Twenty-four-year-old pop singer Halsey (real name: Ashley Frangipane) first hit stardom at the age of 19. Since then, the New Jersey native has released two albums, 2015’s Badlands and 2017’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.
Her latest effort, the digital single “Without Me,” comes at a time when she had planned on taking a musical breather. Instead, she felt compelled to release a personal message about hurtful, complicated relationships.
“Without Me” tells the story of Halsey investing in a relationship that she feels was one sided and, in retrospect, recognizes was emotionally dysfunctional, too.
Regarding the former lover in this song (whose gender isn’t clear, as Halsey has talked a great deal about being bisexual), she begins, “Found you when your heart was broke/I filled your cup until it overflowed.” She said she did whatever was necessary to “keep you close” because “I was afraid to leave you on your own.”
Halsey vowed to stay by her lover’s side. As for critics of the relationship, she sings, “And if they laugh, then f— ’em all” (a line that’s repeated again before song’s end). She then adds, “I got you off your knees/Put you right back on your feet,” before singing bitterly, “Just so you could take advantage of me.”
Halsey knows this person has betrayed her somehow. And though this man or woman won’t admit it, Halsey’s heard from others exactly what went down, which the singer describes in this Justin Timberlake-esque snippet: “You don’t have to say just what you did (what you did)/I already know (I know)/I had to go and find out from them.”
She admits, “Gave love ’bout a hundred tries,” but also confesses that she took on this person’s problems in a self-destructive, codependent way: “Just running from the demons in your mind/Then I took yours and made ’em mine (mine)/I didn’t notice ’cause my love was blind.”
Halsey also implies that this person achieved a higher level of success due to her help (“You know I’m the one who put you up there”), but then says this ex has turned his or her attention and affections elsewhere: “Tell me, how’s it feel sittin’ up there?/Feeling so high, but too far away to hold me/ … Thinking you could live without me.”
In a new YouTube interview with Zach Sang, Halsey admitted that at times she’s hidden behind dramatic cinematography in her videos. In contrast, this song feels about as raw and honest as it could be. Halsey’s raspy vocals here mirror the more unfiltered version of herself she’s now revealing to her fans. The song’s lyrics paint a picture of someone who gave it everything she had, only to feel used, betrayed and discarded in the end.
Talking about her introspective journey while writing this song, Halsey told Sang, “I feel like I’m giving so much to so many people in my life and I feel like I’m getting nothing back. But instead of blaming them, I tried to look inward and I tried to think: what makes me seek relationships with people who I need to take care of? Or who aren’t going to give back? Because that’s not a character flaw in all those people. The only common denominator here is me.”
That’s a pretty big realization, one that comes through loud and clear here. That said, some pretty big problems come through loud and clear too. That repeated f-word is obviously the biggest issue with the song itself.
But the two videos for the song add more problems. Both videos (one of which plays like a mini movie, the other of which was filmed on a smartphone) both feature Halsey in wet tank tops that make it clear she’s not wearing anything underneath. The main video pictures her in a deeply dysfuctional relationship with a guy who has a severe drinking problem. We see him drinking, vomiting in a toilet and falling down, all while Halsey takes care of him. He smokes as well. The video pictures the couple in a shower together (from the shoulders up), as well as frequently fighting and yelling at each other in a relationship that eventually falls apart.
In some ways, I can admire Halsey’s raw honesty. But that very rawness also detracts from the point she’s trying to make when Halsey veers into harsh profanity and sexually explicit imagery.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, loving raising their little guy, Judah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).