Halsey uses music to combat taboo for mental illness

This modern era we are living in is one of the most progressive the Western world has ever seen, but there is much growth to be had. Singer Halsey helps facilitate such development of public conscious through her music. With topics such as gay marriage, racial prejudices and women’s reproductive rights—all extraordinarily important matters—at the forefront of public awareness recently, it’s all too easy to overlook other societal tribulations such as the lack of cognizance surrounding mental illness.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Halsey is familiar not only with the personal struggle of the mental illness, but also with the wider misconceptions of it and people’s reluctance to face such topics that are foreign to their individual experiences.

Through her music, Halsey expresses her unique journey and hardships. She offers listeners—whether they’re diagnosed with mental illnesses or not—an invitation to explore their own psyches and internal battles. “I’m taking a negative thing and making it art because that’s therapy for me,” Halsey said in an interview with Shelley Rome of Z100 New York on Sept. 9.

In the same interview, she discussed the larger societal fear of confronting issues like mental illness head-on. “Living in a world that’s so sensitive, that’s a scary thing for art because you find yourself censoring what you’re doing because you’re terrified of offending,” she said. “Art is meant to provoke.”

Discussing her new album Badlands—released in August—Halsey noted its symbolism in connection with mental health. “The entire thing is a metaphor for a mental state, you know? I have been living in the mental badlands for a while,” she said.

Halsey acknowledged that a vast dessert encircles the fictional world she concocts, which traps people within and keeps people out. This parallels her experiences with bipolar disorder alongside modern culture’s deficiency in recognizing mental illness as an acceptable category of disease rather than taboo.

The distinctive, intangible realm of Armageddon understood in Halsey’s Badlands album is created through the amalgamation of her lyrical imagery, vocal tones and electric instrumentals. This artificial construction of reality represents her personal psychological discord, while simultaneously providing listeners with an abstraction relatable to their own unique stories of mental distress or mental illness.

Halsey is unique in musical panache and self-presentation—she sports turquoise-colored hair and gave herself the moniker “Halsey” after a stop on the New York City L train. Her openness to generate discourse and messages addressing mental illness are integral in her musicale and lyrical style as well.

Halsey’s music helps to bring mental illness to the surface in societal sentience. Artists like Halsey are crucial to facilitating increased public mindfulness of such matters and ultimately directing our culture to a point of constructive reception and understanding in place of intolerance, hasty umbrage and preferred ignorance.