Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Halsey ft. Lauren Jauregui – Strangers

Well, it’s no “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” (But what is?)


Katherine St Asaph: Halsey presumably wrote and arranged the lyrics, not Greg Kurstin, but I still can’t shake the thought that this might have been better by Kurstin’s best collaborators, Tegan and Sara. “Strangers” is being pushed as the rare radio-friendly love song between two women, which is laudable — certainly less cynical than that t.a.T.u. nonsense — but the song just doesn’t work as one. Halsey said in one interview that the song depicts “what happens when Halsey’s and Jauregui’s characters meet at a house party,” but lines like “the mornings with you laying in my bed” or “she doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore” are clearly about an existing decaying relationship, or at least a decaying thing. And the standoffish hookup Halsey and Jauregui sing about doesn’t seem like it could be either of their characters, who both long for more. Which leaves three possibilities: the song’s a duet between two women unable to reconcile their attraction to women, let alone this particular woman — which would make sense but probably isn’t what Halsey, who specifically sought a vocalist who wasn’t straight, was going for. Or it could be a wistful remake of “Same Girl” or “The Boy Is Mine,” sung about a third party: yearning, nuanced, but also doesn’t seem like what Halsey had in mind. Or they’re two ambivalent, unreliable narrators, which would be a remarkably subtle narrative for pop radio but one I’m not sure the lyrics or vocals get across. Maybe Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar, Halsey’s ideal vocalists on this, might have.

Alex Clifton: Look, I’ve never been a Halsey fan, but “Strangers” is a goddamn jam. Her first album felt young and ham-fisted to me, both lyrically and sonically, but this song hits all the buttons I need — some blippy electronic noises, a chorus that sticks in your head, and real, raw emotion. It’s remarkable that we have a radio hit about girls loving girls by two bisexual women; I can’t remember the last time we had anything this overt go mainstream (“Same Love” and “Cool for the Summer” not withstanding; the former was more a mediation by Macklemore on The Gays, and the latter was definitely gay but more veiled and teasing about it). It’s a delight to hear “she” repeated four times within the first verse alone. Halsey’s voice intertwines beautifully with Jauregui’s; they both sound starved for feeling as they sing “to be touched, to be loved, to feel anything at all”, and it’s wrecking me. Happy Pride, y’all. 

Eleanor Graham: It’s a genius move from Jauregui to introduce herself as a solo artist on this sophisticated, boring track which gives away nothing whatsoever and is difficult to justifiably dislike. Rich, night-time synths are my favourite thing in pop right now. Here they effortlessly, immaculately outshine Halsey and drape over a croaky Jauregui like Armani Prive. The chorus gently chimes and surges and bubbles in a way that may yet prove irresistible on some summer drive. It isn’t an interesting song, but I think that’s the point. It’s waiting to wrap itself around a perfect moment: blank for your own message.

Alfred Soto: Without Lauren Jauregui, “Strangers” would be more blankly anonymous electrodisco instead of merely anonymous electrodisco. “To feel anything at all,” she and Halsey sigh over the outro. I’ll dance to it and worry later about why a track so uncomplicated sounds so expensive.

Maxwell Cavaseno: The sound of someone listening to Vangelis not to their fantasies of a cyberpunk dystopia but rather to their romantic fan-fics. There’s the usual sort of gloss and overt ‘teen topical edge’ that’s either a point of derision or endearment to Halsey depending on your perspective on her activities. Yet there’s an unmistakable desire to be something specific that so many of her peers in the genreless blank of ‘Pop for Millennials’ that you should at least tip your hat to. Better to be a bit too much sometimes than to have been nothing of note.

Thomas Inskeep: Yesterday we reviewed Liam Gallagher’s single co-produced and -written by Greg Kurstin, which only sort of works, because Liam only sort of commits. Halsey, on the other hand, is a perfect fit for Kurstin’s popcraft, and proves it unquestionably on “Strangers,” a sleek, slightly dark, and entirely synthetic (in the best of ways) pop song. Musically, this is an [8], at least. But then there’s the lyrics, which are a tale of female same-sex relationship, sung as a duet between two openly bisexual women, Halsey and Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui. The song itself rings incredibly true, thanks not just to having two women singing who are themselves attracted to women — because of that, there’s a commitment to their vocals that you wouldn’t get from a female singer just trying it on for size. Halsey and Jauregui inherently understand what they’re singing. And thanks to that, their vocals have more heft to them than in, say, “Closer” or “Work from Home,” to name two big hits with their voices attached. This is the kind of record I’ve often wished Tegan & Sara would make (ironic, since they’ve worked with Kurstin themselves), and this is a mightily well-made record.

Nortey Dowuona: When Halsey first became a thing, I immediately banished any memory of her music to MileyAppropriationWorld. Now, as I hear Halsey sing with a surprisingly strong tone and Lauren muse with a sad yet stainless hum, my own arrogance stands naked and defenseless. Yet, since this is not a song that lashes out, I remain unharmed, safe from pain and from passion. As do they both.

Will Adams: I can dig this for being a mainstream song in which bisexuality isn’t used for titillation or shock value. I can dig this for Greg Kurstin’s synth pulse, like a dark spin on his most recent Carly Rae cut. What I can’t dig are some minor choices that end up creating big problems: 1) the dead air before the first chorus; 2) a lack of crescendo near the end; and most of all 3) the different vocal processing between Halsey and Lauren — one chorused and blurred, the other upfront and present — so it doesn’t even sound like they’re singing about each other.

Stephen Eisermann: I never expected to rate a Halsey song this high, but she hits every mark she aimed for with this tune. The tale of a sapphic almost-relationship falling apart is all too familiar in gay culture, where you cling to whatever affection and intimacy you can find with dear life (it’s why people continue to look for love on Grindr, even with all of its shady shortcomings). The song’s reveal that these ladies were nothing more than warm bodies for each other is unsurprising, yet devastating, and it is in no small part due to the melancholy but emotive delivery that both Lauren and Halsey give. Sure, the production is run-of-the-mill 80s infused dance-pop, but even if it feels a tad generic, the unique story and striking delivery more than makes up for it. Maybe I connect more because I’m gay, maybe I rate it higher because I’ve lived through this pain before, maybe a straight person won’t find this story as tragic as I do, but maybe that’s ok because my community, the LGBT community, is criminally underrepresented on the top charts.

Ramzi Awn: Halsey has it on lock right up until the chorus of cliches. The verses are solid.  

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Works better as a single than most tracks on hopeless fountain kingdom but falls short because of the misguided decision to deliver the chorus in such a cold manner. It may seem clever and appropriate, especially in the context of the larger concept album, but it only drains the (perfectly fine) lyrics of their potential. It’s a second rate Greg Kurstin production either way.

Ashley John: For every action there is an equal an opposite reaction. For every duet that Halsey steals from a Chainsmoker, a Fifth Harmony member steals one from her. If Halsey is destined to get the most success from clunky collaborations with heavy handed lyrics, please, let this be this one that charts higher. 

Reader average: [9] (2 votes)

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4 Responses to “Halsey ft. Lauren Jauregui – Strangers”

  1. I can say with certainty that those with closer ties to the LGBT community (in it or with family members/best friends in it) will hurt with this song, because this pain is all too real in our lives.

  2. UM no t.A.T.u. slander on this website

  3. “Sophisticated, boring track” is right on, Eleanor (I’d award this a 7 today).

    Also, anyone hear Years & Years’ “Shine”?

  4. It makes me think of Years & Years too, yes