- 02 Sep 21
Halsey's fourth studio album, If I Can't Have Love I Want Power, arrived on August 27th with an ambitious accompanying film that explores femininity and pregnancy, among a host of other complex themes.
At many points throughout their career, Halsey has discussed misogyny and gender issues in their art. With If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power, the pop star approaches these topics with creativity, using feminine symbolism and shocking imagery to convey the topics of misogyny and gender. The film is enhanced by the soundtrack of the like-titled album as it heightens the impact of the eye-catching visuals. Halsey’s emotional vocals and the powerful production from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on the record reinforce the messages of the film.
‘The Tradition,’ the album’s opener, is a meandering tune with a classical style piano and Halsey’s lullaby melody. It sets the scene of lords and ladies in the medieval land of the film with classical instrumentation. It also spells out some of the issues in the film with its epic chorus “Take what you want, take what you can / Take what you please, don’t give a damn / Ask for forgiveness, never permission.” Set against the backdrop of castles and the grandeur of royalty, the music takes on even greater intensity.
The film both subtly and blatantly explores misogyny, gender, and motherhood under the guise of historic royalty. In this world, Halsey is a Queen, married to a King. And as such, her character is subject to the rigid gender roles of the time. He hits the singer’s character and it appears he is consistently sexually abusive in the relationship. The use of dark lighting in this scene along with the grim images may convey to the viewer how men in power abuse women who are expected to be subservient to them.
The costumes in this film, designed by Law Roach, are beautiful but also have special significance. In the beginning of the film, Halsey is stuffed into a tight corset by her subjects and can hardly breathe in the constricting outfit. Historically, corsets were pedalled to women to make female bodies more desirable to men – but perhaps Halsey is using the metaphor here to illustrate how women continue to be suffocated in society as a consequence of their bodies.
The American songwriter is also pictured in an all black-costume once she is widowed. This outfit is completed with a handcuff and collar piece which is bejewelled. In the film, Halsey’s identity is defined by their status as the King’s wife and even after his death she is trapped in this constricting categorisation. The diamonds studding the contraption serve as a reminder that female subjugation and oppression is often dressed up with overly romanticised ideals, like the fairytale ending – here, Halsey falls into the archetypal devoted widow.
The ‘Closer’ singer also approaches issues of gender in the film. The singer is gender non-conforming and earlier this year changed their pronouns to She/They. The album art shows her chest exposed and the singer is naked a number of times during the film. The focus of Halsey’s nudity doesn’t seem to be sexual and instead strives to convey the female anatomy as humanity and not a device of sexuality. The blatant nature of the album cover, with her baby present on her lap suggests there is nothing sexual about the image. In an attempt to compare how men and women's bodies are portrayed differently in art and entertainment, Halsey's baby is present on her lap – confirming there is nothing sexual about the image.
The New-Jersey born artist also focuses on pregnancy in the film. Halsey uses a montage to demonstrate the different stages of pregnancy. At first she is devastated to be pregnant by the king but grows to love the child which is portrayed in a scene with Halsey in the bath with her pregnant belly poking out of the water and the singer stroking it. She also explores the physical toll of pregnancy in a scene where the singer screams, bleeds and sweats before the baby is born.
If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power is an excellent example of why Halsey is one of the frontrunners in pop music at the moment. Their ability to speak candidly and creatively about gender dysphoria, miscarriage, motherhood and femininity – and Halsey's stratospheric success – has made it clear that pop music is finished with clandestine, perfectly packaged superstars that cater to the patriarchal gaze. Rather, pop is finally starting to crave brutal honesty and raw creativity in its artists.
If I Can't Have Love I want Power is available in cinemas now.
Listen to the album below.