If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
“It happened by accident,” Halsey tells Apple Music of their fourth full-length. “I wasn't trying to make a political record, or a record that was drowning in its own profundity—I was just writing about how I feel. And I happen to be experiencing something that is very nuanced and very complicated.” Written while they were pregnant with their first child, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power finds the pop superstar sifting through dark thoughts and deep fears, offering a picture of maternity that fully acknowledges its emotional and physical realities—what it might mean for one’s body, one’s sense of purpose and self. “The reason that the album has sort of this horror theme is because this experience, in a way, has its horrors,” Halsey says. “I think everyone who has heard me yearn for motherhood for so long would have expected me to write an album that was full of gratitude. Instead, I was like, ‘No, this shit is so scary and so horrifying. My body's changing and I have no control over anything.’ Pregnancy for some women is a dream—and for some people it’s a fucking nightmare. That's the thing that nobody else talks about.”
To capture a sound that reflected the album’s natural sense of conflict, Halsey reached out to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. “I wanted cinematic, really unsettling production,” they say. “They wanted to know if I was willing to take the risk—I was.” A clear departure from the psychedelic softness of 2020’s Manic, the album showcases their influence from the start: in the negative space and 10-ton piano notes of “The Tradition,” the smoggy atmospherics of “Bells in Santa Fe,” the howling guitars of “Easier Than Lying,” the feverish synths of “I am not a woman, I’m a god.” Lyrically, Halsey says, it’s like an emptying of her emotional vault—“expressions of guilt or insecurity, stories of sexual promiscuity or self-destruction”—and a coming to terms with who they have been before becoming responsible for someone else; its fury is a response to an ancient dilemma, as they’ve experienced it.
“I think being pregnant in the public eye is a really difficult thing, because as a performer, so much of your identity is predicated on being sexually desirable,” they say. “Socially, women have been reduced to two categories: You are the Madonna or the whore. So if you are sexually desirable or a sexual being, you're unfit for motherhood. But as soon as you are motherly or maternal and somebody does want you as the mother of their child, you're unfuckable. Those are your options; those things are not compatible, and they haven’t been for centuries.”
But there are feelings of resolution as well. Recorded in conjunction with the shooting of a companion film, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is an album that’s meant to document Halsey’s transformation. And at its conclusion is “Ya’aburnee”—Arabic for “you bury me”—a sparse love song to both their baby and partner. Just the sound of their voice and a muted guitar, it’s one of the most powerful songs Halsey has written to date. “I start this journey with ‘Okay, fine—if I can't have love, then I want power,’” they say. “If I can't have a relationship, I'm going to work. If I can't be loved interpersonally, I'm going to be loved by millions on the internet, or I'm going to crave attention elsewhere. I'm so steadfast with this mentality, and then comes this baby. The irony is that the most power I've ever had is in my agency, being able to choose. You realize, by the end of the record, I chose love.”