Editor’s Note: Halsey goes by she/ they pronouns, so we will be using them interchangeably in this article.
Singer-songwriter Halsey released their fourth studio album Friday, August 26 titled If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. Along with the album, Halsey held showings of an hour-long film event to accompany the album in select IMAX theaters.
At the screening for the album’s film, Halsey shared, “When I first started writing this album I wanted to write an album that was really angry and full of angst. And then I got pregnant.” She said, “What I learned making this record about my pregnancy weirdly reflected what was going on in the world, which is that you can be afraid, and you can be angry, and you can be confused, and you can still feel a profound love.”
Listen to If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power here.
The concept behind If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Halsey first announced their fourth studio album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power on June 28 when a mysterious billboard popped up in Los Angeles displaying the title of the album. Halsey announced the release date and unveiled the album in a 13-minute YouTube livestream that followed Halsey through the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
At the end of the livestream, Halsey uncovers a large portrait of her sitting on a throne, wearing a crown, and holding a baby. The album artwork is reminiscent of photos of Mary holding Jesus, with part of Halsey’s chest exposed.
Halsey has been known for her concept albums throughout her career. Their debut album, Badlands (2015), was about a fictional dystopian society known as “The Badlands” and represented their state of mind while writing the album. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (2017), her sophomore album, is Halsey’s telling of a modern Romeo and Juliet. Halsey described their last album, Manic (2020) as an album “made by Ashley (their real name) for Halsey.”
When Halsey announced If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, she explained the concept of the album in an Instagram post:
“This album is a concept album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth. It was very important to me that the cover art conveyed the sentiment of my journey over the past few months. The dichotomy of the Madonna and the Whore. The idea that 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 and establishing my pride and strength as a life force for my human being.”
Halsey announced that they were pregnant with partner Alev Aydin (producer, director, and screenwriter) back in January. The newfound parents welcomed their child Ender Ridley Aydin on July 14, just a week after Halsey announced the album’s release date and cover art!
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power Review
Not even halfway through listening to If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, I could already tell it would be one of my favorite albums of 2021. Dare I say, it might even be my favorite album that Halsey has released!
When I try to think of the standout songs from this album, there are honestly too many to name. Each song has a distinct sound with really cool production elements, making every track a contender to be fan-favorites. If I had to choose my top 2, I would go with “Lilith” and “You asked for this.”
As the fourth track of If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, “Lilith” makes a hard shift from the dark tone set thus far in the album. The intro quickly shows that the song is more upbeat and lends a slight lo-fi vibe to the track. The title of the track references a she-demon who was known to be the first wife of Adam in Judaic mythology. The lyrics are very introspective and Halsey’s voice sounds as beautiful as ever singing them. “Lilith” has one of those hooks that you just can’t help bopping your head to.
“You asked for this” is instantly likable and almost painfully relatable. This track covers the angst of growing up and transitioning into adulthood. I think that this song is something that any young adult will listen to and deeply connect with it. It nearly brought me to tears, even though it’s one of the most upbeat songs on the album. I also love that “You asked for this” shows that Halsey is still very much a normal person who experiences life’s changes the same as everyone else.
The album starts off strong in the storytelling department with “The Tradition,” which is about selling a young, beautiful woman and the lack of bodily autonomy she has. The melodic bridge and layering of Halsey’s singing bring a lot of emotion to the song. “The Tradition” establishes what I thought would be the tone of the album, but once I reached the third track I was surprised to hear that the album was about to have a very different mood than what I was expecting.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power then goes from the intense “Bells in Santa Fe” with hypnotizing instrumentals, to “Easier than Lying,” which is very reminiscent of 2000s pop-punk and holds a lot of the angst that Halsey mentioned at the IMAX screening. Upon first listen, this song also reminded me of Halsey’s 2019 single “Nightmare.” The repetition of the song’s bridge is almost addicting and I can totally picture Halsey singing this to a live crowd.
Another one of my favorites, “Girl is a Gun” sounds most like Halsey’s other songs at first, but then quickly turns instrumental heavy, making it unique from any of her other tracks. It is followed by “Darling,” which is completely different from anything on the album thus far. It has a slow and gentle tone, with soft instrumentals mainly consisting of guitar.
“Darling” gave me butterflies and was very comforting as if Halsey was singing directly to me. The lyric “Only you have shown me how to love being alive” is so beautiful and triumphant. I think that this song can be interpreted multiple ways, as Halsey singing to her baby, her significant other, her fans, to herself, which makes the track even more stunning.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power travels through the pop-punk “honey,” intense “Whispers,” and powerful “I am not a woman, I’m a god” before landing on “The Lighthouse.” This track is very rock-heavy and different from what I would expect to hear from a song titled “The Lighthouse.” When I heard the lyric “I’m glad I met the Devil ‘cause he showed me I was weak/ And a little piece of him is in a little piece of me,” I was instantly wowed and thought it was one of the best lines on the album. I also love the ending of the track that’s made up of bass and background vocals.
The album’s love songs very much live in “1121” and “Ya’aburnee.” “1121” starts abruptly and is darker than what you would expect a love song to sound like. While singing the hook about giving her heart away, there is a switch in Halsey’s voice that emphasizes the lyrics. The songs end with lovely piano playing under Halsey’s vocals. Halsey shared that 11/21 is the date they found out they were pregnant during an Instagram Live following the album’s release.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power ends with “Ya’aburnee,” which also nearly brought me to tears. Halsey’s voice is so beautiful on this track and sounds different than in any of her other songs. The title is an Arabic word meaning “A declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how unbearable it would be to live without them.” Halsey echoes this sentiment, singing “Darling you will bury me before I bury you.”
I had no clue how much I needed a new Halsey album in my life until I listened to If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. Overall, I think this album has such a different sound but is still very much characteristic of Halsey and her artistry. As someone who has listened to Halsey religiously since Badlands, I couldn’t help but feel so proud of them after listening to this masterpiece of an album.
Fans react to If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power IMAX film
On July 13, Halsey announced an hour-long film event to accompany If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, posting the trailer to their social media accounts. The IMAX movie was originally slated for a 1-night-only release, but the singer later announced additional dates for fans to see the film.
The beginning of the trailer states, “This film is about the lifelong labyrinth of sexuality and birth.” The trailer then follows Halsey in what appears to be a gloomy, medieval setting as “Bells in Santa Fe” dramatically plays in the background. The film was written by Halsey and directed by Colin Tilley.
Check out the second trailer that Halsey released for the film, featuring her new song “I am not a woman, I’m a god”:
After opening night on Wednesday, August 26, fans took to social media to share their reactions to the If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power IMAX experience. One Twitter user said that the film was so good that she can hardly wait for the album.
IF I CANT HAVE LOVE I WANT POWER FILM WAS SO GOOD I DONT WANNA WAIT FOR THE ALBUM OMG
— steph~ (@WhoTheFckIsDemi) August 26, 2021
This fan said that If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power was nothing short of amazing all around (obviously!!).
Well it was amazing, I expected nothing less from our Royal highness ❤️@halsey amazing movie, amazing album, amazing you!
— if i cant have love, i want power (@Punkpeachie) August 26, 2021
One fan on TikTok said that the film was life-changing and that she cried within the first 10 minutes!
@giannaleiiThis was life changing #halsey #ificanthaveloveiwantpower #imaxhalsey #london #halseyfan #fypシ♬ Nightmare – Halsey
Anna said that seeing If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power left her speechless.
i have no words to describe how amazing the if i cant have love i want power movie was. holy shit.
— 𝖆𝖓𝖓𝖆 (@onionanyaanna) August 26, 2021
One fan took to Google to share their review of the film:
“Amazing movie saw it last night. This film has so much power and will change your outlook on many different things. Ashley did a great job incorporating the new album with the theme for this film, would highly recommend everyone to see. Would definitely watch again and probably will.”
Halsey even surprised fans who went to see the film at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles! They addressed the crowd, sharing how they came up with the idea to make a film experience for the album:
“During COVID I wanted to make a record and I think that you guys know better than anyone that when I make albums a core part of the album has nothing to do with the lyrics or the videos, or anything like that. There’s 50% of the album that comes alive when I get to interact with you guys personally. So I was in a real predicament because I was like ‘how do I write an album when I can’t get in front of them and I can’t see them and experience it with them?’ And that’s how we came up with the idea to do the film so that I could take the movie and bring it to you, and let you experience my world…”
halsey gave a speech at the end of the Chinese theater showing in LA pic.twitter.com/XwUVkEre7J
— kate 🥀 (@bxrdsofprxy) August 26, 2021
We’re so happy to see Halsey incorporating this new chapter of their life into their music and can’t wait to see where this era takes them!
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