February 17, 2019
Todd plays "Without Me" on the piano.
HALSEY - WITHOUT ME
A pop song review
Todd: Wanna hear a funny thing that happened about a month ago?
Clip of Halsey - "Bad at Love"
Halsey: I'm bad at loveTodd (VO): Okay, so you know that song, "Bad at Love" by Halsey?
Todd: You know, (singing) I'm bad at love, ooh, ooh.
Todd (VO): Yeah, it's a song about all her bad relationships, and in the verses, she goes into them one by one and how they all failed?
Halsey: So I told him that I never really liked his friends
Now he's gone and he's calling me a bitch againTodd: Well, my buddy, the Rap Critic (screenshot of Todd and Rap Critic from Mac and Devin Go to High School ), you remember him, a while back, he pointed out she's supposedly so (screenshot of RC's Twitter feed) bad at love, but she doesn't do anything wrong in the song.
Halsey: But I never got the chance to make her mine
Because she fell in love with little thin white linesTodd (VO): You know, it's like, "Well, this guy is a sexist asshole, or this girl I dated had a drug problem." "So, how is Halsey supposedly so 'bad at love' when they're the fuck-ups?" was his question.
Todd: Now, I already thought of that. So, I told him, well, (Todd's tweet) obviously, it's about her having bad taste. Bad taste in men/women.
Todd (VO): If these are the kinds of people she attracts, she can call herself "bad at love".
Todd: I was pretty satisfied with that interpretation. But, like a month ago, I realized... wait a minute, what about that last verse?
Halsey: London girl with an attitude We never told no one but we look so cute Both got way better things to do But I always think about it when I'm riding throughTodd: Okay, hold on. No one did anything wrong there. No one got hurt. That was just a casual thing that fizzled out. How does that fit the song? How does that make her bad at love? Maybe she's "bad at love" because she gets all dramatic about things that aren't problems... and I posted all that (screenshot of Todd's twitter feed). That's the type of high-quality content you can find on my Twitter feed, subscribe now.
Todd: I didn't expect her to respond.
(screenshot of Halsey's replies to Todd's twitter)
Todd (VO): I don't know how she found it but right after I posted that, Halsey, the actual fucking person, popped into my mentions to explain her songwriting choices to me. I was not prepared for that, and I backpedaled hard enough to leave a Todd-shaped hole in the wall behind me (image of impact silhouette). And I explained that I did like the song and I was just kidding around, ha ha ha (screenshot of Todd's twitter feed). I think I called her "ma'am" at one point ("maam" is now circled in red and labeled "LOL") even though I'm ten years older than her. I don't remember cause I blacked out from embarrassment (screenshot of Todd's tweet reading "............well that backfired"). When snark goes wrong.
Todd: For the record, I wasn't sucking up to her. I do like that song. (screenshot of Halsey tweet) Although she did say she meant that chorus kind of facetiously like, "Oh well. Guess I just suck!"
(Clip of "Bad at Love")
Todd: As a critic, I would respond that she may have written it facetiously but she didn't sing it that way. It seems very sincere and that's where it gets its power, and I think the verses could've stood to be a little darker. I think these are all based on real relationships and it might have worked out a little better if she'd just made something up instead.
(Clip of Halsey - "Without Me")
Todd: In any case, after my brush with fame, her career hit its biggest height yet: (screenshot of news article: "Halsey's 'Without Me' Becomes Her First Solo No. 1 Hit'") a number one single. I took that as a sign cause, heheheh, (screenshot of Todd's "............well that backfired" tweet) Halsey has been on my mind quite a bit in the last month. So I thought now would be a good time to discuss her and her massive smash hit, "Without Me."
(Snippet of the music video plays)
Todd: This is a number-one hit, seriously?
(Music video continues)
Todd: Okay, so I'm listening to this and this is provoking a lot of thoughts in me, like uh... why do I listen to this kind of music again? Wow, that sounder way harsher than I meant it. That wasn't like, a slam on the song. It's just something I've been asking myself a lot in these pop-anemic last couple of years. Like, "What am I doing here? I didn't come naturally to plastic, bubblegum music. I hated that shit growing up. Why do I bother now?"
Todd: Well, I dunno. Why do I go to those stupid superhero movies every couple of months? (Clip from Captain Marvel trailer) I like big, larger-than-life figures with splashy colors and costumes and fight scenes. (Movie clip) I could be seeing indie dramas, but those are about regular people. Pfft, who cares? Call me a shallow critic if you want, but I'm not that interested in music that's just music. (Clip of Rihanna - ) I like the big, gaudy videos and biographical career arcs, and all that stupid extra stuff. (Collage of famous musicians) I like music with mythology attached to it, the big iconic figures, and in the late 2000's when I started reviewing music, those figures were all pop stars (Clip of - ). It really is just the same nerdy impulse that made me into comic books when I was a kid. You got these larger than life figures in ridiculous costumes, and every release is an event. That's my nerd cred. You may have (image of...) all 42 volumes of the original Dragon Ball manga, but I listen to mainstream music! (caption: NEEEEEEEEERRRRRDDDD!!)
(Clip of Lady Gaga - Born This Way)
Todd: So yeah, that's basically how I got into this. The pop stars like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, those are my superheroes... or at least they were before the bomb dropped.
(Clip of Lorde - Royals)
Todd: In hindsight, Lorde's big anti-pop pop anthem, "Royals" seems like the shockwave that destroyed everything. Basically, (image of Superman comic) Lorde killed Superman and now we're in some kind of (image of Judge Dredd(?) comic) post apocalyptic dystopia comic instead. It didn't happen right away of course, and you obviously can't pin everything on one song, but it feels like the turning point that explains where we are now: How we got from (image of) Pitbull to (image of) Post Malone. How we got from (clip of) "Part in the U.S.A." to (clip of) "Stressed Out." (Clip of Taylor Swift - Endgame) And slowly but surely, those big godlike figures, the big names with big reputations burned themselves out. The genre still exists, but the hits are coming from people like (series of images of...) Charlie Puth or Camilla Cabello or Dua Lipa. Y'know I like Dua Lipa a lot. I don't like Camilla Cabello at all. (Clip of Camilla Cabello live performance) But in both cases there's no star power coming off of them. They're just people who make songs.
Todd: It's my job to keep track of these people and I barely know what they look like. And that's before you get into EDM where the music is made by disposable no-names working for (image of Marshmello) literally faceless producers.
Todd: But then there's Halsey. Halsey...
(Clip of live performance of Halsey - Now or Never)
Todd: Where does she land on this? Is she just another nameless pop voice or does she have the potential to be an actual interesting persona? Could she star in her own comic book, basically?
Todd: I dunno. Maybe she's interesting enough. I mean, (screenshot of Todd's "............well that backfired" tweet again) I've thought about her in the last month more than my own loved ones!
Todd: But I'm still not entirely sold on her as a headliner.
(Clip of Lorde - Greenlight)
Todd: And as a person who made his living off of gaudy pop songs, I should probably resent Lorde, the same way I'm sure makers of (clip of - ) hairspray and spandex resented Kurt Cobain, but I don't, I like her. (Greenlight continues) I feel like she should've gotten more reward for basically creating the current landscape, but that second album wasn't a huge seller. Instead, various Lorde-alikes came in to fill in the gaps, including, well, you know who.
(Clip of Halsey - New Americana)
Todd: Halsey is turning out to be the main beneficiary of the Royals fallout. She started as a kind of Lorde-figure, she's kind of backed off from that, she stopped trying for Lorde's wisdom of youth pose. Which is good 'cuz she sucked at it.
Halsey: High on legal marijuana
Todd: Haha. Never forget.
Todd: Her lyrics are more intimate and personal now, but the musical style still resembles Lorde circa 2013: the spare base; the no bass; the keening voice cutting through the fog; the pronouncing vowels weird.
(clips of Lorde, then Halsey, doing just that)
Todd: [imitating them]
(Clip of Halsey - )
Todd: Halsey's carved out a real space for herself, between Lorde and Lana Del Ray. Less virginal than Lorde, but not so remote as Lana. But that's not to say it really works for me.
(Clip of Without Me)
Todd: Her newest hit, "Without Me," feels like it's trying to be Halsey's big entry into bona-fide celebrity-dom. For one, it's a breakup song, and she's getting a lot of mileage out of some tabloid drama here.
(Clip of Entertainment Tonight report of Halsey and G-Eazy on red carpet)
Newscaster: G-Eazy and Halsey have reportedly called it quits again.
Todd: See, she was part of a serious showbiz couple for a while, with the rapper G-Eazy. She's been on and off and on again with him, seems like finally for real off now, and this is the first song she released since they split. (Clip of Halsey performing "Without Me" on SNL) And there was huge buzz off of this just last week when she did this song on SNL and the set was decorated with what I assume is supposed to be G-Eazy's confessions of cheating and so on.
Todd: Now that's a big pop star move. (Clip of Taylor Swift - Blank Space) Taylor Swift was able to get tons of interest singing about her various breakups, (clip of Ariana Grande - thank u, next) and Ariana, the one undisputable megastar at the moment just did the same thing. (Clip of Halsey's SNL performance) And I do like my celebrity gossips, so this should really be doing it for me.
Todd: But it's not. For one big reason: which I don't give a fuck about G-Eazy.
(Clip of G-Eazy - )
Todd: I'm sorry, this guy is a bore and a half. I couldn't care less about a single thing he's done, as an artist or as a person. Y'know, I remember a time when white rappers were forced to earn your attention, to justify their existence, whether it be by (clip of Vanilla Ice - Ice Ice Baby) being excessively simple, or (clip of Eminem - ) especially talented, or (clip of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Thrift Shop) self-deprecating or (clip of Iggy Azalea - ) controversial, just something.
(Clip of G-Eazy)
Todd: But now they're normalized enough that a white rapper can get away with being completely un-noteworthy. How far we've come. I can't stand him. How you gonna call yourself G-Eazy when there's already (image of...) a Jeezy? It's like a rap name your grandma would come up with.
(Clip of G-Eazy and Halsey - Him & I)
Todd: And yes, Halsey and G-Eazy were trying to become pop's next power couple. Yeah, they put out this big duet, "Him & I," where they were supposed to be like this ride-or-die outlaw duo.
G-Eazy: 2017 Bonnie and Clyde.
Todd: Yeah, they weren't hiding it, it's an exact attempt to do (clip of...) what Jay-Z and Beyonce did with "Bonnie and Clyde '03"
Jay-Z: Just me 'n my girlfriend (me 'n my girlfriend)
(Clip of live performance of Him & I)
Todd: And yet somehow these two did not become the next Jay and Beyonce, believe it or not. They didn't even become the next (image of...) Captain and Tennile.
(Clip of Without Me)
Todd: Yes, before the breakup and after, I do think Halsey was trying to make this relationship like a major thing that's relevant to the public. 'Cuz in this song specifically, she directly quotes from (clip of...) "Cry Me A River," one of the biggest songs of this millennium.
Justin Timberlake: You don't have to say/What you did/I already know
Halsey: You don't have to say/Just what you did/I already know
Todd: That's not a lyric you just toss in there, they had to pay Justin Timberlake to use that. So I listen to that line and I think... so, is she trying to make the two of them like (image of...) the new Justin and Britney?
Halsey: You don't have to say/Just what you did
Todd: No, I will be damned if I let this generation's Britney Spears be G-Eazy!
(Clip of ...Baby One More Time, with G-Eazy's head pasted onto Britney's)
(Clip of Without Me)
Todd: And it's a weird reference to drop for Halsey, because, y'know, she's drawn controversy in the past for claiming (screenshot of article: "Halsey Hates Being Called a Pop Star") she resents the pop label. (Screenshot of article: "Halsey Still Sees Herself As 'Alternative' Despite Hoping For Top 40 Recognition) Because she's not pop, she's alternative.
Todd: [makes jacking off gesture and scoffs] Well that was my first reaction at least. But actually now that I think about it, there is something there. If this were 2011... (clip of LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem), then something like this? (Clip of Without Me) Yes, I would've absolutely called this alternative. File it with like (album art for HAIM - Days Are Gone) HAIM or (album art for Chvrches - Love Is Dead) or those kinds of artists. She's not pulling it from nowhere.
Todd: And that's kind of the problem, really. She won't commit. She's in this kinda halfway point where she's neither pop or alternative. I can only speak for me, but I just don't feel like this sound has any real sound to it. Not catchy enough to be pop, not edgy enough to be alternative. And that whole not-one-thing, not-the-other is not just a problem with the music, it's the lyrics.
Todd: I mean, you listen to me, I've been blathering about star power, the attraction of celebrities, oooh. Songwriting counts too. (Collage of tabloid magazine covers) I don't care one bit about the love life of, (image of...) Ellie Goulding, let's say. (caption: who?)
(Clip of Ellie Goulding - On My Mind)
Todd: And yet there was this wonderful moment four years ago when she was trading breakup diss tracks with (clip of studio performance of...) Ed Sheeran, and it was amazing.
Ed Sheeran: Well you didn't need to take him to bed, that's all.
Ellie Goulding: I don't even really know what you intended.
Todd: And it was because they were trading such intimate details, there was a real voyeuristic thrill out of it.