“High on legal marijuana/Raised on Biggie and Nirvana/We are the new Americana,” sings Halsey, aka Ashley Frangipane, during “New Americana,” one of several uber-catchy hits-in-waiting on her full-length debut, “Badlands.”
And with that, the clarion call to unite social media-savvy millennials (is that redundant?) around ideas meant to be interpreted as unique to their age group has been sounded.
Maybe this is nothing new, but Halsey is a bit of a watershed artist – not necessarily for her music, which is skewed but still mainstream electro-pop, but rather, for the fact that she doesn’t need a boardroom of media analysts to help her hit her targets. She can do it herself, thanks very much.
Halsey is not the first artist to make a name for herself via YouTube and Soundcloud recordings made on her own dime, and then parlay that social media success into a record deal. She is perhaps the first to have so fully embraced the social media success model, however, to the point where she doesn’t need any help selling herself. The New York Times noted as much in a recent feature that read, in part: “Halsey could be mistaken for a millennial built in a lab: Not only is she fluent in the language of modern marketing, but her openness on social media feels authentic and inextricable from her personality.”
It also helps that she’s a dynamic and engaging live performer, as her recent Buffalo appearance opening for Imagine Dragons at the First Niagara Center made plain. But does “Badlands” deliver on this substantial buzz? Partly, yes, though I’m not sure anything could truly live up to the “savior of the music industry” hyperbole common to early reviews. Fans of Lorde will find the glacial electro-pop atmosphere favored by Halsey familiar and comforting – songs strut atop artificial rhythmic constructs, ebbing and flowing with occasionally overdramatic stops and starts (“Castle”) or indulge in what sounds like a collage of ringtones from the cell phones of hipsters (“Drive”), forsaking the warm and organic for the icy and plasticized.
This would be only a mildly inventive drag, if not for the strength of Halsey’s singing – breathy, sensual and blessedly not overly processed – and her lyrics, which tend toward the darkly reflective and, on occasion, the surprisingly inventive. It’s that voice, and the “outsider-as-insider” persona offered by the lyrics, that suggest that “Badlands” is more than just this week’s flashy click-bait.
- Jeff Miers