It seems that today’s pop radio is filled with electronic beats, auto-tuned voices and cookie-cutter lyrics. A lot of the lyrics in songs have been devoid of meaning, and the lyrics that have meaning are overlooked by listeners.
Halsey is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter from New Jersey who has recently made waves throughout pop radio with her song “New Americana.” Although it is played on pop stations, Halsey’s new album “Badlands” is on iTunes under the Alternative genre. If her style is Alternative and her lyrics are not cookie-cutter, how did Halsey end up on pop radio?
Frankly, “New Americana” is everything this generation needs.
The song begins with the words “Cigarettes and tiny liquor bottles” and an ominous instrumental backing up the timing of Halsey’s words. At the first listen, the first verse seems to tell a typical rags-to-riches story. However, this isn’t a typical song. The drums chime in creating a beat, like a march, for the pre-chorus, and quickly turn the song into a statement of a revolution.
Here is where “New Americana” becomes more than just a song; it becomes a statement. It seems like she is standing in front of the young adult generation, bringing them together for a revolution. The rags-to-riches story is no longer a story about partying or paychecks. It is a story about the potential that all young Americans have.
The drum picks up going into the chorus and the march of this generation’s revolution begins. “We are the new Americana, high on legal marijuana, raised on Biggie and Nirvana, we are the new Americana,” Halsey sings with backup vocals echoing her words.
The lyrics are about all of the change and progressiveness this generation has experienced and will still experience. The young-adult population of Americans has so much potential and so much of a say in how they want to live their lives. They just need to get their voices heard to make a change. The backup vocals, echoing Halsey in the chorus, sound like voices of people from our generation coming together to fight for what they believe in.
The two verses in the song seem to be stories of this generation’s young Americans. The first verse brings attention to the fact that anyone can become who they want to be, while the next verse dares to bring up a topic that has been very controversial over the past few years – marriage equality. To add to the impact of the song, it was released after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage this past summer, which only adds more meaning to the song’s message.
As in both verses, Halsey pronounces each word in each line with great weight, as though they are worth pounds of gold. In reality, the words are gold.
The second verse itself carries a lot of meaning. It points out that this generation accepts different perceptions that older generations would not necessarily accept. This is exemplified in the last line of that verse when Halsey sings, “So he vowed to be his husband at the altar.” There is great emphasis on the words “his husband” so the ears of listeners pick up on the point that Halsey is trying to make: the acceptance of same-sex marriage.
When the pre-chorus and chorus come in again, the listener is brought back to the march-of-a-revolution feel. It also brings the two stories heard in the verses with them into the chorus. Because of this, the second chorus feels more inspired and full of possibility.
In addition to the lyrics, the instruments also play a huge part in making “New Americana” so iconic. The instrumental is filled with layers and textures of sound. The drum keeps a steady beat throughout the song, along with a number of synthesizers and other instruments. The echoing of Halsey’s backup voices seem to be an example of Halsey’s followers who also believe in the potential for this young-adult generation.
Though the song comes in with a bang, it ends quite the opposite way. The last chorus is repeated, and the backup vocals that provided emphasis to each line are amplified. The song ends with a quiet but powerful, “uh, oh, ah.” The contrast between the loud, ominous beginning and the subtle, dominant end is a metaphor for how the new generation will do anything to get its point made. As in the verses, chorus and pre-chorus, the generation will not rest until it sees change occurring. Finally, in the last few notes, the generation will finally be able to rest because it has accomplished something and made a difference in its world.
It is clear how “New Americana” has made its way to pop radio. It is a song that the pop radio demographic needs to hear, one they can connect with. It is both lyrically and instrumentally astounding.
This generation has already seen a number of states legalize marijuana, and now it has seen the Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage. This generation is breeding new Americans, who are allowed to think, feel and act for themselves. Their actions can inspire. Their actions can change. Their actions have the potential to leave a mark on America.