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An Essay on Halsey's If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power Project

Updated: Dec 24, 2022

Produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power, Halsey’s fourth studio album, is her greatest artistic endeavor to date. The album is accompanied by a film shot over the course of Halsey’s pregnancy and made in companionship as both songs and scenes were recorded in less than 9 months. While some hints at what was to come could be found in her best-selling poetry book released the year before, this project is unlike anything else she has undertaken yet. The album was her third number one within its first week on the Billboard 100 charts. Nominated for a grammy and named one of the best albums of 2021 by Rolling Stones, People, Nylon, The New York Times, Billboard, Fader, Spin, Variety, Vulture, Complex, UPROXX, and more. IICHLIWP is an ode to “mortality and everlasting love and our place/permanence. It was just amplified by [Halsey] being pregnant. [The album] introduced new themes of control and body horror and autonomy and conceit.” 3 This was her first non-pop-driven album and did not have any single releases before the album came out in August of 2021, five years after her first. She said that it was not about making something drowning in its own profundity but rather getting a full-blown political statement off her chest and documenting this experience. Despite the genre and topic shift, it is a concept album the same as all of her prior projects. Previous albums were accompanied by music videos that followed a continuous story and gave the viewers a peek into the world Halsey had created showing how her character evolved with each song on the album to the next. This time the album and its film consort were announced on Instagram just three months before the release. Halsey captioned the post describing her latest project as “me as a sexual being and my body as a vessel and gift to my child are two concepts that can co-exist peacefully and powerfully. My body has belonged to the world in many different ways the past few years, and this image is my means of reclaiming my autonomy.” There has long been an untold reality about the complexities that are involved with pregnancy because it has been romanticized for so long. Her project delves into the many layers that make up the paradox of becoming a mother and feeling like a woman in dichotomy through intricate care into visual, audio, and lyrical details. The conversation about pregnancy is nuanced as a time in which you should be so grateful, but the conversation never discusses those with financial, physical, and other disadvantages regarding maternity, especially the fear and disassociation in regards to how your body feels foreign, the physical trauma, and the hormonal mind warp. In this essay, I will break down Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, also referred to as IICHLIWP, by following the tracklist and including the plot from the film to illustrate how it is the epitome of storytelling and a manifesto for the female experience of sexuality, especiallying regarding motherhood.

The album begins with the first track The Tradition acting as an intro into the cinematic production. A slow piano builds into her melodic singing just like the beginning of a child’s fairytale book that sets the scene. Spin reviewed the album and credited the opening with an “angsty Fiona Apple-like chant [...] that skewers the idea that men be absolved of their crimes” as Halsey repeats lines like “ask for forgiveness / never permission” and “and they said that boys were boys / but they were wrong” its as if she were protesting. 4 This song is the first of an album that breaks Halsey into a genre and industry frequently dominated by males. While IICHLIWP tackles the reality of being a woman in a patriarchal society, it also serves as a statement about Halsey’s experience in the music industry. Creating music in a rock/punk genre is not only fitting to the anger and rage of the subject matter but is also an “assertion of identity within a male-dominated sphere [as] arguably an act of protest in itself” regarding her career. 10 The lyrics of The Tradition establish the voice of the main character throughout the album to come as an uncontrollable woman who knows the traditions of the world will take from her as much as they can if she does not also do the same. Ana da Silva of The Raincoats' was a woman who moved from conservative Catholic Portugal to Britain in the late 1970s and was an icon in the 90’s post-punk scene. She commented in a 1994 interview that "Catholicism is so much part of you. It gives you a strong sense about right, wrong, guilt, and repression. And trying to come out of that in the strongest possible way you use punk.” 10 These female punk origins and common critique of Christianity through the genre can be seen reflected in the album before the first chords even begin. The cover art is an ode to Jehan Fouquet’s depiction of the Madonna with child in his painting A Portrait of Agnes Sorel. From there the film is set in a medieval distant kingdom ruled by patriarchal standards justified by God’s covenant to his chosen ones. The traditions referenced in the song go back centuries perpetuated by religion and the men who have abused it for their own gain. With this first track, Halsey acknowledges that history and establishes herself as a woman who will not sit idly by and allow the origins of patriarchal standards to control her.

The first track of the film is Bells in Santa Fe, and the second on the album, which begins shortly after a close-up shot of a carriage widening out as it enters the castle grounds just like any good period piece would start. Queen Lila, played by Halsey, is introduced in the next shot as she runs across the castle in horror to find her husband, the king, surrounded by noblemen as he lay poisoned on the floor. A bell tolls in the background signaling the death to everyone. When Lila glances across the room to a mirror in the background, she finds Lilith looking back at her in the reflection for the first time. There are few spoken lines of dialogue in the film and the very first is “This woman will not go quietly.” spoken by the king’s advisor. During the duration of these opening scenes, Queen Lila is found wearing a white gown with an incredibly deep-cut neckline. Her chest is bare and her hair is in an updo. The attire suggests that Queen Lila is innocent, open, and honest. Her face seems almost void of makeup as if she has nothing to hide. The second track is trickled with lines reflecting back again on biblical ideology and female performance standards to equate a woman’s worth. Throughout the song, there is a repeating line of “all of this is temporary” like a mantra that becomes a defining detail in the design and marketing of the album. The bridge touches on the story of Jesus’ betrayal and lyrics like “But, Jesus, you've got better lips than Judas / I could keep your bed warm, otherwise I'm useless” further drive home the idea of being holy and virtuous but only if you serve a purpose. It also is fitting in the film to play this at the moment when Queen Lila appears innocent regardless of betraying her marriage vows and murdering her husband. In this song and scene we see a woman that we know is more than meets the eye but currently the eye can only see what it has been told to, what a woman should be and not necessarily what she really is.

Easier Than Lying is a fast-paced and loud unabashed track that introduces the unraveling of Halsey’s pent-up rage and the reasons behind it. The third track on the album actually does not appear until the final scenes of the film. A clock ticks loudly in the background when the scene opens at the foot of Queen Lila’s bed with wet footprints. It then moves to her running across the castle bridge in agony. The entire King’s men are sent out to find Queen Lila, who is stumbling through the forest in another off-the-shoulder white satin gown. Easier than Lying and its’ deep bass beat is used in the film storyline to show Queen Lila’s racing heart as she rushes to make it to the witch’s safe haven before going into full labor. An owl, symbolizing Lilith, crosses her path several times, guiding her to the cabin where the witch helps Queen Lila to deliver the baby. For a fleeting moment, the scene jumps back to the moment Queen Lila mixed and made the poisonous drink the King drank before trying to have his way with her, which in the tracklisting fits along with Bells in Santa Fe’s prior scenes. Queen Lila is now remembering the painful moment while experiencing the pains and reality of her child’s birth. Unfortunately, the baby's wails are what help the king’s men to find the cabin, which they set afire. The baby is ripped from Queen Lila as she’s dragged through the forest. The witch however can be seen standing in the flames as they burn. While the film and album tracklist differs at this moment, the meaning behind Easier than Lying remains an anthem for women who have been betrayed and learned that trust is a danger. Halsey explained to fans on Twitter that the lyrics “One eye open and one eye closed / Cause I'll hang myself if you give me rope” were in reference to the power someone may give that inevitably becomes self-detrimental. 3 The song also includes lines alluding to being made in the image of one’s creator and Halsey’s favorite line “Grasping for some real attention / Some undivided hypertension”. It illustrates the ways in which women are often broken by the realization they can never achieve the unrealistic standards set for them and the curated versions created of themselves. This snapping point however is an empowering moment and the energy is captured in the heavy bass drums.

The scene before the next track is introduced in the film is full of crucial details, known as easter eggs in the industry because of how they are hidden. After the introduction to the king’s death and funeral, the camera switches to Queen Lila walking into her room and collapsing on her bed in lingerie before an eerie wind comes through the window and blows out every candle. Her hair is somewhere between half up and half down, as if she is between both worlds of her natural self and the appearance she puts on. Lilith appears at the doorway of the room and starts approaching the foot of the bed. Whispers can be heard in the background until Lilith mounts Queen Lila, who is writhing in pleasure, and reaches into Queen Lila causing her to let out a blood-curdling scream. The music briefly fades out as the scene transitions to Lilith waking in her bed in a bright sunny room. The song Lilith starts playing as Queen Lila hurries to find an entire drawer filled with seeds. She sprinkles the seeds onto a pile of hay in front of a sunny window so that as she pees, if her urine has the right hormones correlating with a pregnancy then the seeds will sprout. This practice was used for centuries by civilizations across the globe and can be found in ancient Egyptian texts to recent shows like Hulu’s The Great based on Russia’s Empress Catherine the Great. It’s also worth noting that the Queen already has a drawer filled with thousands of seeds ready at her bedside shows her need to know if she was pregnant at a moment's notice, whether she wanted to or needed to be. When Queen Lila goes to observe her changing body in the mirror, her admiration is interrupted by the terror of Lilith's hands reaching around her stomach in the reflection. Queen Lila realized she would never have true love with the king during his abuse of her so she kills him to escape, a realization that can be heard in many of the tracks like Easier Than Lying and 1121 when Halsey discovers that she's better off without her lover. After committing murder, Queen Lila is possessed by Lilith, who could also have been considered a part of her this entire time that she had repressed. In this way, Queen Lila and Lilith symbolize the dichotomy of a woman and the moral choices she has to make between good and bad for survival. For Lilith to have power and Lila to survive she has to have a child. Her worth is based on her success in carrying an heir. While Queen Lila is in bed, Lilith fertilizes her, referencing the Judaistic belief that Lilith stole Adam’s seed by having sex with him while he slept to create the children she was promised but not given. When Queen Lila finds out she’s pregnant she is surrounded by other beautiful women who uplift her shown in Lilith. The maids write ruins on Queen Lila’s head when she is pregnant symbolizing, Kaunaz Fire (Knowledge), Hagalaz Air/Transformation (Life), and Othila Ancestral (Genetics) and continue themes of practicing witchcraft.

While Lilith is not the title track of the album, it is in many ways the embodiment of the album. Lilith was the first song written and set the tone for the rest of the project. Within the first minute the line “By now I don't need no fuckin introduction” strikes those listening. The song has a steady rhythm that hypnotizes the listener and for those who may get caught up in the flow of Halsey’s impeccable rhymes, the lyric is a clear note of her attitude. Halsey said that with this album especially she felt the need to have a project that was comprised of entirely her voice only without any features. 3 Not needing an introduction four tracks in is a way of asserting in the plot as a powerful and influential woman, which she has worked to make herself in reality. The song is also reminiscent of the energy in the first few further establishing herself as a woman waking up to the reality of the role she played for too long and her true strength in finding herself when defining herself. In the film, Lilith plays when Queen Lila is seen entering the royal bathhouse and strutting around the other women before they descend into the pool. She’s dressed in a long satin, off-the-shoulder gown mixing lingerie with formal wear and her hair falls down over her shoulders for the first time. The queen is at the center of the women as they encircle her and dance nakedly in the pool, seemingly embracing each other's natural bodies and femininity. As she exits the bathhouse, Queen Lila passes a mirror again, but when she sees Lilith enveloping her, Queen Lila does not flinch. It takes til nearly halfway through the film to meet this defining moment where the woman begins to find empowerment in her feminine abilities that she has been told were for other’s pleasures and services for so long. The lyrics illustrate a critique of Halsey’s own self-destructive tendencies that are later shown in the following track and its accompanying scene. However, Lilith’s original storyline is that of a woman who was promised love and a child and when not given her promise, deceived by a man, she takes what she believes to be rightfully hers. In the film, you can see Lilith follow a similar storyline as she empowers Queen Lila to take back her sexuality and the power that comes with it that the men of the kingdom have used her for and taken from her up until this point. Lilith is often referred to as the night monster and screech owl as well and depicted as such in the film occasionally. Lilith’s story has long been one that is believed to be misunderstood, especially considering how many religious stories were written and retold by men for so long who may have skewed the truth. Still, many believe it is similar to that of Medusa as another example of a misunderstood woman. Lilith has become a symbol among those who may practice different rituals like witchcraft, inspiring an abortion fund by the same name to empower women to have control over their bodily autonomy, and much more. It’s also appropriate to note that while Lilith is often construed to appear evil and witchly, that is something that commonly occurred in early music and stories such as operas. Females were always lovers or witches and in IICHLIWP Halsey uses this dichotomy to further show how women are always defined as one or the other but they are complex beings in the ways that Queen Lila and Lilith are the same person.

Girl is a Gun is the fifth track and the most flirtatious sounding song on the album as a play on the lyrics. While the words illustrate something far from innocent the sound is light and playful. The feminist idiom traditionally refers to how women are powerful, but they can also be potentially dangerous if not properly respected. The phrase can also be traced to the 1971 French-made western film, A Girl is A Gun. It is another nod to the many French-style influences throughout IICHLIWP such as the costumes. In the famous film, the outlaw, Billy The Kid, attempts to escape the authorities similar to Lila running from the royal court. Along the way, Billy encounters a girl in distress and “devotes a blind confidence to her, without suspecting that the beautiful stranger is not as angelic as he thinks.” 9 Halsey however, flips this roleplay. Queen Lila is an example of the reality that women often have to put on an innocent facade in order to protect themselves because they will not be respected for their real power unless they appear approachable. Both films confront the riskiness of love, yet in IICHLIWP this track begins playing as fireworks erupt into the sky. Queen Lila is dressed in a bright teal and purple gown with a coordinating wig. Her makeup is bright, and eccentric, but somewhere between cheery and dark. Queen Lila and the women, obviously drunk, stumble around the village throwing things, making sexual innuendos, and acting provocatively. The women cause a great disruption throughout the village. As they ride away, Queen Lila runs off by herself through the forest and her horse kicks her off. Both intoxicated, and now possibly suffering a concussion, Queen Lila overlooks a cliff showcasing the kingdom’s landscape. She turns around as if to fall back before the scene changes again. The scenes are reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, which has similar moments intended to showcase a perspective of how naive and improper the young queen was seen as because she was foreign to the kingdom and also being used before she had truly grown into her own identity. Columnist Suzan Moore once said in response to Sinead O’Connor’s music that "angry women don't always make a pretty sight . . . yet the outrage she generates is a precious thing.” 10 In many ways, the same could be said for Halsey’s aesthetic, lyrics, genre choice, and much more taking cues from these female pioneers in the music industry. When Halsey first came into the spotlight, she was only 19 and skyrocketed into fame in nearly less than a year. Similar to Marie Antoinette and Queen Lila, Halsey was a young woman in a male-dominated environment where many would look to take advantage of her appearance, sexuality, profitability, and possible naivete. Like the prior opera similarity in Lilith, Girl is a Gun depicts Halsey and her character Queen Lila as primadonnas because in the eyes of the people she is seen as being needy and overdramatic for a life she asked for. In an interview with Zane Lowe of Apple Music, she says that this very thing is true and one of her greatest concerns when becoming pregnant and creating this album was to be true to her experience, but even with all the power, she had accrued her value would still be brought into question. Magazines turned her away because they didn’t want maternity covers, her label questioned if she could maintain her contract and responsibilities, and fans wondered how much she could entertain because “your marketability is based on how sexually desirable you can be as a performer. You have to share your personal moments so they can be consumed.” 6 Girl is a Gun starts symbolizing the reality that motherhood is approaching and with it will come great changes and responsibility, whereas the prior songs were just the beginning of waking up to find how powerful it can be to be a woman.

Following the last track, You Asked For This makes obvious sense in the plot. Halsey once again took to Twitter to discuss with fans the meaning behind her songs and said that this track was about “becoming a mom but desperately wanting to remain a child yourself.” 3 Despite wanting a child for the longest time, the reality of what the responsibility for another life means for your own is almost maddening. Finding comfort in one’s own identity and life can be daunting, but what it will mean to help another being do the same, protect them, care for them, love them unconditionally, and all while under the scrutiny and observation of others evaluating you is terrifying. Lyrics in the song like “Go on and be a big girl / You asked for this” show the condescending tone often made when many lack empathy in supporting others facing hardships. The long-used quote is that you’ve made your bed now you have to lie in it. This attitude has been present for so long that many individuals, especially women, internalize it and use it against themselves.

Track seven, Darling, is appropriately the softest song on the album as a ballad to Halsey’s child. Although the album is filled with songs of lost love and hurt, Darling is a breath of fresh air. It is melodic, and airy with mostly guitar strings and no heavy basses or drums anymore. Lines in previous songs claimed Halsey was ready to be condemned to hell and would hang herself if betrayed again because she gave herself to those she loved. In this love song, the difference is that it is a maternal love for one’s child, and lyrics like “But only you have shown me how to love being alive” share the idea that she didn’t truly understand what love was until she found this unconditional kind. At the end of Halsey’s last album following years of battling endometriosis, several surgeries, miscarriages, and endless heartache she still ended the album on a hopeful note with the track More. She referred to her future child, one she did not yet know was coming, as “A flower bud in concrete” because endometriosis is often compared to concrete since the condition can be incredibly scary. In Darling, Halsey sings “All the little flowers gave me something to believe in” furthering this hope for a child. At the end of the film is a glimpse back at the ideal life, Queen Lila could have had if she chose love over power right as she smiles before being beheaded. The dreams show her dressed in a bright white lace gown similar to the one she was first shown pregnant in, happily holding her son against a sunny background. They’re shown in luscious pastures, luxurious outfits, and playing joyously around the kingdom. Queen Lila wears a bright pink dress and a bright floral gown with her son in all pure white compared to the dark turn of the rest of her wardrobe. Choosing to have a child and making this album was Halsey’s decision to pick love instead of power. While we should all be able to make our cake and eat it too, it has been established in Girl is a Gun that the world just isn’t ready to let women have it all yet. Having a child would affect Halsey’s marketability the same way it often condemns other women to undesirables because despite creating this miracle women become used. It also meant making an album about a topic that is beyond taboo, as women’s rights remain under constant scrutiny creating this music would be controversial to making entertaining pop tunes for consumption. “In a rock medium that regularly trivializes female opinion, a woman risks isolation when she makes an open statement. And she is not even guaranteed the cachet of heroic status.” 10 Yet, Halsey wanted this child and this album as an ode to hers and many others' experiences fighting for their new lives.

1121 is both the middle track on the list and the date that Halsey discovered she was pregnant. Although the tone takes a dramatic shift, the lyrics resemble Darling and also reference her love for her child. This song, however, is more of a reflection of the extent to which Halsey will have to push herself to give her child the love she promised. The line “You could have my heart and I would break it for you” is repeated throughout as she admits she doesn’t know who she is anymore without another person defining her. In the movie, 1121 plays during the funeral scene as a symbol of Halsey “burying her past trauma in favor of a better future” 3 while Queen Lila buries her husband who was supposed to give her a better life but she had to let him go to live her best life. Queen Lila was not a queen before her marriage so now she has to learn who the new Lila with power is, despite her power relying on her ability to bear an heir. Halsey told fans on Twitter that she thought of the song as “burying my old body, heavy shoulders lots of responsibility already. Romantic love [is] not worth living for but parental love is. Will I still hate the parts of me I see in you? Will you grow up [and] hate me?” 3 During an interview for the album with Billboard, Halsey claims that having her son was glorious the death of her ego because now he’s the only thing that ultimately matters. 7 In the film, the guests cast disgusted glances at the Queen for appearing to lack empathy. In response, she shows her bruised arm before we are transported through flashbacks to see scenes of the king abusing Queen Lila. She is dressed in all black with heavy eye shadow resembling sunken eyes. She also wears a large-shouldered and eccentric gown. Her outfit seems to be making a statement of herself and mocking the king’s death. Both women, Halsey and Queen Lila are confronting in 1121 that they do not necessarily know the woman they are because they were defined by someone else and now moving forward they are scared another relationship could possibly turn out like the others because maybe they were the problem after all, not their partners. Regardless, it is a statement song that at this point the only way is forward and an attempt must be made.

Honey starts off with a bold beat and lyrics that carry consistently through. If you listen to Honey wondering where the plot jumped as Halsey begins to sing about a woman she was with “She was sweet like honey / but all I can taste is the blood in my mouth” then it begins to confuse the plot. Although she is openly bisexual, it makes more sense to consider the song like many other ideas throughout her work and flip the narrative, especially with the opening lyrics describing the unnamed woman crawling inside. Honey performs as a third-person depiction of finding the sexuality in oneself. The lyric “the bitterness in goodbye” likely refers to the version of herself she says goodbye to while the rest are appreciative of how she doesn’t regret this woman because her chaos is beautiful. Somehow she is both impatient and complacent, she is mean and she is mine because Honey is learning to love the paradox of being a woman. Even if you aren’t the idea that others want to love, you can lovebe the one to love that version of yourself and that’s all the better.

Whispers is comprised of just that, whispers, a steady beat, and addressing everlasting trauma. Lyrics such as “Why do you need love so badly? Bet it’s because of a daddy” establish early on that Halsey has self-awareness not only of her habits but also their causes. The song is still an acknowledgment that an explanation isn’t necessarily an excuse for her actions. She continues to sing "I've got a monster inside me that eats personality types" as a reference to No-face from the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away and continues this idea with the line “Don’t call me by my name” which references how Halsey performs by a name that is an anagram of her given name Ashley. 3 If she were to forget her real name she would lose the essence of her true self to the identity she projects and the person that she has let everyone get to know. Halsey’s persona can consume identities and project what seems most desirable to others, but at some point, she has to be honest with herself before she loses herself. It isn’t a far-fetched concept, since many women feel that they are used to performing a version of themselves that is more approachable like someone who has a softer tone, smiles often, and so forth.

I am not a Woman, I'm a god has rightfully become an anthem to many people and the most-streamed song on the album surpassing the other tracks by nearly three times or more streams. The tack opens with “Every day I got a smile where my frown goes” and demonstrates Halsey’s power coming from her independence. She continues to enforce the idea that she is not a liability with the lines “It really does hurt when you need someone”, “I’m better all alone”, and “I am not a martyr, I’m a problem”. This is the eleventh track on the album and the epitome of the album’s energy. Halsey acknowledges the ways in which she is defined if she is a woman but knows that she is so much more than that. Just like a girl is more than a gun but many cannot see that the lyrics go back and forth fighting the dichotomy of being a woman. Be this but not that. A recurring theme throughout the album is the Madonna versus the whore complex. This view labels women’s desirability, purity, and maternal goodness as mutually exclusive traits. Love is seen as clean and virginal whereas sex is viewed as dirty and shameful. Due to romanticism and religion, a narrative was created that sex was only worthy when based on love. 12 Women have been told for generations that their natural being is to desire a strong man and provide for his sexual appetite, his needs, and his offspring. 2 This contradictory dichotomy has “plagued women since the third millennium BCE when the ancient Sumerians divided women into the categories of wife and prostitute, Historically, two mutually exclusive sexual identities--sexually inexperienced wife/Madonna figure who engages in sexual behavior only to procreate with her husband.” 13 If a woman strays from this script then she must be mad or hysterical which has led to decades that allowed witch trials, lobotomies, and worse. 1 Even now, there is no way to ever satisfy the stereotype and that is the nail Halsey drives home with this track

The Lighthouse is used in the film to record the changes on Queen Lila’s body as her pregnancy develops. Over the course of Halsey’s last three albums she has reoccuringly referred to herself as a hurricane like a storm that cannot be controlled and for that reason cannot be loved. In The Lighthouse and the scenes depicted along with it in the film, there is a shift between the woman who saw herself as a burden and the realization that there is a power in her. Similar to other operatic themes, Halsey confirmed that The Lighthouse was seeing herself as more than just a storm but the whole ocean now. The song recognizes it can be beautiful to be this strong and uncontrollable nature even if many people see that as terrifying and do not know how to handle it. The imagery described and then literally created by Halsey who confirms it is about “Devour[ing] men. Spit[ting] them back into the ocean” presents a tale of a siren who tempts men to her just like a lighthouse, but the men cannot rescue her. 3 The lines “I never wanted saving, I just wanted to be found” solidifies a desire for recognition and validation from relationships, which often causes a confusion towards what is love and what is a healthy relationship. The Lighthouse is an acknowledgement of the woman in the past who has come to terms with her actions and needs going forward. Halsey also painted the tapestries that are shown in the great hall of the film, depicting the stories told in the songs and Queen Lila’s life, but The Lighthouse was the inspiration for this. Halsey said that she kept feeling a need to illustrate the song’s content which would explain using the song over the course of Queen Lila’s pregnancy. The first scene opens with a “3 months” title card and Queen Lila dressed in a lace white gown draped on her bed as nurses maids massage her. The scene abruptly changes again to the Queen dressed in a gold embellished gown drinking on the floor against a wall before throwing up as Lighthouse starts to play. Another scene shift shows Queen Lila at “5 months” in a large black gown covered in bright pink and red flowers. Going back to the bed and another white gown at “6 months”, Queen Lila is surrounded by a circle of women again. Each dressed in white, arms interlaced with one another, and chanting over the Queen. At “7 months” Queen Lila is seen in her bathtub, admiring her enlarged stomach, while the tattoo reading “Baby” can be seen promptly front and center. Then at the “8 months” mark, Queen Lila stands dressed in a large white gown and cloak in the castle courtyard watching while her friends flirt and leave the city. She looks longingly upon them but then she sighs and shrugs it off. Finally, the “9 months” scene comes in the great hall of the castle where Queen Lila is being chastised by the court. Queen Lila responds to the critical insults by taunting them. It has been decided that Queen Lila is only “useful” as long as she carries an heir and when she gives birth she will be discarded, along with the child if it is not a boy. The lyrics of The Lighthouse describe feeling alone and deserted while countless waves of people and time crash around you over and over again. Queen Lila is isolated in her pregnancy because she does not have a love or anyone to share it with, she cannot leave the castle, and she cannot find a joy beyond her need to provide an heir that defines her existence. While she should be able to feel excitement for her pregnancy, she cannot because the reality of what is to come is too daunting. Halsey’s pregnancy was also overshadowed like many others by what other people would think of her, what risks she would be taking medically, and the emotional turmoil of the responsibility.

Ya’aburnee is the last track on the album and in the film it is the closing credits. Although it is the softest sounding song as a ballad, it is still the darkest and most honest. The title comes from the Arabic word roughly translating to you bury me. It is a saying that means it would be to much to bear losing the person you love so you hope that your lover has to bury you first instead. The repeated lyrics in the song “Darling you’ll bury me before I bury you” is intended as a follow-up to Darling. Many parents hope they never have to lose their child before time has justifiably taken them first. But as endearing as the sentiment behind the term may seem, the reality is that it is an admittance that love is selfish. Although it literally translate to an idea that the person has come to peace with their mortality, it is still selfish to wish grief on the person you love most so that you won’t suffer. In the film the track begins playing after Queen Lila has been killed and Lilith takes her full form. Lilith is seen strolling throughout the court as all of her enemies lie dead with blood covering the castle. Lilith is dressed in a long sleeve and collared black gown made of scales like armor. Lilith’s hair is always down showing how she is never controlled and is always her free self. The ending of IICHLIWP is like many tragedies and their opers where there is a beauty in suffering, specifically women, and the female protagonist must be killed off at the end. Both the film and album are finalized in this track as Halsey relinquishes that both her love and her power are inevitably out of her control and embodied by the person she loves who now means everything to her, more than life. And just like all of her albums, it ends with a repeating phrase intended to mimic the effect of credits rolling at the end of a movie because she creates concept albums and envisions them run as a film would. 3

A reprised version of Nightmare and a new song called People Disappear Here can be found on the fully extended album as additions to the politics and ideas concentrated within IICHLIWP. Nightmare was initially released as a single in the summer of 2019. The song came out the same day that abortion access across the United States was restricted drastically and Reproduction Rights Rallies were hosted globally. Halsey recalls in her Apple Music interview that at the time of the release many people commented how crazy of a coincidence that must have been to release music regarding female autonomy at the same time it was being legally attacked. However, she makes the brutal statement too many ignore for the sake of bliss that the odds of women, and those who identify with similar needs, will have their rights removed is more likely than not on the daily basis. The timing is not remarkable if you’re really paying attention. 6 The sounds and themes in Nightmare were well-recieved by fans who hadn’t heard anything like it from her before and they begged for more. This opened the possibility of an album that could further investigate these ideas and express more of the untold truths of womanhood. Despite People Disappear Here not receiving the attention as the other tracks it uses slow and aching grunge to create a melodramatic cry for those who are overlooked and lost because of it. Halsey created an art piece by the same name that she claims “the characters are all inspired by figures that occurred in a series of sleep paralysis nightmares I had at home during the quarantine. After seven years of bed surfing hotel rooms around the world, adjusting to my own pitch black cave in California had a little bit of a learning curve.”3 The lyrics and imagery are similar to Whispers and the overall album of realizing you know you are not who you once were but may not necessarily recognize who you are becoming either, including the many things that factor into that identity revelation. These bonus tracks alone can show the double-sided coin that is IICHLIWP. They contain the deep, rage filled industrious sounds as well as the hurt, self-evaluating ballads that resemble classic rock and punk anthems of the 90’s that have influenced Halsey’s work for years.

The artistry in Halsey’s visual depictions of her music is the critical detail that defines the project. Since the beginning of her career, she has worked with a loyal team of creatives who bring her ideas to life in impeccable ways such as Garret Hilliker, Lucas Garrido, Collin Fletcher. On this project in particular, Halsey enlisted the assistance of renowned celebrity-stylist Law Roach who “focused on designers like Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, whose work contains nods to classical reference points” since there wasn’t a need for one historical period’s accuracy and many of the songs were still being made during the filming of the movie (Okwodu). The wardrobe and scenes were all developed around Halsey’s ideas and mood without lyrics or a set script. A Stephane Rolland haute couture gown with shoulders was pulled as an allusion to Tudor monarchs for the gothic aesthetic of the queen mourning during the funeral scene, as well as a black velvet gown from 1998 for Christian Lacroix styled with Shaun Leane’s spiked jewelry for Alexander McQueen. For the dream sequence, the Westwood team coordinated the hot pink number specially. The use of Vivienne Westwood pieces was a further nod to the early punk scene and the women who contributed to it. 70’s. 5 Her and then partner Malcom, designed the Sex Pistols entire brand and with that an entire era of fashion of music. Stylistically, it is the most fitting costume choice not only because of the genre bending and style-mashing that Vivienne created like Halsey, but also because similar to Halsey’s album and writing style “each of Vivienne's collections has had a title and concept; all have introduced new ideas.” 5 Originally worn on the runway by Linda Evangelista, Halsey dons the green taffeta asymmetrical 'Watteau' gown in the Girl is a Gun portion of IICHLIWP. While Girl is a Gun was also a French film as mentioned prior, the dress was part of the 'Les Femmes ne connaissent pas toute leur coquetterie' (Women do not realize

quite what flirts they are) collection in 1996 that Westwood designed as an homage to the frivolity and flirtation of the 18th century. Halsey also commissioned Joyce Spakman to create the custom armored look that Lilith is depicted in at her fullest form. Lilith’s character is always seen in red, a color often considered angry in Western culture, but feminine in Eastern. She also consistently wears her hair down as a sign that she isn’t controlled like Queen Lila’s well-done up-do’s and the stages we begin to see them come undone in. The alternative and limited edition cover of the album showcases Spakman’s warrior corset as lilith is shown in her true glory “decked out in gold, jeweled tassels, and miniature Renaissance portraits.” 11 In her interview alongside producers Trent and Atticus for Billboard, she said it was important to unveil her album artwork at the Met alongside other classical and famous depictions of the Madonna and child. 7 The imagery was inspired by Agnes Sorel as Madonna With Child painted by Jean Fouquet circa 1445. Agnes was a mistress that Halsey found badass because she had her dresses custom made to show her breast and this depiction in particular shows the virgin as a whore. In this way, Halsey tried to get ahead of what everyone would say about her before they could. This contempt for religious representation in art is challanged again with the wardrobe Queen Lila wears when she first enters the bathhouse believing she is pregnant and is seen naked surounded by other nude women. The hair and dress are replicas of that in the 1800’s oil painting Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti, like many other acclaimed artists used his mistress as the model for the beautiful women. Throughout the album art and the film, Halsey not only did her own makeup and directed the creation of everything, but she was meticulous with those she entrusted to work on the project and the details and accuracy that would be considered throughout.

Halsey told Zane Lowe during her Apple Music interview that the album was the epitome of catharsis and learning that music and art doesn’t need to always be melancholic or self-detrimental. 6 She needed to make a point of learning to get better, and “needing to heal [her]self from making trauma part of [her] identity for the sake of [her] son. There is no entertaining “leaving” any longer.” 3 This is something she makes note of in her poem With Power Comes Great Responsibility from her book, writing “I am not allowed to want to die anymore. Believe me, I have tried.”, which was referenced in a post anticipating the release of the album. The public perception of child-bearing bodies is going through a cultural shift in recent years. 8 This could be accredited to Britney Spears, the princess of pop, trailblazing what it looks like to be a pregnant female performer in the mainstream media a decade prior. Pregnant celebrities have been body-shamed and criticized for years for showing their stomachs, but despite that Britney embraced her body in countless photoshoots. In many of these images, she rejected the standard notion that pregnant women cannot be sexual and desirable. Now because of her early efforts, Beyonce, Rihanna, and Halsey, all women of color, have also had the opportunity to join in showing off the beauty and rawness that carrying another human being means for ownership of your own body, especially under the scrutiny of Hollywood. Halsey hosted a virtual performance in partnership with Moment House instead of concerts during the pandemic. She performed pregnant for the recording of the performances which was then streamed live globally. This would have been unheard of just a few years prior, but by not only setting a standard but also driving the discussion through her art, Halsey has created a rift. The statement made of the realities and reasoning behind women’s representation regarding reproduction in If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power will forever stand now as an immortalized work of art challenging the social constructs surrounding it.


























Works Cited


1 Ashurst, Pamela. “Mother, Madonna, Whore: The Idealisation and Denigration of Motherhood.” BMJ 342.7788 (2011): 111–111. Web.

2 Conrad, Browyn Kara. “Neo-Institutionalism, Social Movements, and the Cultural Reproduction of A Mentalité: Promise Keepers Reconstruct the Madonna/Whore Complex.” Sociological Quarterly 47.2 (2006): 305–331. Web.

3 Halsey [@halsey]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/halsey

4 Kaplan, I. (2021, August 25). Halsey's If I Can't Have Love I Want Power Turns the Pop Artist into a Rock Star. SPIN. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://www.spin.com/2021/08/halsey-if-i-cant-have-love-i-want-power-album-review/

5 Krell, G. (1997). Vivienne Westwood. Universe/Vendome.

6 Lowe, Z. (n.d.). Halsey: Explosive Return, Motherhood, and Ignoring Social Constructs | Apple Music. Apple Music. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZmvDhEpx3Y

7 Lynch, J. (2021, October 21). 'We came out the other end changed': Halsey, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross on their unlikely team-up. Billboard. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.billboard.com/music/awards/halsey-trent-reznor-atticus-ross-billboard-cover-story-2021-interview-9648038/#!

8 Michie, N. (2022). Fashion Magazine. TikTok. April 12, 2022.

9 Morice, J. (n.d.). Une aventure de Billy Le Kid de Luc Moullet - (1971) - Western. Télérama.fr. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.telerama.fr/cinema/films/une-aventure-de-billy-le-kid,7037.php

10 O'Brien, L. (1996). She Bop It: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop, and Soul (Vol. 1). Penguin Books.

11 Okwodu, J. (2021, August 31). Law Roach Used fFshionHhistory to Bring Halsey's Visual Album to Life. Vogue. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.vogue.com/slideshow/law-roach-halsey-if-i-cant-have-love-i-want-power

12 Penn State. (n.d.). Psych 424 blog. Madonna-Whore Complex | Applied Social Psychology. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://sites.psu.edu/aspsy/2015/10/03/madonna-whore-complex/

13 Tanenbaum, Leora. I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet. Harper Perennial, 2015.



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