Somewhere out there is a full time job dedicated to keeping track of how many stellar songwriters with dope haircuts and great tattoos are nailing the pop charts. Halsey is a known entity to most pop fans given that she lent her voice to one of the biggest – if not most annoying – hits of recent memory with Chainsmokers, but to me she remained largely a phantom until I stumbled onto this song. Another in the new mould of pop stars that control almost every aspect of their productions, Halsey’s got the kind of swagger that you can’t cook up in a board room. Her willingness to collaborate across the board is likely what made her A&R gold, but aside from all of that, there is ‘Alone’, a song which was not released as a single but has singlehandedly fixated me for weeks.
I dance to this song on my way home from work, this song about loneliness. It refuses to go away. This makes sense when you consider that it was written with two masters of the form, Dan Wilson of Seismonic, who famously penned ‘Closing Time’ and Josh Carter of Phantogram. The groove actually feels like it wouldn’t be out of place on one of the latter’s tunes, but it’s the matching of it with such a fiery (as opposed to coolly detached) vocal that really makes it sing. This sort of writing by committee is the new normal and has been for years, though the combinations are becoming increasingly interesting as more and more musicians are realising where the real dollars are. It was only the other day that The New York Times informed me that one of the writers on the biggest hit of last year (Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’) used to be in Snow Patrol.
‘Alone’ is a sprawling, ambitious pop song that manages to combine hip-hop lyrical phrasing during its bridge, Whitney Houston belting for its chorus and coolly detached effected vocals in the verse. It’s a kitchen sink number that is remarkably well thought out, which somehow has both balls of steel and a tender heart. The bombast is not the only attraction. It’s the whole package of a unique persona, the British big beat-inspired production. It could be 2018’s answer to ‘Dancing On My Own’.
There are other strong songs on Halsey’s record, but none of them sucker punch you like this. It’s the sort of attitude we’re used to hearing on weary rap songs, the life of the perennially indulged but ultimately unsatisfied. You feel it seep through the booming samples, Halsey sweeping the stage in a glittering ball gown that doesn’t quite cover her ink. There’s an existential beauty in a hook that advocates for staying away. “I know you’re trying to meet me/But let me just tell you this/Baby as soon as you meet me/You’ll wish that you never did.”
There’s something dramatically engrossing about Halsey. See if you can hear it, too.