because that’s what seems acceptable to society. But that standard is an absolutely unattainable fantasy, even when we work so hard to achieve it. No one’s life is as perfect or glamorous as it may seem from the outside. As much as Ashley could be parading around looking glamorous 100% of the time on social media or out in public, in the album we see someone who is willing to be vulnerable to show the rest of us that we don’t have to waste our time reaching for that impossible standard of perfection.
That willingness to be authentic with us is so important because she represents parts of so many of us. She’s a woman who is bisexual, biracial, has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (hence the album title, Manic), has battled Endometriosis, has made through chaotic relationships, among other things. This album gives us permission to acknowledge our struggles that have come about because of who we are, or what we’ve been through. Our struggles don’t have to be silenced or left in a shameful corner.
While talking with Zane Lowe, Ashley notes the media has a certain idea of what mania looks like, and how her personal experience with mania is different than the caricature of mania that the media paints. Ashley calling out public perception versus reality is really so important for so many reasons. The media can be so great for spreading awareness, but it can also dish out inaccuracies that don’t paint the full picture, or the media inadvertently can put people into stereotyped boxes that don’t quite fit them. I love how Ashley talks about how some of her best qualities come from her mania, further defying a lot of stigma around mania as “only” a destructive experience. Diving into the past as well, she talks about overcompensating through her depression on her previous records. In terms of public perception of mania, her second album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom “sounds” more “manic”, than Manic the album does, showing that these mental health experiences don’t fit in boxes. The comparison game here can also be dangerous or unjust, as it doesn't give dignity to each individual’s experience in terms of how they are seen in the world or what needs they might have.
Thoughts on stigma and perception covered, Ashley gets super vulnerable and takes us on a deep dive of some of the thought content that she experienced during her mania. She calls herself out on her self-sabotaging, but seems to also give herself some slack due to her anxiety, overthinking, trauma, and being too hard on herself. Her song “I Hate Everybody” discusses the defenses we use to feel safe. Putting up that guard or protection of “hating everyone” or “not needing anyone” actually keeps us from what we generally want, which is connection to others. So many times on this record, Ashley seems to call her own bluff and takes responsibility for the thought processes and beliefs that don’t seem to be serving her. She notes the problem with her history of feeling like she needs to put others first to help them succeed, and started to ask herself, “where do I fit in?”. This album is her evidence of learning to put herself and her wellbeing first after a period of putting her own needs last, a process that no doubt comes with some hard truths.
This record shows the importance of healing and growing, but also cutting ourselves some slack for times we are not at our best, especially when we are in situations that fuel discomfort. In the music industry, Zane Lowe calls Ashley as the “glitch in the matrix”, or the rule breaker that mixes things up and refuses to conform to the mold. Going against the mold certainly can come with both empowerment and struggle. When referencing her first album that Zane refers to as a “weird debut album”, she says “Nobody was going to take me seriously unless I took myself ferociously took myself seriously… I’m talking about my art the way it deserves to be talked about!”. Ashley discusses feeling like she “sold herself” to the music world, but is still trying to navigate it in a way that is both manageable and authentic to her. She talks about the pressure to be composed and deliver, which got in the way of giving herself time to process what she was living through. Music is the outlet she has been using, but she’s been finding out the importance of dishing out vulnerability and energy in reasonable doses to people or situations that deserve it, as overindulging on vulnerability can be draining.
While this album has it’s darker moments, it also offers that glimmer of hope that comes from overcoming struggles. She gives herself space to continue to evolve, singing “Is it really that strange if I always want to change?” in her self-titled track. She validates that it’s okay to be learning and still not have it all figured out. But something she has known for sure for a long time, is that she has wants to have children. For years she has been battling endometriosis, and thought she wouldn’t be able to have her own children. Manic features a ballad “More”, which is a hopeful, joyful love song to her future child. While she’s happy she can start a family now with improved reproductive health, she also gives herself the task of helping create a world she would want to raise her babies in: “[In the future] I hope I’m living in a better world, and it’s up to me to do my part to make that happen… I can’t just sit down and “thoughts and prayers”, I need to put the work in”. This whole album and the interview is a beautiful mix of vulnerability, pain, hope, and empowerment.
Ashley sets this great example of how to channel your struggles into a healthy outlet. Music seems to be a huge part of Ashley’s healing process, a go-to haven to feel safe and open up about the hard things. None of us have to do this life thing alone, and I’m so glad Ashley opened up to all of us!
Okay so that’s the end of the album and interview portion of this blog, but if you can handle a 5 more minutes, here is some comedic relief. Ashley on Jimmy Fallon doing one of Jimmy’s musical challenges is EVERYTHING.