‘you should be sad’ by Halsey: Emotional Pop Production with Style
After featuring on the viral track ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers, Halsey’s career was propelled to limelight. Following the commercial success of several singles, Halsey released the album ‘Manic’ to favourable critical reception. ‘Manic’s’ unhinged sound can be attributed to the extremely diverse blends of genre, which is most evident in my favourite track, ‘you should be sad’.
Lorde transformed the what we typically expect aesthetically and musically from contemporary, young pop-artists. From large, glamorous and playful production demonstrated by artists such as Katy Perry and Jessie J, to something far darker and minimalist, the greatest recent example being Billie Ellish with tracks like ‘ocean eyes’. This minimalism is most obviously reflected in the way in which these artist choose to label the art - purely lowercase, though there are many more subtle ways in which this minimalism is portrayed.
‘Manic’ overall is a very personal album, though ‘you should be sad’ is potentially the most emotionally intense. The track starts out with just a processed and slightly stereo-widened acoustic guitar. It sounds uniquely full despite the simplicity of the sorrowful chord progression. An ambient pad looms briefly in the background, immediately setting the tone for the track. Halsey’s confessional lyricism takes the immediate attention: “I wanna start this out by sayin’….got no anger, got no malice, just a little bit of regret”, said arguably tongue-in-cheek with some anger. It is during the first verse the dark synth pad begins the creep up panned slightly right, continually building the intensity of the track.
It is with the pre-chorus that I truly was captivated by this song. Halsey’s vocal performance on “You’re not half the man you think that you are” is raspy, aggressive and truly hurt. It’s doubled up with a harmony track that sits nicely behind the lead vocal - it’s a powerful start to the hook. The following line follows up an almost malicious teasing of her ex-partner’s inability to satisfy himself with “money, girls and cars”. The heavily reverberating and distant background vocals nicely complement this section. At one point Halsey sings the note gently falling off down in the background. It’s a small but haunting detail that is beautifully implemented into the mix. The next lyric out does the first two, “I’m so glad I never ever had a baby with you, ‘cause you can’t love nothing unless there is something in it for you”. It’s personal, sung vengefully, and truly powerful.
Production-wise, the chorus easily outshines the rest of the song. An ambient, distorted electric guitar rips through the mix, matching the emotional inflections of Halsey’s vocals. It’s a simple melodic line, but it’s impact on the song cannot be understated - it’s the key feature. It’s completely unexpected on the first listen, especially when considering it is paired with mainstream country-inspired progression. It feels inappropriate, out of place, and tinged with anger. It’s perfect. The thumping kick drum drives the momentum of the song, fitting in nicely with the acoustic guitar throughout.
Halsey’s blend of unique and minimal contemporary production with acoustic folk and country music is a stand-out example of brilliant pop songwriting. Her vocals scream emotional distress, and the simplicity of the song allows her emotions to take centre stage throughout, matched perfectly with the distorted electric guitar that breaks through the mix. Lorde paved the way for confessional, simplistic commercial music. But is artists like Halsey that are bringing the sound to new heights.