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I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Nightmare" by Halsey mean?

What does "Nightmare" by Halsey mean?

“Nightmare” Lyrics Meaning

Is the old Halsey back? I guess so.

Halsey just released a song called “Nightmare”, and it would seem that maybe she's done trying to be like just another pop starlet, and she's actually got something to say, we're going to be talking about that today as we break down “Nightmare”. She released this music video, it's very in-your-face, as is the song itself; the music video is all about women empowerment, she has all of these women who are dancing and singing with her; she even has some strong female stars like Debbie Harry, Suki Waterhouse, and Cara Delevingne. There is a lot that’s going on in this song; and I have to say that if I tried to summarize it overall, it's basically “Halsey being angry about how she's treated as a woman, how she treats herself as a woman, but not really having a next step or anything to say other than just kind of generally being angry about it”, which is okay, because the song can just have one part of the process, but it does feel a little bit like there's something missing, that being said, we are going to go ahead and take a look at some specific lyrics, and you'll see what I mean.

So the song starts with an intro, which is a children’s bedtime prayer that’s called “Now I lay me down to sleep”,

Intro

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord, my soul to keep
If I shall die before I 'wake
I pray the Lord, my soul to take

 

This lullaby has been adapted and changed throughout the history, but Halsey quoted the original version of it that was published in 1750. We then we get into the chorus,

 

Chorus

I, I keep a record of the wreckage of my life
I gotta recognize the weapon in my mind
They talk shit, but I love it every time
And I realize

so the “record of the wreckage of my life” are her songs, as she kind of documents her life, feelings, and thoughts with her art; she then realises that her brain and her writing is some sort of a weapon, because she has a lot of people, especially young girls and women who are looking up to her, and she now can be an advocate for women’s rights because of it. Halsey has something to say about that as well, as she tweeted today,

imagine getting onstage every night and seeing young women sweating mascara tears, lightning in their eyes, throwing elbows and raising fists, screaming till the veins in their necks raise under warm skin,

and not being inspired by it.

this song is about you, for you.
— Halsey

she also talks about how people like saying things about her songs, like these songs aren't good enough for whatever reason, and as a fan of Halsey’s, I don’t get the hatred and the attack that she gets sometimes; like I can see it when she puts out seems to be “Form over substance”, like sometimes there's more of the theatrics than there is of the actual substance, but that’s not always the case.

 

Verse One

I've tasted blood and it is sweet
I've had the rug pulled beneath my feet

 

she's just talking about things that have happened in her life, and there's been good and bad times; there's been times where she won and beat people, and there has been times where everything just went wrong for her, like her previous relationships, her miscarriage, her opening up about her mental health and sexuality, and how some people treated her really badly because of it.

 

I've trusted lies and trusted men
Broke down and put myself back together again
Stared in the mirror and punched it to shatters
Collected the pieces and picked out a dagger

 

and so she's like risen from the difficult times to be stronger than ever before, and she used her pain to make something powerful; and it’s clear that her previous relationship with G-Eazy was one of the things that made her feel this bad, as it was an abusive relationship, which even showed on her music style in her last album “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom”. The verse continues,

 

I've pinched my skin in between my two fingers
And wished I could cut some parts off with some scissors

 

that's a common thing that we hear about in music and just in culture in general right now, it’s kind of how unfair the beauty expectations that are put on women are. Then we have the pre-chorus,

 

Pre-chorus

"Come on, little lady, give us a smile"
No, I ain't got nothin' to smile about
I got no one to smile for, I waited a while for
A moment to say I don't owe you a goddamn thing

she's kind of talking about this “stereotypical guy” who tells women that they should smile more, and he's just being kind of a douche, but she says “no, I ain't got nothing to smile about”; and that's a fair point, if she feels like she's being treated unfairly by this person, she doesn’t owe him anything, not even a smile, if she doesn’t feel like it, I mean it's an obvious point, but it's a good point nonetheless, right?

So she kind of draws that smiling metaphor into her general life, and she feels like things are unfair at the moment; and she’s stepping up now,

 

Post-chorus

I'm no sweet dream, but I'm a hell of a night
That I'm no sweet dream, but I'm a hell of a night

 

I'm not exactly sure about what this “I’m a hell of a night” phrase means, I think a lot of this is personal expression, which is a huge purpose of art, lyrics, and songs in particular, especially if you go into kind of the alternative punk-ish genre that Halsey seems to hail from; but I don't know, in “I'm a hell of a night” is she talking about a one-night stand, like is she saying like “I've got nothing to smile for, but I can really have a good time at night”? or is she talking about partying or something? Or is she talking about “The hell of the night” which is basically what nightmares are? I just think this line belies the message of the song which is important; I really think that if you delved into Halsey’s subconscious, I think this song is more about her coming back into her own style, kind of leaving this sort of half wishful pop thing that she was trying to do for a while, which was unfortunately so boring, especially after dating G-Eazy, and her trying to change for him, especially that she felt the need to help him stay safe, regarding drugs, as she didn’t want what happened to Mac Miller to happen to him; and you can see this in older songs like “Him & I” by her and G-Easy; then after the breakup, and things like G-Eazy being arrested for cocaine possession, you can see her trying to come back to her true self in “Without Me”, and in Yungblud’s single “11 Minutes” with her featuring Travis Barker; a lot of people apparently liked “Without Me” because it charted highly, but it’s more than that, it seems like maybe this song is supposed to be her coming back to being her. She's just like throwing all of the “her” into it, and maybe this is why it feels like it misses something, I don’t know.

 

Verse Two

No, I won't smile, but I'll show you my teeth

 

which is a very cool metaphor, so you will see some teeth, not because of her smiling at your request, but because it'll make her angry, and her teeth will show like a wolf or some sort of a vicious animal that’s growling angrily, right?

 

And I'ma let you speak if you just let me breathe
I've been polite, but won't be caught dead
Lettin' a man tell me what I should do in my bed

 

Wow! She’s not asking for much; I mean that's fair, that's totally fair, right?

 

Keep my exes in check in my basement
'Cause kindness is weakness, or worse, you're complacent
I could play nice or I could be a bully
I'm tired and angry, but somebody should be

 

She’s probably talking about her subconscious, and that kind of the influence that they might still have on her, because she feels like she was nice at some point, now kindness is usually not a weakness, kindness is strength in the face of whatever kind of adversity you are facing; complacency or apathy one the other hand are weakness, and are not good, but I can see where she probably feels like she was taking advantage of at some point in the old relationship.

I think this is the quintessential part of the song, that highlights the focus of the song, and the thing that the song lacks, she says “I'm tired and angry, but somebody should be”, and this song feels more like a lashing out, which is probably exactly what she wanted, and exactly what her fans appreciate; but I feel there's got to be more, like there's a lot of emotion put into this, but it needs more of a point or a focus to it, so we go “Cool, we hear you, yourself expressing; What is the “so what now?” for us?”, you know. And I think that for the “so what?” is probably going to end up being an emotional charge, so that people want to lash out and feel that same emotion as her, and at the same time as they listen to the song, so it serves a purpose. Then we got the bridge as the last unique stanza,

 

Bridge

 

Someone like me can be a real nightmare, completely aware
But I'd rather be a real nightmare, than die unaware, yeah
Someone like me can be a real nightmare, completely aware
But I'm glad to be a real nightmare, so save me your prayers

 

I don't know exactly how she's going to be a real nightmare, whether that's in her personal life, or whether she wants to take some sort of social stance or something; I would say that in case of a personal life, then definitely anybody is able to be a real nightmare; as far as like the social stance thing, I don't know; I mean, with so many voices out there right now, there's probably a chance that if anybody ended up being a real nightmare, then it's really easy just to unfollow them and move on to the next person. Out of the entire song, I'm really curious mostly about what exactly she means by being able to be a real nightmare.

So overall, the song is well executed, her voice is powerful as usual, and it's got some interesting stuff to say for sure; some people wanted a little bit more out of it, but it's probably because they’re neither the target demographic nor her main audience. So; well done, Halsey. I'm looking forward to seeing the new album, and hopefully on the album and in the new singles you’ll take this a little bit further, but from what we see here, we kind of know where you're going with this, and it’s going to be an exciting era for sure.

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