Halsey’s “Without Me” — Pop as we knew it still works… kind of
“Without Me” was Halsey’s first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart as a lead artist.
There are many things to be celebrated about this.
One of these things, at least for me, is how the song’s success shows that the type of pop I thought I’d never listen anytime soon can still work. Or, at least, the closest to it can.
“Without Me” reminds me a lot of the heartbreak pop songs I used to listen around early to mid ‘2000s, such as Shontelle’s “Impossible” (2010) and Kara Dioguardi-crafted songs.
Had it been released 10 years ago, “Without Me” would’ve probably had a production such as “Impossible”, with stronger beats; or maybe a bit more stripped-down and dramatic, like Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” (2011)— Demi is, by the way, the most recent example of that type of pop doing well on the charts.
Just like “Without Me” is an extremely personal song, Demi’s “Skycraper” was her most personal release so far as well.
It was a powerful song with clean instrumentals, strategically produced to let her vocals and message shine.
But that was a different time. A lot changed in music since 2011.
The production in “Without Me” is not as noisy, neither as clean as the two extremes that were commonly heard back then.
Instead, it stands somewhere in the middle .
There are very few details that make “Without Me” stand cohesively between its contemporaneous peers in the charts, which are dominated by hip hop songs — details such as the trap beats, and cursing in the lyrics (way more acceptable in 2019 than it used to be a decade ago, especially for female artists).
Weren’t for those details, the song would easily sound dated (I have a big problem with that word, but you get what I mean).
It gets rarer and rarer to hear unapologetic pop with raw, mellow heartbreak lyrics topping the charts nowadays .
Songwriting-wise, “Without Me” is a very simple song: it has an ABC structure, i-III-VII-iv chord progression, very few changes in the melodic pattern… Almost too simple to work in 2019, when the spot often occupied by pop in the charts now belongs to either dance music, which is way more effusively produced, or hip hop, which nowadays can be quite emo but not with not such mellow lyrics.
By the way, Halsey’s most successful moments before “Without Me” were collaborations in dance music, such as “Closer” with The Chainsmokers, and “East Side” with Benny Blanco and Khalid.
Yet, “Without Me”, her song that least reminisces those moments, ended up being her biggest hit.
That’s a great moment for a woman in modern pop music, and as a big enthusiast of pop, I personally find this a big moment for me too.