Release Date: May 8th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- I Love You’s
- Your Name Hurts
- End This (L.O.V.E.)
- Man Up
- Wrong Direction
One of the artists who has taken me by surprise this year- in a definite good way- has been American actress, singer and songwriter Hailee Steinfeld. While most fans would know of her extreme talent as an actor in films like True Grit, Pitch Perfect 2, Pitch Perfect 3, Enders Game, Romeo & Juliet, The Edge Of Seventeen, Bumblebee and the TV series Dickinson; I’d say that Hailee’s die-hard fans would know that acting isn’t her only passion and calling. Music has always been on the forefront of Hailee’s goals and dreams- and in 2015 Hailee unveiled her debut EP titled HAIZ. A ton of singles later from the years of 2016-2019… and now it’s time for us to be delivered with Hailee’s second effort Half Written Story– her sophomore EP and her latest collection of 5 tracks, that are impacting, and inspiring in every way. While many current pop artists sing about sex and having a good time, Hailee’s lyrical content is on the whole quite different, as she digs deep into the human condition and the human psyche, singing about topics close to her heart, but relevant to all of us as well.
Now I hadn’t heard much of Hailee’s ventures as a singer and as a songwriter- sure I heard of her as an actor, but aside from the two Pitch Perfects and True Grit, I hadn’t got around to watching any of Hailee’s films. Yet Hailee’s heartfelt and honest new single and new music video “I Love You’s” circled into my youtube home page one day (perhaps it was because I had been watching videos in the past of Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato for my blogs, as well as for Little Mix for my upcoming blog at the time!) and I took a chance, thinking ‘why not?’. The result is probably one of the most hopeful, heartbreaking, confronting, emotional and honest songs I’ve heard all year. Thus I dug deeper through Hailee’s musical discography- I found some gems, decided on writing about her in my Momentous Mondays blog series (her instalment is coming this week!), and have since been blessed and impressed by everything Hailee has released thus far. While I’d like to go more in depth about Hailee, I think I’ll leave that to my blog in a couple of days for me to write about her in more extensive detail- but let me first dwell upon Half Written Story– Hailee’s first EP release in 5 years and a collection featuring some of her most vulnerable songs yet!
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I grew up listening to Britney [Spears,] Mariah Carey, the Eagles, Boyz II Men and the Bangles. Then the acting took off and occupied all my time, but I still work with my same vocal coach to this day. Pitch Perfect 2 popped into my life – a movie in which I could also sing. It couldn’t have been a better time because if I had tried to make music at that level any sooner, I don’t know that I would have been ready. I’ve wanted to get into a consistent rhythm of releasing music as an artist for years, but my acting career takes me out of the game for three to six months at a time. It’s been hard to get writing and recording done at the same time, but we are learning it can be done. It’s tough but I am excited to get into that rhythm. I feel I’m finding my footing as an artist and I’m excited about this project.
I think people now more than ever are getting so creative in the space they are in because it’s really all we’ve got right now. I’m just looking forward to seeing their reactions to the music. I feel like I am paying this forward in the sense that I went through this time in my life that built up a thirst to talk about. And one thing I love is that all my fans will come to me and tell me these records made them feel less alone and hearing them say that and sing these songs and watching them make videos to these songs and do all that makes me feel like if what I went through was good for anything it’s that.
It’s tough for I guess any artist to release an album or even a song in the midst of COVID-19 and us all quarantining in our homes. Yet Hailee’s thoughtful and reflective batch of melodies are produced with professionalism beyond anything we could ever imagine, with these tracks also bringing forth positivity and hope, as we as listeners can’t help but feel joy with every note that Hailee exquisitely belts out, as well as a surety and certainty that together with our friends and family, we can make it in this crazy world called life. “I Love You’s”- the explicit lead single for Half Written Story (there is a clean version recorded as well!)- is Hailee at her best vocally in my own opinion, as she passionately reiterates across vibrant electronics and catchy beats and hooks, that at times she feels like she’s going through the motions in her life at the moment, and highlights that she needs to heal from her wounds and scars in her own time. Needing to take time for herself instead of jumping back into a relationship (because this song is indeed about a breakup!), “I Love You’s” is very applicable for the rest of us who are single, as we remember to set in boundaries so that we can have time for ourselves- and not say ‘yes’ to everyone who thinks they need a piece of us. If we’re stretched too thin, then we can feel like we’re worn or burnt out. Yet as Hailee fervently relays, we need to have the courage to say ‘…no more I love you’s, it’s too easy to say, yeah, no more I love you’s until I’m okay, yeah, I blamed it on the time zones, I blamed it on my eyes closed, I blamed it on the world like it owes me, so stop me before it’s too late…’; and we need to have the courage to let our yes be a yes and our no be a no. and when we’re ready to dive back into the social scene or the relationship scene, when we and the people around us believe that we’re healed enough- it is at that point when it’ll be the right time.
note- this music video version is explicit; here is the clean version
I like to think of “I Love You’s” as the thesis statement for this project. When I was feeling lost and confused and sad and frustrated and angry—all of the emotions that come with heartbreak—I realized that the only thing that was going to make me feel better was time alone, without the distractions of another relationship. Like for the first time, I realized I needed to focus on myself in order to feel whole again. There were parts of me that were missing. I would look in the mirror and not recognize who I was, and get mad at myself for getting to that point. So I guess finally I just said, “No more I love yous. No more of this s**t until I’m okay.” When I finally heard the song with the sample [from Annie Lennox’s 1995 hit “No More ‘I Love You’s’”], I was floored. It was perfect. I knew it was track one.
The rest of the EP carries on from the theme of “I Love You’s” as Hailee delivers plenty of songs about healing in the tough times, and admitting your feelings even if they hurt. “Your Name Hurts” is a heartbreaking and sad song, as Hailee reiterates that the very thought of her ex still hurts her, and she also highlights that though she doesn’t wish any ill on him, at times ‘…I wish I never met you, that your mama never even had you…’, which is indeed cruel, but what Hailee is feeling at the time the song was written. As far as resolutions go, “Your Name Hurts” doesn’t have any- Hailee speaks about a half written story in this situation that doesn’t fully receive closure as she presents to us in the quasi-title track that she hopes that her ex hurts as much as she does; however I reckon what this track shows us is that we are indeed human, and sometimes when we go through a heartbreaking ordeal like a breakup, sometimes we can grieve in many different ways- and this song is just one way out of many that Hailee has chosen to help her heal. “End This (L.O.V.E.)” is another hard-hitting track, as Hailee ardently lists out all of the things love isn’t, then sings through the eyes of a persona burned by love, and the warped conclusion that ‘love’ is linked with various negative connotations- it’s a clever track that brilliantly uses the melody and basic song structure of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E”, as we are glimpsed into the exquisite songwriting genius of one of today’s rising music stars.
The penultimate track on Half Written Story is “Man Up”, the confrontational yet much needed warning/advice track “Man Up”, as Hailee sings about yet another breakup (or maybe the same one) and tells her ex to grow up in no uncertain terms- telling him that he’s acting childish and that he needs to take responsibility for a lot of things. While the EP closer is the piano led “Wrong Direction” and is the most emotional I’ve ever heard from Hailee. It seems like Hailee is the queen of breakup songs at the moment- “Wrong Direction” is about the disintegration of a relationship yet again, as she this time vividly details about how she and her ex were clearly different and clearly not going to work out- yet she fell in ‘the wrong direction’ anyway- detailing that sometimes the heart makes stupid decisions sometimes based on emotions when sometimes we need to listen to our head and those around us in order to make better ones.
Absolutely, music has always played such a huge role in my life in general, in my life as an actor and making music has been a dream of mine since as far as back as I can remember. And what most people don’t know is I started making music around the same time I started acting. But the acting is what happened first and music became more of a side project throughout the years until I found myself in the position to cross over into music in a way that makes sense. I made a movie called Pitch Perfect 2 and it was the perfect segue. It was the first time anybody heard me sing, which was awesome because if they know of me they knew me through my films. And so this is a film they were seeing me sing in and that was the perfect segue. And then not to mention coincidentally Republic had done the soundtrack for Pitch Perfect and then later two and three. So all the pieces just fell into place.
In the coming years, Hailee Steinfeld will be the name on everyone’s lips. Right now Half Written Story is clearly about relationships and how some end in a way we don’t expect. Yet while it seems that Hailee’s EP is clearly mostly ‘doom and gloom’, it’s obvious that the talent is there, and personally I reckon that this EP is thoroughly enjoyable, as we empathise with Hailee in her plight and only wish her the best and more in the coming years and months. Half Written Story may not be your preference if you want something to uplift you, or if you want something to dance to (well, the first track is poppy enough!), however this EP is needed as I believe many will heal from these songs and resonate with everything Hailee is going through. Here’s hoping that Hailee’s next effort will be more pop and happier, but until that time, perhaps we need to listen to Half Written Story again- and mine for the lyrical gold that I’m sure we’ll come across again and again and again.
3 songs to listen to: I Love You’s, End This (L.O.V.E.), Man Up
RIYL: Selena Gomez, Bebe Rexha, Demi Lovato, Little Mix, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry