“She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore.” It’s a radical first lyric for “Strangers” — the third single from Halsey’s upcoming sophomore album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom — because it makes a move nonexistent in her previous work: the use of female pronouns in a love song.
Although Halsey has affirmed her bisexual identity since the start of her career, a 2016 Buzzfeed article criticized the singer’s lack of female pronouns in her romantic songs. Halsey responded to the article with a now-deleted tweet, “well @Buzzfeed sorry I’m not gay enough for you.”
That said, queerness prompted Halsey’s choice for her duet partner in “Strangers.” As she described to Zach Sang in an interview, she featured recently out Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui to ensure the song’s authenticity: “If I want this song to be believable, it needs to be real. So I’m not going to put a girl on this song to sing who’s straight.”
Jauregui’s impassioned, raspy voice — both as it pairs with Halsey’s in the chorus and in her own verse — is the true force behind what could easily become a summer hit (even if only within queer circles). Their similar vocal stylings intertwine beautifully, unifying in each chorus into an almost singular voice.
Their duet floats over an uptempo drum beat, which if stripped away would leave behind harmonies with the rhythm and vowel elongation of a great Fleetwood Mac track. Instead, the cheeriness conveyed by the electric beat cheapens the lyrics’ remorse, as Halsey and Jauregui croon, “I miss the thought of a forever, you and me.” Yet at the same time the utilization of this beat smartly plays to radio marketability — when coupled with its release a week before LGBT Pride month, the song possesses the capability to catapult a queer love song up the charts.
“Strangers” portrays queer love more explicitly than previous LGBTQ summer anthems, such as Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer” from two years ago, filled with its coy, winking lyrics about same-sex “experimentation.” Still, the single’s portrayal of queer love is far from the straightforwardness of Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls,” another 2015 summer release. “Strangers” walks the border between subtle and explicit, much in the way its lyrics compare the first meeting of strangers with estranged lovers.
Halsey’s increased fame — in part the aftermath of her feature in The Chainsmokers’ much-overplayed “Closer” — will undeniably showcase this song to a much greater audience.
Only time, however, will tell whether the single will resonate equally with nonqueer fans. “Strangers” embodies Halsey’s shift from an omission of same-gender pronouns as all-encompassing toward explicitly expressing her bisexual identity in her music. This not only denotes a career-turning point, but also envisions a possibility of future pop songs by queer femmes climbing the charts while singing “she” and “her.”
Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].